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The Power of Looking at Photos of Your Spouse

The impact of attention on marital satisfaction.

Key points

  • Viewing pictures of a spouse can increase attachment, infatuation, and marital satisfaction.
  • Motivated attention is highest when viewing pictures of a spouse, compared to pictures that are pleasant or neutral.
  • Photos of one's partner can be a tool to help stabilize marriages experiencing a decline in feelings of love over time.

Married couples can drift apart over time, both physically and emotionally, adversely impacting relational satisfaction. Indeed, marital counseling and therapy is a robust, booming industry. But according to research, enhancing feelings of love and marital satisfaction might be much easier, less expensive, and possibly even more effective.

Picture Perfect

No one has a perfect spouse. But apparently, looking at their picture might improve our view of how close they come. Sandra J.E. Langeslag and Kruti Surti (2022) studied the impact of “motivated attention” on one’s spouse, and an increase in feelings of love and marital satisfaction.[1] They tested the impact of positive reappraisal of one’s spouse, as well as up-regulating positive emotions unrelated to a spouse, on increased spouse attachment and infatuation, marital satisfaction, and motivated attention to a spouse.

Langeslag and Surti found that viewing pictures of a spouse increased attachment, infatuation, and marital satisfaction as compared with viewing pictures that were pleasant or neutral. They found that thinking about positive aspects of their spouse and increasing positive emotions unrelated to a spouse did not increase attachment, infatuation, or marital satisfaction. Motivated attention was highest when viewing pictures of a spouse, compared with viewing pictures that were pleasant or neutral. Accordingly, Langeslag and Surti conclude that looking at pictures of a spouse is an easy strategy that has the potential to be used to stabilize marriages where partners are experiencing a decline in feelings of love over time.

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Langeslag and Surti suggest their research demonstrates that the simple strategy of just looking at pictures of their spouse can make partners feel “more in love with their spouse and more satisfied with their marriage.” This strategy is apparently unwittingly being employed by scores of working people around the world who keep family photos on their desks or social media users who use a photo of their spouse as an Avatar. Although it appears that it is actually looking at the photos that make the difference, the opportunity is there.

Someone who has their spouse’s photo saved as part of the contact on their phone will see a photo of their partner several times a day when they call, and couples who keep family photos displayed at home are also creating an environment that is apparently conducive to reminding each other of the positive aspects of their marriage. Many couples want to have photos of their significant others where they can see them, probably unaware of the additional benefit.

Looking for a Photo Finish

Obviously, when it comes to saving a marriage on the rocks there is much more to the equation. And if a couple is far enough down the wrong road or in the throes of an argument, looking at a photo of the perceived offender may add fuel to the wrong type of fire.

In addition to using a visual cue as a reminder of the love you have for your spouse, there is no downside to also reflecting on the positive attributes your significant other brings to the table. Concentrating on the constructive character traits and behaviors of your partner instead of their faults and flaws can improve the mood, which in turn has the potential to improve your marriage.

References

[1] Langeslag, Sandra J. E., and Kruti Surti. 2022. “Increasing Love Feelings, Marital Satisfaction, and Motivated Attention to the Spouse.” Journal of Psychophysiology, February. doi:10.1027/0269-8803/a000294.

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