He restocked the wine rack, replaced the burned-out bulb in the bathroom, and even refueled your SUV. Did you, um, say anything? A new study from Florida State University shows that acknowledging your partner's little acts of generosity has a major payoff: "Expressing gratitude transforms your impression of the other person," says researcher Nathaniel Lambert, Ph.D. "It helps people hold each other in higher regard, making them more comfortable when they have to work through bigger relationship issues."
What's more, giving thanks is a gift that keeps on giving: A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people who expressed gratitude more than doubled their chances of being on the receiving end of that generosity again. (Aha! So that's the key to more back rubs!) "There aren't too many things in relationships that are equally beneficial to both the giver and the receiver," says Lambert. Or as easy to doÃ¢â‚¬”paying more attention will tip you off to the times when you can reap this relationship boon. Here's how to express your gratitude the right way.
Flowers! And it's not even your birthday.
What he's telling you: Assuming he's not trying to get out of the doghouse, a just-because bouquet from your guy is a sign that he's committed. "When your partner goes out of his way to surprise you with a gift, he's sending a message that he is invested in your happiness," says Lambert. "Think of these thoughtful acts as deposits in an emotional savings account. The accumulation of small acts over time will earn a huge windfall for your relationship."
Be grateful: Your inclination may be to return the favor, but don't do it. "Responding to a gift with a gift of your own can backfire," says Jeffrey Froh, Psy.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University in New York. "It will make him feel indebted to you, and peopleÃ¢â‚¬”men especiallyÃ¢â‚¬”dislike feeling indebted." Plus, you may come off as a one-upper. (Ever seen the Penelope character on SNL? Annoying.) Be appreciative, plain and simple. Place the flowers in a prominent spot in your pad.
Tell him how surprised you areÃ¢â‚¬”that's what he was going forÃ¢â‚¬”and how much you love that he was thinking about you. Then wait a day, and say it again. "Frequency in expressing gratitude is more important than intensity," says Froh.
He treats you to dinner after you've had a tough day at work.
What he's telling you: Job stress can cause significant rifts in a relationship and even lead to divorce, found a study at the University of California at Berkeley. "Eventually, work anxiety is going to spill over into your relationship," says Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D., a psychologist in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. "Treating you to dinner is his attempt to show you that he's your teammate in getting through this tough time."
Be grateful: Do you really want to spend your romantic candlelit meal griping about your boss's evil behavior? Well, maybe. But steaming over a work issue all evening will leave a bad taste in your mouth.
"Get away from the negativity by asking his advice on how he'd handle your situation, or whether he's ever dealt with a problem like this at his job," suggests Becker-Phelps. Every guy likes giving input, and it allows you to focus on a solution instead of stewing over the problem. Once you've gotten his two cents, move on so you can decompress as a duo and enjoy the rest of your night.
He cleaned the house, top to bottom, and the fridge is restocked.
What he's telling you: When your guy gets a little domestic on you, it's probably not because he couldn't stand the dust ball under the couch for one more minute. He's doing this just for youÃ¢â‚¬”and in a lot of ways, it's a bigger treat than something he'd pick up at the mall.
Be grateful: Plenty of guys assume gifts are things that come with price tags. So if having someone else do the laundry, change the sheets, vacuum the living room, and shop for groceries is your idea of heaven, let him know. What not to say? "Wow, this is great! Oops, I think you missed a spotÃ¢â‚¬Â¦," says Becker-Phelps. If you want this to go from a one-off gesture to routine relationship practice, you need to give him some props, and leave it at that. "The minute it turns critical, you've turned it from a gift into a chore, and he'll be less likely to do it again," says Becker-Phelps.
He skipped drinks with the guys to go to your niece's dance recital.
What he's telling you: When your guy gives up his weekly Thursday drinks ritual or Wednesday soccer game to accommodate your schedule, he's making a sacrifice in the name of your happiness. "Guys do this as an opportunity to show their love," says Charles Shelton, Ph.D., author of The Gratitude Factor. "He is inconveniencing himself to make your life better." Even the best relationships require sacrifice, and the seemingly tiny ones like this count too, says Shelton. "And taking gestures like this for granted can quickly cause tension."
Be grateful: It's all about the delivery here. "The big thing is acknowledging that this is not required relationship behavior," says Becker-Phelps. He had plans, and he broke them for yours. Granted, that's what people in committed relationships do for each other sometimes, but a simple "I owe you one" conveys that you know he went the extra mile. And it wouldn't hurt to give him some public props so that he (along with everyone else in earshot) knows just how awesome you think he is. Still full from the lunch he packed for you? Psyched that he was able to fix your flat tire? Share it. He'll feel that much happier that he showed up.