The secret of how to put the spark back in your relationship? Gratitude.

On the surface, gratitude is a reaction you have towards someone doing you a favor. On a more complex level, it is a measure of how deeply you engage in the world around you. When you have gratitude towards someone or something, you realize its value, you pay attention to how unique, beautiful, or indispensable it is–how much happiness it brings you. Cultivating a life full of gratitude means a life full of wonder and love. It enriches your relationship with the world. And it is the key of how to put the spark back in your relationship.

As relationships move past the enchantment stage (the fist few months and years where everything your partner does is amazing and perfect), couples fall into the pit of “Taking each other for granted.” Amie Gordon, a psychologist from U.C. Berkeley, blames this state as the downfall of many relationships: “You get used to having [your spouse] in your life and forget why you chose to be with them.” Their special qualities no longer strike you as magical and, instead, you are left with lots of space to pay attention to things that annoy you about them. Couples in these doldrums are often searching for the key to how to put the spark back in your relationship, but aren’t sure what that “spark” is…is it sex? Attraction? Or something more complicated?

Now we have part of the answer. Dr. Gordon’s study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has delved into the role of gratitude and appreciation in maintaining long and happy relationships. In the study, 50 long-term couples were given appreciation journals to fill out for a week. On days when one reported feeling more appreciated, he or she tended to appreciate his or her partner more the next day. Couples who had ongoing reciprocal appreciation were less likely to break up in the next nine months and, in fact, were more committed at the end of that time. The researchers concluded that a nourishing cycle of encouragement and appreciation gives us an extra incentive to maintain our relationships. When we appreciate our partners, we develop trust and respect. When we feel appreciated, we feel needed and encouraged.

So how do you use gratitude as part of how to put the spark back in your relationship? Should you be saying “Thank you” more often?

In the second part of the study, Gordon’s team observed how couples of all ages–from 18 to 60–communicate their appreciation. The researchers noticed that those who ranked “highly appreciative” tended to use constant physical cues and body language to show that they valued their spouses. Foremost of these was a Power of Two favorite skill: active listening. When their spouse was speaking, appreciative spouses leaned in, made eye contact, and responded to what they were saying. They made it clear that they were listening to and digesting what their spouse said, thereby showing that they valued their opinion. Appreciative couples also used intimacy in relationships, giving each other comforting touches and physical encouragement such as holding hands or  a pat on the shoulder or leg.

Some couples are naturally appreciative while others are not. It can be incredibly discouraging to not feel appreciated–you may even feel like your marriage is over. This can change! If gratitude is the secret to how to put the spark back in your relationship, then the key is taking the initiative: “Instead of just waiting for the other person to make you feel good, you can jumpstart that cycle and take it into your own hands by focusing on what’s good in your relationship,” says Dr. Gordon. If you feel unappreciated, try showing your spouse with some gratitude and love, and watch your positivity shine reflected back at you.
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