If you're thinking of calling up a therapist to help get that spark back in your marriage, put down the phone.
According to new research, looking at cute animals can actually improve the quality of your relationship with your significant other.
The study, titled "How viewing cute animals can help rekindle marital spark," and published in the journal Psychological Science, analyzed data from 144 married couples who were under the age of 40 and had been married for less than five years. Less than half of these couples had children.
Specifically, the research team, led by James K. McNulty of Florida State University, looked at whether pictures of puppies and bunnies could help put passion back into the couples' marriages.
According to a news release, previous research has shown that marital satisfaction declines over time even if the individuals' behaviours stay the same, so McNulty and his team sought to change a spouse's thoughts about their partner as opposed to changing their behaviour, to improve the quality of the relationship.
"Specifically, the research team wanted to find out whether it was possible to improve marital satisfaction by subtly retraining the immediate, automatic associations that come to mind when people think about their spouse," the news release reports.
To "retrain" the couples' ways of thinking towards each other, the team of researchers asked each spouse to view a short stream of images once every three days for six weeks. Those in one group saw their partner's face paired with a "positive" photo, such as a puppy or bunny, while those in the second group saw their partner's face paired with something neutral, like an image of a button.
The experiment showed that those who viewed their partner's image next to a positive image showed more positive automatic reactions to their partners compared to those in the second group, and even reported improved marriage quality.
"I was actually a little surprised that it worked," McNulty said. "All the theory I reviewed on evaluative conditioning suggested it should, but existing theories of relationships, and just the idea that something so simple and unrelated to marriage could affect how people feel about their marriage, made me skeptical."
However, the report stresses that the researchers are not saying that behaviour in a relationship doesn't have an effect on the quality of a marriage. In fact, they argue that "interactions between spouses are actually the most important factor for setting automatic associations."
Nevertheless, this research suggests that short interludes focused on automatic positive attitudes can help a marriage, whether it's used as a tool for marriage counselling, or if the couple is in a long-distance relationship.