According to a study released on January 31, 2014, watching and then talking about one relationship movie every week could cut the divorce rate for newlyweds in half. Involving 174 couples, the study demonstrated that a movie-and-a-chat approach can be as or even more effective than marriage counseling or therapy in terms of lowering the divorce rate.
Ronald Rogge, associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and lead author of the study, and Thomas Bradbury, study co-author and a professor of psychology and co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA, published their findings in the December issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
When the study began, most experts believed that the best way to keep marriages healthy was to teach couples how to deal with conflict during difficult conversations or arguments. The first long-term investigation to compare different types of early relationship intervention programs, the study tracked the efficacy of three different types of intervention: compassion and acceptance training, conflict management, and relationship awareness through movies. The researchers randomly assigned newlywed couples to one of three groups then tracked the results.
Rogge and his team created the compassion and acceptance training program, which taught couples how to work together as a team and find common ground. A series of lectures and exercises were designed to help couples approach their relationships with compassion, empathy, kindness, and affection.
Newlyweds in the conflict management group were taught “active listening” techniques in which one partner had to listen to and then paraphrase what they thought they heard back to the other – ensuring they had understood the message and preventing a knee-jerk response to hot-button topics.
Over the course of a month, both of these groups invested 20 hours in attending weekly lectures and therapist-supervised practice sessions; they also had to complete homework assignments.
The third group (the movie watchers) only spent ten hours on assignments – six of which took place unsupervised in their own homes. After a short lecture about how watching couples interact in movies could shine a light on constructive and destructive relationship behaviors in their own relationships, the third group was sent home to watch Two for the Road; starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney, the movie is a 1967 RomCom about the joys and pains of a ten-year marriage. Each couple received a list of 12 questions about Hepburn and Finney’s interactions, asking them to think about the ways in which the movie relationship was “similar to or different from” their own relationship. The group received a list of 47 movies, and had to choose one to watch every week for the next month; after each movie, they spent 45 minutes in a discussion guided by the researchers’ questions. Movies used in the study covered a wide range of decades and topics, including: A Star is Born, Funny Girl, Indecent Proposal, Love Story, Mississippi Masala, Terms of Endearment, and When a Man Loves a Woman.
To the surprise of the researchers, there was no clear leader in terms of which program worked the best: all three: all three methods dropped the divorce-and-separation rate from 24% (in the control group) to 11%. Couples in the control group received no intervention, but they were otherwise similar to the couples participating in the three programs in terms of age, education, ethnicity, etc.
Of course, just seeing a weekly movie is not likely to save a troubled relationship – but you can access a list of movie and discussion questions here: http://www.rochester.edu/news/divorce-rate-cut-in-half-for-couples-who-discussed-relationship-movies/movie-list.html
Rogge’s lab website (http://www.courses.rochester.edu/surveys/funk) offers interactive tools for couples, who can also sign up to participate in a follow-up online study of the movie-and-talk intervention on the website.
So if your spouse refuses to go to couples therapy with you, why not try RomCom-and-chat?
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