Forget couples therapy. For a more practical and cheaper way to make the marriage last, pop in a DVD like “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” or “Unfaithful,” suggests a new study which looked at effective marriage intervention methods.
According to research out of the University of Rochester, the simple self-help exercise of watching five relationship-based movies a month and discussing the marital issues in a post-film debrief could cut the divorce rate of newlyweds by half at the three-year mark.
The broad appeal? Unlike couples therapy and marital counseling, the film-discussion method is inexpensive, fun and simple, points out lead author Ronald Rogge.
“It's incredibly portable. There are really great marriage intervention programs available now but most require trained therapists to administer them. If couples can do this on their own, it makes it so much easier to help them," he said.
Furthermore, the movie method turned out to be just as effective as traditional marriage counseling methods.
For their study, researchers divided 174 couples into three groups: conflict management, compassion and acceptance training, and the movie method.
In the first group, couples were taught a skill known as “active listening,” a method that aims to slow down the pace of heated exchanges by requiring partners to paraphrase what the other says. The purpose is to ensure that the message has been properly understood.
The second group performed relationship exercises and sat in on lectures that encouraged “compassion and empathy.” Couples were asked to think of their partner as a friend and practice random acts of kindness and affection.
By contrast, counseling was far less intense for the last group. After a 10-minute lecture on the importance of relationship awareness, couples watched “Two for the Road,” a 1967 romantic comedy about marital life over 12 years.
Afterwards, couples were asked to discuss the main problems in the film -- “How did the couple handle arguments?” -- and relate them back to their marriage.
They were then given a list of 47 movies and asked to perform the same exercise at home, once a week for a month.
The results showed that though the last method was the least supervised of the three, the movie method worked just as well at fostering a healthy relationship: all three methods halved the divorce and separation rate from 24 percent (control group) to 11 percent.
Couples in the control group received no training.
Overall, what makes the movie method as efficient as other therapies is that it forces couples to take a “cold hard look” at their own behavior, Rogge said. It’s also “less pathologizing and less stigmatizing,” he added.
"Taking time to sit down and take an objective look at your relationship with your partner is going to be helpful for any couple at any stage. They can 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."
For couples interested in trying out the movie method, Rogge’s lab website couples-research.com offers interactive tools, a list of movies and questions.
The findings were published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
Meanwhile, a study out of the University of Michigan found that a particularly “toxic pattern” for spousal conflict is when one spouse tries to deal with a problem constructively, while the other withdraws, an action interpreted as a lack of investment.
Findings from another study out of the University of Tennessee suggest that a good way to keep neurotic newlyweds happy is to have frequent sex early on in the marriage.