Long-Term Couples, Listen Up: You Should Be Looking At Photos Of Your Partner More

Being in a long-term relationship can be great. You're comfortable and at ease, you've got your commitment and future goals in line, and you can breathe a deep breath of relief that you've found your person and you don't have to be on dating apps like your single friends. Life is good.

But while long-term relationships bring a lot to our lives, enhancing us as individuals for the better and giving us that safety net that someone always has our back, they take quite a bit of work. After a while, these types of relationships can begin to feel lackluster, and that spark you once had? It might have dwindled to being even less than an ember. What's a once-happy, still-in-love long-term couple supposed to do to ignite that misplaced passion? Look at photos of each other, of course.

According to a 2022 study published in the Journal of Psychophysiology, just looking at photos of one's partner has a positive effect on love and their relationship. The same study found that thinking about one's partner and their endearing aspects wasn't enough; it was the photos that made the difference in brain scans. Researchers deduced that this technique could be used to "stabilize" relationships in which their emotions and loving feelings had decreased over time. But how and why does it work? Let's break it down.

It increases infatuation

When you're given photos of your partner and are asked to think of all the good things about them, it brings you back to the infatuation stage of falling in love — which is the second stage of the three stages. (It's also called the attraction stage). Each of these stages is essential in getting you to fall in love with your partner.

What's so great about the infatuation/attraction stage is that you've already gone through the lust phase, in which your sexual craving for your partner is off the charts, so now you get to enjoy them on a level that's less maddening. You know them better so your infatuation isn't just steeped in the sex-related aspects of being with them, but you're infatuated with them in their entirety. You can't get enough of their thoughts, their dreams, their sense of humor — all of it. Being infatuated with your partner is a good place to be and if it takes looking at photos to get back there, then pick up those pictures and take a trip down memory lane.

It boosts relationship satisfaction

Being truly satisfied in your long-term relationship isn't easy. Research has found that within the first 13 years of a relationship satisfaction declines, while a 2021 study originally published in Psychological Bulletin, found that relationship satisfaction is the lowest at age 40 before it increases again around age 65, then plateaus for the rest of the couple's lives. In other words, keeping relationship satisfaction steady throughout your life simply isn't going to happen. No one, in a partnership or not, can be happy with everything all the time. Life throws curve balls at you and although sometimes you're lucky enough to dodge them, other times the ball hits you square in the face.

But as the 2022 study found, looking at photos of your partner enjoying themselves causes brain activity to feel satisfied again. Another 2022 study, this one published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, found that taking it a step further by having participants write a nostalgic experience about their partner, induced romantic nostalgia. Participants reported that they felt more connected to their partner and even more in love, a passionate type of love after the experiment, thereby increasing the relationship satisfaction that might have been lost along the way.

It enhances attachment

The last of the three stages of falling in love is the attachment stage. It's here that partners find relief in having found each other, while experiencing calmness, security, and a deep connection, both mentally and emotionally. Because things are feeling legit, you and your partner look toward the future together as a couple. You move in together, get married, talk about buying a house, having kids (or not), and really lean into being in a committed relationship with each other. The dopamine and norepinephrine that were released during your infatuation/attraction phase are now replaced by oxytocin (the famous "love/cuddle hormone") and vasopressin, so you want to nurture each other, grow together, and basically melt into a long-term — if not forever — bond. It's heaven.

While that attachment stage, being the final stage of falling in love, is supposed to last, it doesn't always mean that over time you won't start to forget those original feelings of wanting to build a life together. Time can subtract appreciation from a relationship. But in playing upon the component of nostalgia to keep a partnership satisfied, looking at photos of your partner in the early part of your attachment phase can help you remember what you forgot. What you took for granted becomes clear and your feelings of attachment are increased.

It heightens affection

Although your partner may not be as cute as a puppy — because very few humans can live up to such a thing — similar to the urge to cuddle a puppy when shown a photo of them, looking at photos of your partner being adorable can do the same. Aw, here's your partner with cake on their face at your wedding. Now here's your partner looking at you clearly impressed by your ability to nail every lyric in TLC's song "No Scrubs," despite the fact that you were five years old when it came out. And over here? It's that first weekend away when you taught your partner to ski and they spent the majority of the time face-planting into the snow. So cute.

It's these memories and the photos that have captured them, that make you want to reach out and hold your partner, pick them up out of that pile of snow, and kiss their forehead. You want to take them in your arms and give them all the affection in the world, as brain scans found.

While looking at photos of your partner might not do the trick if the relationship is already on its way out, if it's just a matter of lacking satisfaction and appreciation, then those photos can really help. Whether it means putting up more photos of them around the house or having a stash of your favorites in a drawer, look at your partner often and let yourself remember just how lucky you two are to have found each other.