Couples walking down the aisle and those decades into marriage often wonder, “what’s the secret to marital bliss?” According to a recent study published in the journal Personal Relationships, an attitude of gratitude, or saying “thank you,” can counteract the impact of conflict and negative encounters in marriages.

"We found that feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage, how committed you are to it, and your belief that it will last," said Ted Futris, co-author of the study and an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, in the news release.

In the study, Futris and his colleagues polled approximately 500 married individuals on relationship satisfaction through a telephone survey, asking questions about their financial well-being, demand/withdraw communication, and expression of spousal attitude. Gratitude was measured by how appreciated and valued individuals felt by their spouse. After the researchers analyzed the data, they discovered the biggest predictor of marital quality was whether the spouse felt valued and acknowledged by their significant other.

Higher levels of thankfulness in the marriages seemed to have a protective effect on men’s and women’s likelihood for divorce. Saying thank you also strengthened women’s marital commitment while it protected them against the negative effects of poor communication during a conflict. The biggest indicator of marital unhappiness, according to the study, was financial distress.

This study is the first to document the protective effect feeling appreciated by your spouse can have on a marriage. Couples tend to engage in negative ways, and even become more critical of each other, which can lower the marriage quality. However, expressing gratitude in the relationship acts as an inhibitor of this cycle and helps couples overcome negative communication patterns.

"We think it is quite important as it highlights a practical way couples can help strengthen their marriage, particularly if they are not the most adept communicators in conflict,” said Allen Barton, lead author of the study, a former doctoral student in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, and current postdoctoral research associate at UGA's Center for Family Research, in the news release.

In a similar 2007 study from Arizona State University, researchers found saying “thank you” can also help when it comes to doing chores. Individuals who felt appreciated by their partners had less resentment over any imbalance in labor and more satisfaction with their relationships than other participants did. Small expressions of gratitude were found to make a significant difference.

The researchers suggest if you’re doing the “lion’s share” of the housework, express appreciation for work your partner does, even if the work doesn’t meet your standards. If you’re the one doing less, be mindful of the work your partner does and remember to express gratitude. In this circumstance, both partners should understand they each have a different threshold for chores, and should address this in a calm and positive way.

Disagreements and arguments are bound to happen, especially when couples are stressed. However, 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,” Futris said.

Priceless marriage advice? Say “thank you” to your partner and don’t take them for granted.

You’re welcome.

Source: Barton AW, Futris TG, and Nielsen RB. Linking financial distress to marital quality: The intermediary roles of demand/withdraw and spousal gratitude expressions. Personal Relationships. 2015.