As anyone who’s been partnered or married awhile can attest, it can feel, over time, like you’ve morphed into a two-headed, multi-limbed hydra. Yet, while functioning within all this perceived oneness, the quips and quirks of your longtime partner can, at various junctures in your union, really work your damn nerves. This is because, though you share a love and a soul and maybe even a family, you remain within the confines of your own skin, with your own desires and needs and thought processes that, one way or another, demand to be heard above the din of “we.”
The pressures of everyday life — especially the responsibilities of children — can certainly douse water on the home fires over time: A 2016 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family revealed (obviously) that parents share a lot less couple time than nonparents, and those in the study were happier and less stressed when they had that couple time as opposed to when they were apart.
How are long-term couples supposed to keep the love alive, so to speak? A team of psychological scientists from Florida State University (FSU) just discovered an unexpected answer — and it may lie in those images of cute puppies and bunnies that clog up your Facebook feed.
The team at FSU wanted to figure out if changing affective associations with a relationship partner through what they call “evaluative conditioning,” or learning to like or dislike something because of its perceived link with a consequence, could then lead to more positive feelings about the relationship. Married couples were asked to look at a short stream of pictures, including pictures of their partner, which were paired with — you guessed it — either cute pix of animals or less appealing subject matter, once every 3 days for 6 weeks. Wouldn’t you know it, the couples who looked at pictures of their partners paired with positive stimuli were feeling more positive about their partners than those who were forced to see their partners intermingled with negative stimuli. In conclusion, the scientists believe this result proves how our attitudes toward others can change through “passive exposure to information, and suggest novel avenues for relationship interventions.”