Movie Marriages


Originally posted in the Catholic Leader, March 14, 2014

Can movie marriages help real life couples with their relationships?

A recent study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology has unwittingly unearthed some very good news for couples.The study was aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of two popular skill-based marriage programs for newlyweds: CARE and PREP. The study authors involved a control group (who did nothing) and also a fourth comparison group which did something for their relationship but not formal skill-based intervention; in this case a self-help program that involved watching and discussing five movies.

It turns out that doing nothing is definitely not a good idea for your marriage – those couples had a higher incidence of marriage breakdown (a quarter of them in three years!). Both CARE and PREP were confirmed to be effective programs and those participants had less than half the breakdown incidence compared to those that did nothing. Surprisingly though, the self-help ‘Movie-Chat’ intervention turned out to be equally effective  as either CARE or PREP.

Wait a minute! Say that again.

Is it really possible that the simple act of watching a movie together is as effective in reducing the marriage breakdown rate as participating in a structured skill-based program?!

As marriage educators, frankly this is a little threatening; we’d like to think that the services we provide to couples are not only effective but also somewhat irreplaceable. It doesn’t sit well with us to have Hollywood crowd in on our territory. So what’s going on here?

The answer lies in the nature of the self-directed Movie-Chat intervention and makes clear sense when we understand this.

Firstly, it’s not just any old movie. The movies selected for the study were specifically chosen for their ‘relational realism’. The study authors avoided popular romantic movies and instead selected movies that showed couples dealing with the highs and lows that are common to marriage; displaying both well and poorly handled challenges. Much to Francine’s disappointment, this ruled out most Rom Coms and, equally to Byron’s disappointment, Die Hard and other Action/Adventure flicks.

Secondly, you gotta talk about it too (sorry guys). The task for the participants was more than just watching a movie. They were also required to discuss the movie for 30-45 minutes afterwards using a structured set of questions provided by the research team. So this is not an indulgence into movie escapism; the whole effort was to foster connection, not escapism.

This study actually confirms something we have long held to be true – that while it takes some effort, it does not take much effort to positively impact your marriage. Do the maths… about ten hours of movie ‘input’ and about five hours of structured discussion over five weeks is hardly a big ask. Research shows the average couple has less than a minute of meaningful conversation a day… so the five hours of structured discussion more than doubles the total meaningful conversation a typical couple has in a year. That has to help, and it turns out it does.

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Francine & Byron Pirola

Francine & Byron Pirola are the founders and principal authors of the SmartLoving series. They are passionate about living Catholic marriage to the full and helping couples reach their marital potential. They have been married since 1988 and have five children. Their articles may be reproduced for non commercial purposes with appropriate acknowledgement and back links. For Media Enquiries Please Contact us here

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