Feelings of gratitude and generosity are helpful in solidifying our relationships with people we care about and benefit the one giving them as well as the one on the receiving end,” noted study author Sara Algoe, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
The researchers evaluated 65 couples in relationships and monitored their levels of satisfaction and connection on a daily basis.
Using a social functional model of emotions, the researchers examined the roles of gratitude and indebtedness in romantic relationships with a daily-experience sampling of both members of cohabiting couples. They found that people were deeply affected by their partners’ levels of gratitude.
Receiving thoughtful benefits predicted both gratitude and indebtedness. Interestingly, the male participants experienced more mixed emotional responses to benefit receipt than women. Yet, for both women and men, gratitude from interactions predicted increases in relationship connection and satisfaction the following day, for both persons involved, the benefactor and recipient. While indebtedness can foster the external signals of relationship engagement, gratitude possess a uniquely predictive power in relationship promotion, perhaps acting as a booster shot for the relationship.
“Gratitude triggers a cascade of responses within the person who feels it in that very moment, changing the way the person views the generous benefactor, as well as motivations toward the benefactor,” Algoe said. “This is especially true when a person shows that they care about the partner’s needs and preferences.”
Lead author Dr. Sara Algoe of the University of North Carolina notes that while people do things for each other all the time, but that doesn't mean that the emotion of gratitude will be felt. A partner may not notice a kind gesture, or the partner may have a different reaction to receiving a benefit from someone -- including resentment, misunderstanding or indebtedness.