Healthy relationships are an essential component to an individual’s wellbeing — research has shown that relationships and marriage can improve heart and mental health. However, with more than 40 percent of new marriages ending in divorce, it’s safe to assume that maintaining relationships are no walk in the park. New research published in the journal Personal Relationships found that saying “thank you” to your romantic partner periodically — whether it be for washing the dishes or for a diamond ring — plus a dose of laughter could help relationships flourish.

In a previous study, social psychology professor Sara Algoe introduced a theory called "Find, Remind, and Bind," which suggests that “reminding” or showing appreciation or thanks to a romantic partner could further bind two people in a relationship. This expression of gratitude reminds the other partner that he or she is a good relationship companion, according to Algoe. Building on her past research, Algoe examines the effect gratitude and laughter has on romantic relationships.

“I feel this moral obligation to go out and collect data because relationships are so important," she said, noting that they have as strong of an impact on health that smoking 15 cigarettes a day has on mortality. "Romantic relationships are one of the most common reasons people go to therapy in the first place.”

Algoe recruited 47 couples between the ages of 24 and 40 who have been together for an average of five years. Each pair was assigned to do one of two tasks for 30 days; discuss the mundane details of the previous day (control group); or to express gratitude toward one another. The conversations were also filmed.

Couples who were asked to express gratitude felt their relationships became stronger and more positive throughout the 30 days than those in the control group.

"Whenever you have an interaction with your romantic partner, that feeling you have when you walk away sets the stage for the next interaction with that person," Algoe explained. "If it were the case that my expressions of gratitude actually have an impact on your feelings about the relationship, then that would be some really good evidence that gratitude can help connect people and build these upward spirals of mutual love and support."

Algoe conducted another study to determine whether or not little things like laughter can impact a relationship. For this study, researchers filmed 77 couples and asked them to describe how they first met. While reviewing the videos, they recorded the amount of time each couple spent laughing together and individually.

"People who spent more time laughing with their partner felt that they were more similar to their partner," Algoe said. "They had this overlapping sense of self with the other person.”

Researchers also found that the more people laughed with their significant other, the more they felt supported by that person.

The next step in Algoe’s research is to test her findings with couples in conflict.

Source: Kurtz L, Algoe S. Putting Laughter in Context: Shared Laughter as Behavioral Indicator of Relationship Well-Being. Personal Relationships. 2015.