ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (11): 2586-2594.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.02586

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The impacts of interpersonal gratitude on relationship maintenance

LI Song1, LIU Junjun2, BAO Xiuqin1, CHEN Xu1   

  1. 1Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University, Chongqing 400715, China
    2Department of Psychology, Institute of Education, China West Normal University, Nanchong 637002, China
  • Received:2021-10-25 Online:2022-11-15 Published:2022-11-09


Relationship maintenance helps individuals deal with threats, improve the probability of survival and reproduction, enhance individual happiness and promote social harmony, which is a series of strategies, including threat mitigation strategies (e.g., positive reframing), relationship enhancement strategies (e.g., social support), and maladaptive relationship maintenance strategies (e.g., compromise), used by individuals to establish, maintain, repair and enhance interpersonal relationships. Although relationship maintenance strategies play a role in forming good relationships with others and enhancing personal well-being, they also increase the risk and pain that accompanies rejection. Interpersonal gratitude, generated from high-quality interpersonal interaction, is a positive emotion pointing to praising others when individuals receive benefits or kindness from another person’s actions and their own needs are met which helps to inhibit self-protection motivation and activate relationship maintenance motivation. Previous studies have found that interpersonal gratitude has a positive impact on relationship maintenance, but, to our knowledge, there is still a lack of systematic combing of the manifestations of interpersonal gratitude in relationship maintenance and the underlying mechanisms of the effect of interpersonal gratitude on relationship maintenance. Therefore, the goal of the current study is to review the relationship maintenance function of interpersonal gratitude. The main functions of interpersonal gratitude in the interpersonal relationship are three aspects: threat mitigation, relationship enhancement, and maladaptive relationship maintenance. Specifically, when interpersonal relationships are threatened, interpersonal gratitude helps individuals to repair interpersonal relationships through threat mitigation strategies at the intrapersonal and interpersonal levels; When the threat is removed, interpersonal gratitude promotes the development of relationships by enhancing the willingness of individuals to maintain relationships, affirming the importance of partners and encouraging partners to further maintain interpersonal relationships. However, it is also worth noting that interpersonal gratitude may make individuals adopt maladaptive relationship maintenance strategies to maintain contact with others as well which is against their own will and social norms. In addition, based on the risk management theory of relationship maintenance, the current study proposes a risk management model to explore how interpersonal gratitude influences relationship maintenance. The model suggests that interpersonal gratitude makes individuals more willing to adopt relationship maintenance strategies to repair and promote interpersonal relationships through the improvement of self-evaluation and others-evaluation. Interpersonal gratitude, on the one hand, will broaden personal resources and improve self-evaluations; on the other hand, it also contributes to finding high-quality partners and binds individuals by building close interpersonal relationships to improve others-evaluation. Although previous studies have examined the relationship between interpersonal relationships and relationship maintenance, there are still some questions that need to be deeply discussed to better improve interpersonal relationships by enhancing interpersonal gratitude. First of all, given that interpersonal gratitude derives from interpersonal interaction between the benefactor and the recipient, future research thus should focus on the positive effects of interpersonal gratitude on relationship maintenance from a dyadic perspective to explore whether and how the expression of gratitude from the recipient enhances the benefactor’s motivation of relationship maintenance by the mediating effects of self-evaluations and others-evaluations; Second, exploring the role of self-evaluation and others-evaluation in the impact of interpersonal gratitude on relationship maintenance from the perspective of multi-evaluation; for example, the role of self-evaluation and others-evaluation could be taken into account at the same time and compare the different effects between implicit and explicit evaluations. In the end, the study of the relationship maintenance function of interpersonal gratitude could be further tested using various methods. it is necessary to explore whether there are cultural differences in the effect of interpersonal gratitude on relationship maintenance. A longitudinal study design should be used to test the impact of social change. Meanwhile, verifying the risk regulation theory of interpersonal gratitude influencing relationship maintenance is an effective way to reveal the underlying mechanisms of the effect of interpersonal gratitude on relationship maintenance from the perspective of multimodal neuroimaging.

Key words: interpersonal gratitude, relationship maintenance, self-evaluations, other-evaluations

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