Those who expressed gratitude reported more relationship strength at the study's end than did those in the other groups.
"The person doing the thanking comes to perceive the relationship as more communal, to see the person more worthwhile to sacrifice for, to go the extra mile to help out," Lambert said.
Although the studies only looked at the people expressing gratitude, Lambert speculated that "those who are being thanked will often feel an urge to reciprocate. They will want to express their gratitude back. It can become kind of an upward spiral."
A simple "thank you" might be just what a relationship that's turning sour needs, he said. "In relationships today, often people get mired down into what the person isn't doing for them. That's one of the neat things about gratitude. It potentially can change the trajectory from a negative focus to more of a positive outlook on the relationship."
The new study is "an important extension of previous research," said Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California Davis, a long-time gratitude researcher and author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.
To his knowledge, Emmons said, "this is the first research study that has examined expressed gratitude in the context of an ongoing, close relationship."
The researchers have documented an "easy and often overlooked way to strengthen relationships," he said. "Gratitude does knit together relationships and bind people into networks of reciprocal obligations."
One weakness of the study, he said, is that the participants were college students, but that is typical of much research. More women than men participated, an
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