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Cambridge University Science Magazine
When someone does something thoughtful for you, do you feel grateful, or do you feel indebted? What about when that person is your significant other? There is a hypothesis that while gratitude inspires creative repayments and enhances relationships, felling indebt to someone only motivates a dutiful 'exchange' of benefits.

Algoe, Gable and Maisel looked at the interplay between these emotions and the effect on romantic relationships. A group of sixty-seven cohabiting couples, completed a brief questionnaire every evening for a fortnight. They were asked about whether they had done something thoughtful for their partner and whether they thought their partner had done something thoughtful for them. The results show that on average each participant only noticed that their partners had done something thoughtful for them half of the time (51%).

The perception of thoughtful acts were seen to have subtly different effects depending on gender; the men felt indebted and grateful, while the women simply felt grateful. The feeling of gratitude was found to be linked to higher satisfaction with the relationship and for men, a stronger feeling of connection with their partners. The analysis also showed that feeling indebt to your partner does not have the same enhancing effects on the relationship.

Compared to non-romantic relationships, the feeling of gratitude does not seem to enhance the relationship from day to day, only on the day the act was carried out and noticed. The researchers believe that this is because romantic relationships are already very close, with various mutually beneficial arrangements in place. The researchers concluded that even in strong, ongoing romantic relationships, there is still a place for gratitude, which can boost the quality of the relationship and possibly turn 'ordinary moments' into opportunities for relationship growth.

Written by Wing Ying Chow