Simply looking at pictures of your spouse helps to boost infatuation, attachment, and marital satisfaction, according to new research published in the Journal of Psychophysiology.
“It is important to study romantic love because it affects virtually everyone. And when people fall in love, it affects them greatly (both positively and negatively),” said study author Sandra Langeslag, an associate professor at University of Missouri in St. Louis and director of the Neurocognition of Emotion and Motivation Lab.
“We know that love feelings typically decline over time in long-term relationships, and that declining love feelings are a common reason for break-ups. In this study, we wanted to examine whether and how people can increase love feelings for a spouse, because that may help stabilize marriages in which declining love feelings are the main problem, which in turn may reduce the chance of a divorce.”
The study included 25 married participants, who had known their spouses for 11.9 years on average.
To obtain some baseline assessments and collect control data, the participants first reported their spouse’s gender, their infatuation with their spouse, how attached to their spouse they currently felt, how long they had known their spouse, how long ago they started being romantically interested in their spouse, the duration of their relationship, and the duration of their marriage. They also completed an assessment of marital satisfaction and love regulation.
Next, the participants completed a computerized task in which they viewed pictures of their spouse along with pleasant and neutral pictures while their electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded. Some of the spouse pictures and pleasant pictures were preceded by emotional regulation prompts, such as “Think of one good personality trait of your spouse” and “This man is fulfilling his dream of hang gliding.” During the task, the participants used sliders to indicate how infatuated with their spouse they felt, how attached to their spouse they felt, and how satisfied with their marriage they felt.
The researchers found that participants felt more infatuated, attached, and satisfied after viewing spouse pictures compared to pleasant or neutral pictures. In addition, a pattern of electrical brain activity known as the late positive potential (LPP) was most positive in response to spouse pictures, indicating that “participants had more motivated attention to a spouse than pleasant pictures.”
“Even though people sometimes think that it is not possible to control love feelings, this study showed that looking at pictures of your partner increases love feelings and relationship satisfaction,” Langeslag told PsyPost. “An advantage of looking at partner pictures (vs. attending couple’s therapy, for example) is that it can be done alone, without the involvement of the partner.”
“This may be helpful in long-distance relationships in which the partner might not be available or in situations in which only one person in the relationship is looking to increase their love feelings, possibly even without the partner’s knowledge. Thus, looking at partner pictures is an easy strategy that people could use by themselves to help stabilize their marriage (or other long-term relationship) in which the main problem is the decline of love feelings over time.”
Surprisingly, however, prompting the participants to positively reappraisal their spouse during the task did not increase infatuation, attachment, or marital satisfaction any further. It also did not increase the LPP amplitude. The prompts that encouraged participants to interpret upcoming pleasant pictures in a more positive way, in contrast, did increase the LPP amplitude.
It is also unclear how long the effects of the picture-viewing task lasted. “Because participants in this study performed the various strategies (such as looking at partner pictures) during the testing session, only the short-term effects of those strategies could be tested,” Langeslag said. “To evaluate which strategies are most effective at increasing love feelings and relationship satisfaction, both the short-term and long-term effects should be tested.”
“To do that, participants would have to perform the strategies multiple times over the course of several days or weeks and rate their love feelings and relationship satisfaction repeatedly. Although this would be a very informative study, it would also be difficult and expensive to conduct.”
“In a series of other studies, we have shown that 1) thinking positively about the beloved/partner, the relationship, and/or the future increases love feelings as well, 2) sexual imagery increases sexual desire and love feelings for a long-term partner, and 3) thinking negatively about an (ex-)partner decreases love feelings, which may be helpful when coping with heartbreak,” Langeslag added.
The study, “Increasing Love Feelings, Marital Satisfaction, and Motivated Attention to the Spouse“, was authored by Sandra J. E. Langeslag and Kruti Surti.