What do puppies, pizza and babies have in common? Besides being some of life’s greatest joys, they may all improve your marriage according to James McNulty, a psychology professor at Florida State University and lead author of an interesting new study. His research found that couples who looked at alternating photos of their spouses and the pleasurable stimuli above for six minutes every three days reported being more happily married after six weeks.
The study may seem a bit silly and frivilous, but it actually had a very important purpose. McNulty and his team were approached by the U.S. Department of Defense to see if they could come up with ways to strengthen the marriages of military personnel deployed in stressful combat situations. The divorce rate among veterans separated from their spouses is 62% higher than other couples.
The idea behind the study was based on whether or not a person’s immediate response to seeing a partner could be changed.
“People’s gut level feelings about their partners are very important,” McNulty said in an interview with Time magazine.
Basically, if your attitude toward your spouse tends to be one of happiness and ease, your interactions with that person will reflect that – and vice versa.
With the incredible stress placed on the shoulders of military personnel and their spouses, the brain can begin to associate that person with stress and negativity.
“It turns out the brain doesn’t really know the difference between some types of associations,” McNulty says, “and so we can kind of trick our minds into associating our partners with positive feelings.”
The researchers asked 144 couples to view photo streams online three minutes a day for six weeks. Some viewers saw their spouse alongside a neutral image, like a button. Others viewed their partner’s photo next to a cute animal, a smiling baby, or a delicious food item, along with the word wonderful.
Every two weeks the researchers asked the participants if their gut-reactions toward their spouses were positive or negative. Those who got the positive images associated with their spouses reported feeling better about their marriages.
Wallpapering your home with images of your spouse cradling adorable puppies will not fix your marriage according to McNulty, but he and his team are applying for more funding to see if the positive feelings can be extended for longer periods, and whether the effect would be stronger if the photos were tailored to each person’s individual tastes.
H/T to Time Magazine