Whether you are enjoying the single life, coming out of a bad relationship, entering a new one with someone who seems right for you, or have been dating the same person for two weeks, two years or two decades, it seems the way we view our love lives has a lot to answer for. Many of us focus on what we don’t have; the perfect partner, the commitment we want, the time to date, the social circles that might improve our dating lives, yet according to research, if we switch our thinking from “half empty” to “half full”, we will reap the benefits in countless ways.
Gratitude and mindfulness were two real buzzwords for 2015 and now with 2016 firmly in full swing, it seems that focusing on the positives can have a real affect on our love lives. But why is this? And how can we harness gratitude to improve our love life?
What the research says
According to scientific research, the positive effects of practising gratitude on our physical and mental health are countless. Psychologists have found that people who focus on what they are thankful for report being more satisfied, optimistic, healthier and even exercise more and live longer than their negative counterparts.
When it comes to our relationships, there are also many plus points to practising gratitude. According to one study from the University of Georgia, saying thank you in your relationship might just save it. It showed that couples who show their thanks to one another regularly reported feeling closer, more committed and having greater relationship satisfaction. It makes sense that by showing your appreciation to your partner, they will feel better, but it improves the relationship for both parties.
The leading researcher in the area of gratitude, Robert Emmons, argues that when we become truly appreciative of our partners and the value of other important relationships in our lives, such as our friends and family, we are likely to treat them better, producing an “upward spiral” of feedback, where the relationships are strengthened. If you are a more positive person, you are also more likely to meet more people, be better liked and in the field of dating, find yourself dating more.
One study at the University of Carolina showed that receiving gratitude from a romantic partner might affect our long-term attitude about the relationship. They recruited 77 heterosexual couples who had been romantically involved for at least six months; 56 per cent were dating, 39 per cent were married and 4 per cent were engaged. All the partners rated their relationship satisfaction and were filmed showing appreciation of one another for something their partner had done for them recently. Afterwards, they rated how much their partner seemed to care for them – in a behaviour researchers call “responsiveness”. Previous research shows this type of behaviour is important to intimacy and relationship satisfaction in general. The research showed that after receiving gratitude, their partner was more responsive to their needs and generally happier in the relationship. Importantly these feelings continued for up to six to nine months later.
Gratitude and relationship envy
Sometimes when you are single and haven’t had a good date in ages, it feels like everyone else around you is blissfully coupled up, popping out sprogs, going on romantic mini-breaks and generally having a better time than you. Rationally you could say this isn’t the case but all too often we are drawn into negative thinking patterns, when one bad date feeds into the next one and so on. Being thankful manifests itself in your behaviours. If you feel ungrateful, this can be a turn-off to potential partners, who may just think that dating someone who clearly isn’t happy seems like too much hard work.
Studies have shown that practising gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful that your only other single friend has found love – it seems grateful people are able to appreciate others happiness. It also boosts self esteem; when you realise how much you have achieved and accomplished, you feel more confident. Being single beings many benefits; be it the freedom to travel, meet new people and try new things. Even when during setbacks, maintaining a positive outlook will help you bounce back much quicker.
How to practise gratitude when you are dating
It is harder than it sounds but experts argue that it gets easier as you practise more, until ultimately you do not need to think about doing it and it comes naturally. Start by trying to pay attention to the positives and even if a first date is awful, try to take something good away with you; be it a new fact, knowledge about what you don’t want in a relationship or the fact that it has created a great anecdote you can amuse your friends with.
If you notice a potential partner or existing partner has done something for you, rather than just thinking, “that’s nice” verbally thank them for it. Whether it’s cooking a nice meal, making an effort with their appearance, making you feel desired or carrying out a domestic task, show them you appreciate their efforts and do something nice in return. This serves to reinforce the sort of behaviour you desire too.
If you are the sort of person who needs a prompt, write down three things you are grateful for at the end of every day. Create a prompt on your phone, or do this before bed as part of your daily routine. Soon the bad dates won’t seem all that bad and the good ones will start rolling…
Author: Brett Harding is the director of Lovestruck, a website dedicated to online dating and bringing people together.