Newlywed couples that watched five relationship-themed movies and discussed a series of guided questions afterwards cut their likelihood of divorce by the three-year mark in half, according to a new study.
This simple activity was just as effective as other more expensive and intense “therapist-led” methods, lowering the divorce or separation rate from 24 to 11 percent.
The results suggest that “you might not need to teach” couples “a whole lot of skills to cut the divorce rate,” said the lead author of the study, Ronald Regge, associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “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 assigned 174 newylwed couples to one of three groups, following them for the first three-years because that is when most divorces occur.
One group learned conflict management, the second group studied compassion and acceptance training, and the third group watched-and-discussed a relationship movie.
The first two groups had weekly lectures, supervised practice sessions, homework assignments, therapist-led technique training, and required 20 hours of time investment.
The third group attended a 10-minute lecture on relationship awareness in the context of movie watching. They took half as much time for their assignments (all but four hours of which were completed at home!)
“Prevailing wisdom” suggested that the first two groups that received help on how to “manage difficult, potentially divisive conversations,” would do best, said co-author Thomas Bradbury, professor of psychology and co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA.
"We thought the movie treatment would help, but not nearly as much as the other programs in which we were teaching all of these state-of-the-art skills,” said Rogge.
Unlike the first two groups that had to spend time learning the speaker-listener technique and “compassion training,” the third group watched the 1967 romantic comedy Two for the Road, which follows young lovers as they handle love, infidelity, and careers through 12 years of marriage.
Each couple then discussed a list of 12 questions about the movie couple's interactions. The questions help couples think about the relationship dynamics in the movie:
"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?"
Is the relationship in the movie "similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?"
Couples were then given a list of 47 movies that make intimate relationships a major plot focus and a list of the same guided-questions that focus on themes like support, forgiveness, and conflict resolution. They were given instructions to choose one movie to watch per week for the next month.
All three groups studied halved the divorce-and-separation rate, but the movie-watching couples did so in the privacy of their own homes with little to no costs (and far less time invested!)
The movie method also doesn’t require a trained therapist to administer, which is an advantage for couples that feel uncomfortable discussing their relationship with outsiders. This also makes this method a lot cheaper, and more convenient.
If you’d like to try the movie-watching method at home, you can find the list of movies and questions at this link. Rogge suggests that couples could: “make it a yearly thing they do around their anniversary—watch a movie together and talk about it. That would be a fantastic thing to do and a great present to give themselves each year.”
(This study was published in the December issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.)