One secret to a long and healthy marriage

Try expressing more gratitude to your partner for a week. See what happens..

The divorce rate in North America is not encouraging, and many couples are wondering whether their marriages are headed for divorce. Thankfully, the field of psychology has come to understand love and what makes love work, with effective interventions such as Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples. Even so, no couple wants to reach the point where they are questioning divorce or enrolling in couples counseling.

This article discusses one possible simple secret to a long and healthy marriage, namely, the expression of gratitude.

Gratitude and satisfaction in young and older relationships

In one study, among partners who have been married between 25 and 40 years, the expression of appreciation was shown to be an important factor in a satisfying relationship. Similarly, more satisfied and better adjusted newlywed couples also felt gratitude for their partners. Gratitude and the expression of appreciation is clearly an important factor in satisfying relationships regardless how long partners have been together.

Importance of expression of concerns in relationships

The health of one's relationship with a romantic partner or close friend is largely determined by how comfortable and open one is in expressing concerns about the relationship itself. 

The psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson, one of the leaders in the study of relationships, discusses romantic love as an emotional bond, which requires a sense of safety and security in the partnership.

Such safety is needed in order to be able to vocalize and therefore resolve problems between couples.

Gratitude may contribute to comfort level in expressing concerns in relationships

A 2011 study by Nathaniel Lambert and Frank Fincham proposed that expressing gratitude to a partner would increase the positive perception of that person, and therefore lead to greater comfort in expressing concerns in the relationship.

Enough safety in a relationship for partners to be free to express their concerns with each other is considered a form of relationship stability.

Lambert and Fincham tested their hypothesis by dividing participants into three groups, each with a different intervention. After each intervention, participants were asked to report on the degree of comfort they felt in expressing concerns or problems in the relationship.

The first group was asked to think about what they appreciated about their partner or their closest friend, and to list three of these things and make this expression of gratitude in a letter. The second group of participants was asked to think about the person and what positive activities they enjoyed doing with him or her. This group was also asked to write a letter expressing these positive activities. The third group was given no intervention, but was only measured for how comfortable they felt expressing concerns or problems in the relationship.

The results of the study suggested that the first intervention in which participants were directed to consider and express what they appreciated about their partner was associated with the highest level of comfort in expressing concerns in relationships.

This suggests that expressions of gratitude likely increases a sense of safety and openness to express one's self in a relationship, and therefore is a key ingredient to a healthy and long lasting relationship.


Lambert N. M. & Fincham, F. D. (2011) Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Leads to More Relationship Maintenance Behavior, Emotion: Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 52–60.

Schramm, D. G., Marshall, J. P., & Harris, V. W. (2005). After “I do”: Thenewlywed transition, Marriage & Family Review, Vol. 38,  pp. 45-67.

Sharlin, S. A. (1996). Long-term successful marriages in Israel, Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal: Vol 18, pp. 225-242.

Continue Reading