Don’t know what to do for Valentine’s Day? Maybe one of the simplest activities, like watching a romantic movie and discussing it, can be sweeter than you think. (It doesn't have to be The Notebook.)
Researchers believe that watching movies and discussing them can have a lasting impact on the quality of your relationship; couples who watch movies together may actually lower their chances for divorce, according to a study released recently. The researchers, interested in exploring different “treatment” options for struggling couples, found that watching five movies about relationships together over the period of a month could cut the divorce rate in half.
They also examined how couples reacted to other relationship exercises that had nothing to do with watching movies but rather focused on compassion and acceptance training and conflict management. The last exercise, however, did focus on movies as a tool to help couples communicate better. The study included 174 heterosexual couples who were recently married.
“The results suggest that husbands and wives have a pretty good sense of what they might be doing right and wrong in their relationships,” Ronald Rogge, associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “Thus, you might not need to teach them a whole lot of skills to cut the divorce rate. You might just need to get them to think about how they are currently behaving. And for five movies to give us a benefit over three years — that is awesome.”
The researchers studied what occurred in a movie-and-talk group, where participants first attended a 10-minute lecture on relationship awareness, and how watching couples in movies could help them be aware of their own behavior. They watched Two for the Road (1967), a romantic comedy describing a couple’s ups and downs with young love, infidelity, and career stress. Then, the couples were asked to meet alone to discuss 12 questions about the movie couple’s relationship. “Were they able to open up and tell each other how they really felt, or did they tend to just snap at each other with anger? Did they try using humor to keep things from getting nasty?”
With these questions, the couples were able to look back on their own relationship to see how it may relate to them. They were then tasked with watching one movie per week for about a month, while being required to talk about the narrative with one another for about a half hour afterward. They were able to choose out of 47 movies, like As Good It Gets (1997) and Gone With the Wind (1939). “I think it’s the couples reinvesting in their relationship and taking a cold hard look at their own behavior that makes the difference,” Rogge said. “For these couples to stop and look and say, ‘You know, I have yelled at you like that before. I have called you names before and that’s not nice. That’s not what I want to do to the person I love the most.’ Just that insight alone, is likely what makes this intervention work.”
There are plenty of romantic movies out there to watch on Valentine’s Day — whether comedic or not. There’s the Before Sunrise series, for example, which follows the lengthy love affair of a couple who first meet on a train to Vienna and spend one night together falling in love. The three movies, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight are all spaced 9 years apart, and consist mostly of Celine and Jesse, the two protagonists, as they walk and talk their way through a city. The two discuss love, relationships, philosophy, career, and also their changes and how they have grown — they also experience conflict in the last movie, when they are well into their forties and have kids and career problems.
There’s also Love Story and Steel Magnolias, both of which are included in the study’s movie list. Interestingly, the study’s authors removed the typical “falling in love” stories like Sleepless in Seattle or When Harry Met Sally, and focused instead on movies that revealed the difficulties of relationships at their lows and highs. “The idea that you are supposed to fall in love instantly and effortlessly is not reality and not relevant to most couples who are two, three or four years into a relationship,” Rogge said in the press release, The New York Times reported.
Think of it as a form of self-help. “It’s incredibly portable,” Rogge said in the press release. “There are really great marriage intervention programs available now but most required trained therapists to administer them. If couples can do this on their own, it makes it so much easier to help them.”