Having children has traditionally been perceived as a remedy for a crippled marriage, possibly because the two partners begin to associate each other with their new infant and therefore become less likely to think negatively about one another.
After all, previous research has revealed that satisfaction among spouses decreases despite few if any changes in either spouse’s daily habits. This suggests that changing someone’s perception about his or her spouse, rather than a change in behavior, is the key to restoring marriage satisfaction.
A new study conducted at Florida State University found that a newborn human isn’t the only thing you can associate with your spouse in order to potentially save your marriage.
Researchers led by psychological scientist James K. McNulty recruited 144 married couples, all of which were under the age of 40 and had been married for less than 5 years.According to the Association for Psychological Science, the average participant was approximately 28 years old and 40% of the couples were parents.
Each couple first completed several surveys to gauge marriage satisfaction before undergoing a process known as evaluative conditioning a few days later.This process is similar to that which led Pavlov’s dogs to associate the sound of a bell with food.
Split into an experimental group and a control group, the spouses underwent evaluative conditioning once every three days over the course of six weeks.
Members of both groups would individually view a stream of images containing pictures of their spouses. The images viewed by the experimental group paired the spouse’s face with an image of a puppy or a bunny whereas the control group viewed images of their spouse paired with a neutral stimuli, like a button.
All participants also completed surveys every 2 weeks over the course of 8 weeks in order to gauge the conditioning’s effect on the spouse’s emotional reactions to images of each other. The researchers discovered that the participants who viewed images of their spouse’s face paired with a puppy or bunny displayed more positive emotional reactions to their spouses than the control group.
“One ultimate source of our feelings about our relationships can be reduced to how we associate our partners with positive affect, and those associations can come from our partners but also from unrelated things, like puppies and bunnies,�? McNulty said.
The ongoing surveys showed that members of the experimental group experienced gradual improvements in marriage satisfaction as the study progressed. These participants developed a more positive perception of their spouses after being conditioned to associate them with puppies or bunnies.
The findings support several studies that found that pets can improve seemingly broken relationships. A 2014 study conducted in Britain, for example, revealed getting a pet dog to be the most successful method of improving a relationship, as per the experiences of over 2,000 people.
This might stem from another study released one year prior that found that couples with pets have lower blood pressure and heart rate than couples without pets. Of the 240 couples involved in this study, those with pets also displayed faster recovery to stressors, especially when their pets were nearby.
In addition to the animal itself, spouses with pets might very well associate each other with the changes they have observed in themselves after becoming pet owners. Keeping a pet healthy requires regular physical activity and a higher level of responsibility, which could give each spouse a more positive image. It’s only logical to assume that it’s easier for a couple to get along after each member becomes healthier and more responsible solely for the benefit of someone else, human or non-human.