An “attitude of gratitude” is a powerful aspect of a happy family life and life in general). Expressing gratitude improves the mood of the one giving thanks and the one thanked. So you can see how expressing gratitude will improve your marriage.
A lack of gratitude, on the other hand, is like a torpedo aimed at sinking your marital ship. Researchers from Florida State University showed this in a study of 120 newlywed couples. They followed these couples for 3 years. At regular intervals the couples completed surveys measuring satisfaction with their marriage and the degree to which they felt and expressed gratitude toward their partner. Based on initial surveys, couples were placed into one of three categories: both partners high in gratitude expression, both partners low in gratitude expression, or a partner high in gratitude expression married to a partner low in gratitude expression.
After three years, the study revealed that individuals did not succumb to their partner’s level of gratitude. Instead, individual remained consistent in their expression of gratitude over the three years. More important for me is what expressed gratitude did for marriages?
- Marriages in which both partners were high in gratitude expression had happiness levels “well above average.” Their relationship satisfaction was high and remained high over the entire three years of the study.
- When one or both partners were low in gratitude expression, their marital happiness started off average and declined to below average over the three-year period. Notice, this decline was not confined to marriages in which both partners exhibited low gratitude expression. Having only one partner within the marriage who did not express gratitude led to a decline in happiness. In other words, it only took one ungrateful partner to sink the ship. One ungrateful partner was like a torpedo aimed at sinking the marital ship.
What’s a person to do if their married to an ungrateful spouse? What if you are the ungrateful spouse? How can you keep your marital ship afloat? Here are a few ideas.
- If you are the grateful spouse, continue to express gratitude. Also, talk to your spouse about the importance of expressing gratitude. Discover what makes it difficult for them to express gratitude. Explore what you can do to help them grow more comfortable expressing gratitude. Lovingly encourage them to practice gratitude more often. Don’t nag. Don’t push. Trust that they will work at becoming more expressive of their gratitude. When you hear them express gratitude, thank them for doing so.
- If you are the ungrateful spouse, take time to recognize how your lack of gratitude harms your mood and your spouse’s mood. Consider how growing in gratitude wills strengthen your marriage, your family, and your relationships. Intentionally practice gratitude. Put it on your “to do list” or set an alarm on your phone to get started. Every night write down three things for which you are grateful. Every day look for one thing your spouse or family member does for which you can tell them thank you. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but people, including your family, will respond positively.
An ancient writer once said, “In everything, give thanks” (Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:18). He knew that giving thanks would lead to greater happiness for you and your family. Giving thanks would lead to a happier, holier world. Don’t be the torpedo that sinks your family ship. Lift it up. Give thanks.