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The Emotion that Protects Relationships from Stress

The big screen is full of iconic couples – some make us swoon and others make us wonder why they put up with each other day after day. Romeo and Juliet, Sandy and Danny, and Benjamin Braddock and Mrs. Robinson easily make the most popular list. As much as movie-goers love an old-fashioned romantic comedy with a happy ending, toxic relationships poke our emotional buttons in a different way. Amy and Nick, Carrie and Mr. Big, Anastasia and Christian.

Maybe the epitome of a dysfunctional relationship is that of Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in War of the Roses. Barbara and Oliver Rose live happily as a married couple--until she starts to imagine what life would be like without him, and likes what she sees. Both want to stay in their house, so they begin a campaign to force each other to leave. In the middle of their fighting is the divorce lawyer played by Danny DeVito, who stokes the fires.

While War of the Roses won numerous awards back in 1990, toxic and dysfunctional relationships continue to win our entertainment dollars. Sometimes, we root for the couple to get it together. Other times, we want the narcissist or the cheater to get what’s coming to them. We love to hate them. But in real life, not so much.

Life can be hard and often complicated. Relationships – professional and personal – are sometimes messy and they take work to nurture. And, unlike the relationships we observe on the screen, our emotions aren't written neatly into a script.

Recent research shows that there is one emotion that protects relationships against the normal stresses and strains of relationships. A 2022 study found that people who feel appreciated by their partner are more satisfied with the relationship. Moreover, those who felt gratitude from their partners felt more confident and perceived their lives to be more stable.

The same holds true in the workplace. In research conducted by O.C. Tanner, 37% of those surveyed said that more appreciation would motivate them to produce better work more often. According to a study done at, around 54% of employees leave their jobs because of a lack of appreciation from their companies. Also, Gallup mentions employees who do not feel recognized at work are twice as likely to leave their jobs in the next year.

The bottom line: if you want to nurture healthy relationships at work and at home, practice gratitude. The research is clear that making those around you feel important and appreciated has a powerful buffering effect against stress and conflict.


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