If you’ve been with someone for a long time, chances are you’ve taken them for granted at least once or twice. And if you’re not showing gratitude enough in your relationship, new research finds, it could spell trouble. So what to do to keep your marriage running smoothly? Just a simple “thanks” and the happiness will follow. Or at least contentment, which is just as good, right?

The Today Show reports that researchers at University of Georgia’s Center for Family Research surveyed 468 married people to see what they could learn about long and lasting marriages. What they found is that showing your partner appreciation—for the little things as well as the big things—is an important predictor in how happy your marriage will be. Why? Because showing your partner gratitude allows them to know that you value them, making it much easier for couples to strengthen their bonds, even if one of the members isn’t an “adept communicator.”

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Allen Barton, a postdoctoral research associate who ran the study, says that what this proves is the “power of thank you.” That doesn’t mean you’ll never argue with your partner (because you will, that never goes away), but it does suggest that being grateful for the things your partner does for you can lessen the damage of arguments and can make your marriage easier, even if you’re having trouble in your relationship.

This news may not come as a huge shock to you (after all, haven’t we been taught to say “thank you” since we were kids?), but according to Barton, this is the first study to “document the protective effect that feeling appreciated by your spouse can have for marriages,” he told The Daily Mail.

Results from this study also back up earlier research on something known as demand/withdraw communication, as well as how money problems can damage marriage.

‘Demand/withdraw communication occurs when one partner tends to demand, nag or criticise, while the other responds by withdrawing or avoiding the confrontation,’ Barton said.

‘Although wife demand/husband withdraw interactions appear more commonly in couples, in the current study we found financial distress was associated with lower marital outcomes through its effects on increasing the total amount of both partners’ demand/withdraw interactions.’

He explained that when couples are stressed about making ends meet, they are more likely to be critical of each other, as well as defensive.

Barton says that being grateful to your partner and showing them that you value what they bring to the relationship (and as a person) can interrupt the demand/withdraw cycle. But it’s not a one-time thing. In order for gratitude to work, it has to be exhibited on a daily basis, so you may want to start practicing now.

‘All couples have disagreements and argue,’[Ted] Futris [associated professor at UGA] said. ‘And, when couples are stressed, they are likely to have more arguments.

‘What distinguishes the marriages that last from those that don’t is not how often they argue, but how they argue and how they treat each other on a daily basis.’

How do you measure what gratitude looks like? According to The Daily Mail, the study found that it was all about people being appreciated, valued by their partner, and acknowledged for doing nice things (like bringing home dinner or picking up packages). Of course you don’t have to slobber all over your partner in gratitude; just point out that you notice how nice it was of them to refill your water bottle when you asked, even though you’re both watching TV. It might be hard going at first, but with repetition (and a strong desire to keep your marriage chugging along), it could become second nature quicker than you think.


Contact the author at mark.shrayber@jezebel.com.

Image via NBC.