Is Watching 'Gone With the Wind' Just as Good as Real Marriage Therapy?

A recent study reveals that watching relationship-themed movies and discussing them with your partner can be just as effective as visiting a marriage counselor.
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Gone With the Wind. (Photo: Public Domain)

Gone With the Wind. (Photo: Public Domain)

The expense and time associated with visiting a marriage counselor for "state-of-the-art" skills-based therapy sessions can seem like a mighty investment, especially if all you seem to be doing is exchanging unpleasantries in front of a professional voyeur. Research shows that these types of programs do tend to hold marriages together, but what if there were a cheaper, simpler, and even entertaining alternative?

A recent study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology reveals that watching romance movies with your partner and then engaging in constructive discussions about the relationship implications afterward "can be just as effective" as more formalized "therapist-led methods." A three-year analysis of 174 newlywed couples showed that those who participated in the "movie-and-talk" approach actually fared as well as those who completed the more rigorous "conflict management" and "compassion and acceptance" therapies. "All three methods halved the divorce-and-separation rate to 11 percent compared to the 24 percent rate among the couples in the control group," according to a press release.

Watching romance movies with your partner and then engaging in constructive discussions about the relationship implications afterward "can be just as effective" as more formalized "therapist-led methods."

Though the other two programs involved "weekly lectures, supervised practice sessions, and homework assignments over the course of a month," the movie group only listened to one 10-minute lecture on "relationship awareness" and how films could help them analyze both "constructive and destructive" relationship behavior. They watched one pre-selected film and discussed it among themselves with 12 pre-prepared questions "about the screen couple's interactions." Then they were provided a list of 47 other movies and told to select four to watch and discuss at home over the next month.

"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, the lead author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, said. "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."

The movie-based discussions, which can be easily exported on a wider-scale, could be crucial for couples who may not be able to afford the more expensive and time-consuming programs. The strategy could also assist those with an aversion to psychologists. "You might not be able to get your husband into a couples group, especially when you are happy," Rogge said. "But watching a movie together and having a discussion, that's not so scary. It's less pathologizing, less stigmatizing."

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