Is it everything she does for him? The way she looks? Those killer chocolate brownies?
No doubt those could all help, but there is one quality that trumps them all:
That’s the conclusion of University of North Carolina social psychology professor Sara Algoe, anyway.
Dr. Algoe is a strong proponent of gratitude, claiming that it forms the foundation of our relationships:
“Feelings of gratitude and generosity are helpful in solidifying our relationships with people we care about.”
Just think about what happens to relationships when one or both people take each other for granted.
You hear it all the time: “He expects me to do everything for him.” “She doesn’t appreciate how much I do.”
Appreciation goes a long way towards helping us feel acknowledged for the work we put into a relationship.
Dr. Algoe suggests that expressing gratitude towards your partner can help him behave more lovingly towards you.
“Whenever you have an interaction with your romantic partner,” she says, “that feeling you have when you walk away sets the stage for the next interaction with that person.”
In other words, when he feels appreciated by you, he feels appreciative of you.
This is an easy idea to test for yourself. Simply tell your partner how much you appreciate something about him. Then see if you can tell a difference in his behavior.
But before you do, let me show you something weird about the way men respond to appreciation. Otherwise, your appreciation can backfire.
It tends to be easier for women to express gratitude than men. as ridiculous as this sounds, we men sometimes feel obligated rather than appreciative when someone does something nice for us, making us less likely to gush with thanks.
However, men LOVE to be on the receiving end of someone else’s appreciation.
We respond best to gratitude that is linked to a specific behavior or act (e.g., “Thank you for helping me with the groceries”), rather than a general attribute (e.g., “You’re so helpful”).
If you want your appreciation to be even more effective, express your gratitude in front of others.
He may shrug off your thanks when it’s just the two of you, but if he hears you tell mutual friends how much you appreciate him, he’ll feel great.
It’s quite a change in perspective to realize that what you do for your partner is perhaps less important than how much you appreciate him for what he does for you.
Often, a woman expresses her appreciation by doing something nice for the person who did something nice for her. For example, he gives you a back massage, so you cook him his favorite dinner.
Although doing nice things for your partner is always worth your while, it doesn’t replace the need to express verbal gratitude.
Many men will attest that one thing they crave in relationships is feeling appreciated by the woman they love.
You know you appreciate him, but he won’t know that unless you tell him explicitly.
Even telling your partner something as simple as, “I like the way you always lock up the house at night for us. It makes me feel safe,” can stoke the fires of love and commitment.
Focusing on the positive aspects of your relationship can also help ease hurt feelings when conflict arises.
Dr. John Gottman of the University of Washington popularized the notion of a “Magic Ratio,” the ideal balance of positive and negative interactions in a relationship. He found that strong couples have 5 positive interactions for every negative one.
So, if you have a fight, it might be good to spend that time cooling off by thinking about things you appreciate about him.
Sure, you might still be seething inside over that stupid thing he did. But, on the other hand, you still do appreciate all the good things he does for you every day. Tell him so.
Expressing gratitude helps us keep a sense of perspective about our relationships. As long as we can find things to appreciate about each other, our relationship is on healthy ground.