The Number One Phrase Used in Successful Relationships

By Lauren Hall
June 12, 2024

How often do you say “thank you” to your spouse or significant other? 

If this question makes you feel uncomfortable, guilty, or maybe even ask the counter-question, “For what!?,” you’re not alone.

A recent 50-year study completed by The Gottman Institute found that the single most important phrase couples can use in their relationship is “thank you.” After observing 40,000 couples during therapy sessions, Drs. John and Julie Gottman found relationships with an “enthusiastic culture of appreciation” were more likely to be successful for a lifetime than those who don’t regularly practice gratitude.

Think back through your last couple of days or weeks. How often did you say “thank you” to a total stranger? Of course, you thanked the person who held the door open for you or the waiter who refilled your glass. Do you feel the same urgency to say “thank you” to your partner? Do you express your gratitude when they empty the dishwasher, finish the laundry, or listen while you vent about your day?

In full transparency, after completing this simple exercise, I realized I don’t say “thank you” to my husband as often as I should. It’s not that I’m not grateful for him. Life is just busy. There are a million things on my plate, and I don’t pause long enough to show him how appreciative I am.

The Gottmans’ study also revealed that couples who have been together for an extended period (typically two years or longer) can often develop a culture of “only noticing the things their partner is doing wrong rather than what they’re doing right.” 

For example, if your spouse was home all day but didn’t fold the massive mountain of clean clothes on the dining room table, you may come home and tell them how frustrated you feel. You might automatically assume they were lazy or even left the clothes for you to tackle. But, if you come home to a nicely stacked pile of laundry, you may say nothing. You’re just relieved there’s one less thing on your plate. 

To shift this mindset and create a positive cycle of appreciation in your relationship, the Gottmans suggest giving four things a try:

  1. Practice noticing the positive. Watch your partner and note the positive things they do. 
  2. Say “thank you.” Tell them every time you notice something that makes you feel grateful.
  3. Focus on the present. When you shift your mindset toward the positive, you’ll also have to practice letting go of the past. Don’t let previous actions cloud your desire to build something different in your relationship.
  4. Remember, this isn’t about changing your partner. Creating a cycle of appreciation begins with changing your mental habits, not changing your partner. If your partner isn’t immediately on board, stay positive and express that gratitude. Watch how contagious gratitude can be.

As you think about this information and how to apply it to your relationship, remember that creating new cycles and building new thought patterns doesn’t come easy. In fact, it can be quite challenging. First Things First is always here to support you. We have resources on our website and provide one-on-one relationship coaching if needed! Find out more about this service at

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at [email protected].

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