Two words that will save a relationship are 'thank you', say US researchers

Showing appreciation for one's partner can also act as a buffer against the negative effects of conflict

Expressing gratitude to your partner might be the single best way to maintain a high-quality marriage, new research has found.

Saying "thank you" and showing appreciation can act as an effective buffer to divorce and dictate how committed partners feel in their relationship, according to researchers at University of Georgia.

Feelings of gratitude can also counteract the impact of conflict and negative encounters, they said.

"It goes to show the power of 'thank you,'" the study's lead author, Allen Barton, a former doctoral student in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and current postdoctoral research associate at UGA's Center for Family Research, said in the journal Personal Relationships.

"Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes."

The study asked 468 married people questions about their financial well-being, whether they "demanded" or "withdrew" in communication and expressions of spousal gratitude, using a telephone survey.

Gratitude, which was measured by how appreciated and valued individuals felt by their spouse, turned out to be the most consistent predictor of marital quality.

Saying "thank you" and being appreciative could also interrupt a cycle of poor communication when partners are stressed or under pressure.

"Importantly, we found that when couples are engaging in a negative conflict pattern like demand or withdrawal, expressions of gratitude and appreciation can counteract or buffer the negative effects of this type of interaction on marital stability," study co-author Ted Futris, an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, told the journal.

The findings could help married couples - and all relationships - to tackle negative conflict issues and improve the quality of their relationship, added Dr Barton.

"This is the first study to document the protective effect that feeling appreciated by your spouse can have for marriages," he said.

"We think it is quite important as it highlights a practical way couples can help strengthen their marriage, particularly if they are not the most adept communicators in conflict."