Long distance relationships are really difficult to maintain-- you get to have different timelines, so you possibly get to eat and sleep on your own. There's also the issue of not having to physically touch them, to embrace them or to kiss them. This is especially true for soldiers who are deployed overseas. And while they say absence makes the heart grow fonder, not being together can create certain loneliness and struggles of holding on.
Now, a new study published in Psychological Science found that the aching hearts of long distance lovers might just be soothed with positive pictures like sunsets and puppies.
"I was asked to conceptualize and test a brief way to help married couples cope with the stress of separation and deployment. We would really like to develop a procedure that could help soldiers and other people in situations that are challenging for relationships," says James K. McNulty, a professor of psychology in Florida State University and author of the study, in a press release.
The researchers gathered 144 married couples living in and near Tallahassee, Florida. All of the couples have an average age of 28, have been married for less than five years, and 42 percent have children.
The couples were then assigned to two groups: the first group were shown an image of their partner paired with a series of positive images, like a puppy or a rabbit. The second group, on the other hand, were shown with neutral ones like a straw or a button. All of this was done every three days, for six weeks. The couples were also asked to review a series of faces-- one of which is their partner, with positive or negative words-- every two weeks. By the end of the study, the couples in the first group reported to have a more positive relationship with their spouses and their marriage improved.
McNulty himself is surprised that the experiment worked. "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," he said.
But this does not mean that you should spam your partner with pictures of cute puppies. McNulty says that positive interactions are still the best way to form positive associations between partners. You still have to constantly tell them "I love you" and support them in their challenges.