The Fascinating Psychology Behind Couple Tattoos

Snapwire via Pexel
Snapwire via Pexel

So you met the love of your life, and now you want to commemorate the relationship with a symbol as everlasting as your love for one another. No, we're not talking about an engagement ring. We're talking about a couple's tattoo.

Similar to what is often referred to as a "tramp stamp," up until recently, the couple's tattoo has been stigmatized as cringe at best, and risky at worst. A lot of the hesitation stems from its permanence and public examples of tattoo regret (think: Johnny Depp's infamous Winona cover-up). Ironically, the idea of getting married can feel more reversible.

Still, with over 750 million views around the term on TikTok, it seems more people are getting tattoos with their significant others — just look at Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck and Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra. So, why is the couple's tattoo gaining popularity again?

The rise of social media and its expectation to share personal milestones could be a significant driving factor. "Couples may feel a need or desire to publicly showcase their commitment and love story, leading to a rise in tattoos as a visible, permanent symbol," Raffaello Antonino, PsyD, counseling psychologist, tells POPSUGAR. "Alongside the general societal destigmatization of tattoos, this could be contributing to their growing popularity among couples."

On the flip side, a couple's tattoo can be a way to break away from social norms and traditions. "This trend mirrors an increasing desire for non-traditional expressions of commitment," says Laura Wasser, family expert and divorce attorney for the stars (cough, cough Kim Kardashian). "The driving factor is the search for more personalized and unique ways to symbolize relationships, beyond conventional methods like wedding rings."

POPSUGAR spoke with experts to better understand what type of couples are more likely to get one and what it signifies about your relationship.

Why Do Some Couples Get Matching Tattoos?

There are many reasons to want a couple's tattoo with your partner, from symbolizing commitment to sharing a meaningful experience. It was harmless fun for Casey Ryan and her husband during their honeymoon in Italy last year. They each chose a different pasta shape for the inside of their elbow, on opposite arms, so when they hold hands, the ink aligns.

"It was spontaneous, cheesy, fun, a bit thrilling like a leap of faith because it is so early on in our marriage," she shares with POPSUGAR. "Even if we don't end up staying together over the entire course of our lives, I think it will be a beautiful time in our relationship to look back on and remember."

In an informal poll on social media, most people who wrote in with couple tattoos said they only did it when they were already married — almost an extension of their commitment to each other. Ryan admits that she was firmly in the anti-couple-tattoo camp before marriage.

Paulina Jayne Isaac tattooed a line from her husband's vows. "I love tattoos," she says when asked what drew her to the idea. "They represent a certain feeling for me and mark a time in my life." The vow was her sixth tattoo. "It's a wonderful reminder every time I see it and is a symbol of our commitment to each other. I like how my tattoos tell a story."

For others, it's less about the commitment of marriage and more about the tattoo itself. Quinn is polyamorous and wants to get a couple's tattoos with two of their partners. For them, it's less about symbolizing commitment and more about sharing a fun, niche reference to their relationships. "It's just cute, and I know we'll be in each other's lives, so it feels safe to get it."

The motivations behind a couple choosing to get a matching tattoo can reveal their relationship dynamics. "On a healthy spectrum, couples who share a passion for tattoos might see it as an exciting shared experience, a bonding activity that further strengthens their connection and commitment," Dr. Antonino says. "This can symbolize an equal partnership where both individuals share the same values and interests."

With their relationship's on-again, off-again nature, Lopez and Affleck are a great example of a couple who would desire a symbol of permanency. Point made: The singer captioned the Instagram reveal of their couple's tattoo with "#CommitmentIsSexy."

However, in some cases, the decision can be rooted in insecure attachment styles, Dr. Antonino says. If a couple is on rocky ground, it might be tempting to make a big gesture in the hope it will save the relationship, similar to a home renovation or vow renewal.

"One partner might urge the other into getting a matching tattoo as a means of controlling or asserting possession, a reflection of their fear of abandonment or betrayal," he says. "While it may seem romantic on the surface, it's important to identify and address these potentially harmful dynamics."

The History of the Couple's Tattoo

Some divorce attorneys may feel too cynical to support a couple's tattoo, but Dan Zie, CEO of Sunmood Divorce Consultancy, offers a different perspective. "Tattoos have been a part of Chinese culture for centuries, and couples getting tattoos were sometimes used to show love, commitment, and loyalty between two people," he tells POPSUGAR.

The earliest example is the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE). "During this time period, it was common for couples to get matching yin-yang symbols on their skin," Zie says. The symbol represents the balance between male and female energies in relationships then. "And later in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE), couples commonly got matching Buddhist symbols such as lotus flowers or wheels of Dh to represent their connection with each other spiritually and physically."

Tattoo customs have changed a lot since then. In recent decades, tattoos have gone from taboo counterculture to becoming more normalized. Some couples are just the type to get matching tattoos, and it doesn't require as much significance as people once thought.

Now there are many variations of the "couple's tattoo," from matching ink to pieces inspired by each other. For example, Alli Tooms-Joner got a Nightmare Before Christmas tattoo inspired by her husband. "In 2020, we got married on Halloween, and we pretty much celebrate it year-round," she says. "For our first anniversary, when I started my sleeve, I knew I wanted an NBC tattoo, so when I got this one, it was with him in mind."

A couple's tattoo doesn't even have to symbolize everlasting love. In her memoir "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail," Cheryl Strayed wrote that she got a matching tattoo with her husband right before finalizing their divorce to represent the mark they left on each other. Each tattoo is unique to the couple.

Is Getting a Couple's Tattoo Ever a Good Idea?

The short answer: each couple knows what's best for their relationship. But Dr. Antonino suggests taking a beat to understand your motives. "If you're seeking a tattoo to quell insecurities or fears of abandonment, it might be more beneficial to address those issues directly with your partner or a therapist." Because, of course, getting a tattoo together has potential consequences.

"Relationships may not always last forever, and a tattoo is a permanent reminder of a past relationship," says Kalley Hartman, licensed marriage and family therapist in Newport Beach, CA. "This can be especially difficult if the couple breaks up or feelings change over time." So before getting a couple's tattoo, individuals should consider the permanence of the decision because removal can be painful and expensive.

Would you still be happy with the tattoo if the relationship doesn't work out? Kelsa Blaine got an anchor tattoo on her ring finger as a symbol of how her husband grounded her. A little over a year later, they divorced. "I feel like it's still a good reminder to myself to stay grounded." She plans to turn the tattoo into a mountain or a tree if she ever gets remarried.

Ultimately, it's essential to think the decision through first. "Tattoos are more permanent than even marriage," Tooms-Joner says. "My husband is still my best friend and the best thing that has ever happened to me. But life happens, and you never know what the future will be. Even if something does happen, this tattoo will be a representation of my life and the love I have now."