When you find a terrific partner later in life, you are usually smart enough to appreciate how wonderful it is to be with that person. However, as with most things, once the novelty wears off, people can forget to focus on the positive aspects of their relationship and get caught up in the small irritations of everyday life. When you make a conscious effort to experience and express gratitude for your partner, however, you make a major investment in the success of your relationship.
Dr. Amy Gordon and her colleagues published research under the title “To Have and to Hold: Gratitude Promotes Relationship Maintenance in Intimate Bonds” that demonstrates how gratitude for a partner’s behavior and attitudes creates a positive cycle that ultimately leads to happier and more sustainable relationships. When you appreciate what your partner does and who your partner is, your actions tend to promote generosity and comfort for each of you. It’s easy to get stuck on the petty annoyances that every couple experiences. If you can redirect your thoughts to how lucky you are to have a loving person in your life and to your partner’s positive traits, the whole relationship will benefit.
Dr. Terri Orbuch has conducted a long-term research study to determine what enhances the happiness and satisfaction of couples over the years. She says that the happiest couples in her study focused on how grateful they were for their partner’s presence in their lives. Not surprisingly, these couples showed humor, empathy, and humility along with gratitude.
Being grateful has benefits for you as an individual as well as for your relationship. Research by Dr. Robert Emmons from the University of California – Davis shows that practicing gratitude (by writing in a gratitude journal, for example) enhances people’s physical and emotional well-being and helps them progress toward their goals, sometimes to a surprising extent.
So how do you practice gratitude? Take a few moments to think about how lucky you are to be in a loving relationship. Identify some of your favorite things about your partner. Consider writing a little note saying something like, “I am so grateful that you started the car for me on this cold winter morning! I love you.” Remember why you fell in love in the first place. And don’t forget to say “thank you” for small things your partner does with you in mind.
Emmons, R. Gratitude and Well-Being. http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/Labs/emmons
Gordon AM, Impett EA, Kogan A, Oveis C, & Keltner D (2012). To have and to hold: gratitude promotes relationship maintenance in intimate bonds. Journal of personality and social psychology, 103 (2), 257-74.
Orbuch, TL. The Early Years of Marriage Project. University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research.
Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist and her husband Charles Peck, are grateful for their relationship every day. You can participate in the creation of their book "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40" (and enter to win a $100 Amazon gift card) by sharing your experiences in a survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/MidlifeRelationships.
Previous Magic at Midlife Columns:
Enjoying the Single Life
Sex in Midlife Relationships: Complicated but Wonderful!
Upgrade Your Communication Skills
Tending Your Relationship as You Tend to Aging Parents
Learning from Your Relationship History
When Extrovert Meets Introvert
What Do You Want in the Long Run?
Creating Holidays for Changing Families