A new study suggests that a grateful partner can help heal the wounds of an insecure attachment, particularly attachment anxiety.
Researchers analyzed data from a long-term study in Germany that surveyed romantic couples yearly over seven years. To measure attachment anxiety, couples were asked to rate how much they agreed with statements like “Sometimes I’m not sure if my partner enjoys being with me as much as I enjoy being with him/her,” or “I’m often afraid my partner thinks I’m silly or stupid if I make a mistake.”
They also rated how satisfied they were with their relationship overall and reported how grateful their partner was by answering questions like “How often does your partner express recognition for what you’ve done?” and “How often does your partner show that he/she appreciates you?” The researchers then ran a series of analyses on the data, trying to see how these factors changed over time.
Their findings showed that when people high in attachment anxiety felt greater gratitude from their partners, their anxiety was significantly lower a year later, while the reverse was not true—lower anxiety did not seem to predict more gratitude later on.
To Yoobin Park, the study’s lead author, this suggests that gratitude plays a role in reducing the stress that attachment anxiety causes in a relationship.
“When people high in attachment anxiety receive a partner’s recognition and appreciation, they feel more worthy and competent,” says Park. “They can infer that their act of kindness has successfully met their partner’s needs and that their partner values them and their relationship.”
“I’d recommend we all think about what it is about our partners that we appreciate the most,” says Park. “Then, make sure our partner is aware of how grateful we are”.