Spouse won’t go to counseling? Watch a RomCom instead.

As helpful as counseling can be in how to save a marriage, many spouses are still reluctant to attend sessions. Therapy can be intimidating. Airing all your dirty laundry to a complete stranger can sound less than appealing. (This is why there are alternatives like Power of Two!). While getting help from a trained professional is the best way to get over marriage problems and improve your relationship, there are some ways to engage your spouse if he or she refuses to go.

The Movie Cure

A new study from the University of Rochester suggests that simply watching a movie about relationships and then discussing it with your spouse can lead to greater marital happiness and reduction in divorce rates. The study found that discussing just five movies about relationships during a month can be just as effective as professional therapist-led interventions, report researchers at the University of Rochester. The findings were published this December in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

For the study researchers divided 174 participants into four groups. The control group received no intervention. Group two attended conflict management classes that taught techniques for discussing heated issues. The third group received compassion and acceptance training. Studies have shown both these approaches to be effective at promoting happier and more satisfying relationships over three to five years, according to the researchers.

The fourth group attended a lecture and were assigned several movies to watch and discuss over the next month. In contrast to the 20 hours couples in groups two and three completed, the movie discussion group devoted half as much time to their assignments and all but four hours took place in their own homes.


Discussion is Key

One discussion question, for example, asked the viewers to reflect on how the movie spouses handled disagreements: “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?” The couples were then asked to reflect on how the couple in the movie was “similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?”

The couples were then sent home with a list of 47 movies with intimate relationships as a major plot focus and asked to watch one a week for the next month, followed by the same guided discussion for about 45 minutes.

To the researchers’ surprise, all techniques worked equally well in reducing the divorce or separation rate from 24 to 11 percent over three years. “I think it’s the couples reinvesting in their relationship and taking a cold hard look at their own behavior that makes the difference,” explained study lead Dr. Ronald Rogge. “The sad truth is that when life knocks you down, you come home and the people you are most likely to lash out at in frustration are the ones you love the most. 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.

Movies a Good Option for the Therapy-Averse

For people who are uncomfortable with relationship workshops and group interventions, the movie-and-talk approach can be a useful alternative. “You might not be able to get your husband into a couples group, especially when you are happy,” said Rogge. “But watching a movie together and having a discussion, that’s not so scary. It’s less pathologizing, less stigmatizing.”

Getting a RomCom-averse spouse to sit down for regular movie sessions may be as daunting a challenge.

Next week: The Top 15 Positive Movies About Relationships (that your husband will watch with you!)

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