Boost Your Relationship Bliss with One Simple Trick

Photo by Anneliese Phillips
Photo by Anneliese Phillips
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The Problem: Over time, the “love of our life” starts to lose his (or her) charm (and even become annoying).
The Science: Gratitude is an antidote to this phenomenon!
The Solution: A simple 3-minute gratitude exercise can help your relationship thrive!

Gratitude or How to Make Your Relationship Thrive

Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship can start to feel that the initial blissful romance starts to fade. In fact, marital satisfaction tends to take a hit with time. During the first instances of romance, we often see our partners in an exclusively positive light. Over time, however, this changes due to two tendencies:

The Negativity Bias

Research by Roy Baumeister suggests our perspective is biased toward the negative and that, for our minds, bad is stronger than good. We are more likely to pay attention to and remember negative situations, criticism or losses than to remember positive events, praise or gains. This may be why we end up focusing on our partner’s negative traits and can even forget why or how we initially fell in love.

Habituation

According to research on the hedonic treadmill, we receive an increased boost of happiness when wonderful new events happen (like entering a new relationship, buying a new car or receiving a promotion) but that, over time, these events lose their ability to bring us renewed joy because we get accustomed to them. As a consequence, we often fail to appreciate that which we have. This may be why you get excited to see your spouse or partner after they have been out of town for a while but that, when you see them daily, you fail to appreciate that he or she is there.

Because of our tendencies toward habituation and the negativity bias, we sometimes begin to focus on a partner’s faults and forget or take for granted his or her positive qualities. But research suggests there is an antidote to these patterns and to stay deeply in love over the long run.

A growing body of research and a new study suggests that gratitude is immensely beneficial for successful relationships. In a study by Amie Gordon at the University of California-Berkeley, those who experienced more gratitude in their relationship also felt closer to their partner, more satisfied with the relationship and tended to engage in more constructive and positive behaviors within the relationship. They were more responsive to their partner and were more likely to remain committed. When one person feels grateful, their partner naturally feels appreciated and secure which, in turn, increases increases commitment and satisfaction in the relationship. Gratitude therefore appears to set in motion a powerful positive feedback loop of appreciation, security, further gratitude and overall relationship satisfaction.

Empowered Perspectives

These findings are empowering because gratitude is a practical tool that can determine the quality of a relationship just through a change in perspective. All relationships – not just romantic – can benefit from this perspective. Gratitude reminds us to pay attention to and celebrate the uniqueness of our partner’s (or friend’s or parents’) qualities rather than to dwell on their weaknesses. As our mind shifts, our hearts become more open, understanding, and appreciative, further nurturing the relationship. And, best of all, our relationship thrives.

Here’s a 3-minute way to boost your gratitude quotient daily! Write down as many things as you can that you are grateful for. From the sun shining outside, to the lunch you had, from people in your life that you appreciate, to your ability to read an article like this one. Research suggests that counting your blessings will significantly improve your happiness and well-being!

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Emma Seppälä

Emma Seppälä

EMMA SEPPÄLÄ, Ph.D. is the author of The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success and Science Director of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. She founded Fulfillment Daily and a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Psychology Today.
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