Health

Movie therapy: 8 films that might save your troubled marriage

Feb. 10, 2014 at 9:32 AM ET

Malin Akerman, Vince Vaughn and Jean Reno in "Couples Retreat."
Universal Pictures
It's not just watching movies together that helps your relationship; it's how you talk about it afterwards. Researcher Ron Rogge says a chick flick like "Couples Retreat" starring Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman is good choice.

Could a Vince Vaughn romantic comedy save your marriage? Maybe. What about "The Avengers"? Probably not. 

Couples who watch relationship-centered movies — chick flicks — and then discuss them afterwards are more likely to still be together after three years, according to a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Fifty percent of American marriages end in divorce. University of Rochester researchers, hoping to find a program that would keep people together, recruited 174 engaged or newly married couples at bridal shows in the Los Angeles area. They randomly assigned the couples to get no treatment, a movie-centered intervention or one of two types of marriage-preparation classes, which consisted of multiple workshops designed to hone participants’ relationship skills. The couples were followed for three years. 

The couples who were assigned to watch movies were told to pick five from a list and then to discuss with their partner questions provided by the researchers , such as:


  • What main problems did this couple face?
  • Are any of these similar to the problems that the two of you have faced?
  • How did the couple handle arguments or differences of opinion?
  • How did the couple in the movie handle hurt feelings?”

Ultimately the movies turned out to be just as effective as the workshops, which required hours of lectures and homework on top of that. All three interventions cut the three-year divorce rate by half.

“We don’t think it’s just about watching movies,” said the study’s lead author Ron Rogge, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Rochester. “There are lots of couples who watch movies and end up divorcing.”

The important thing is the conversations the movies spark, Rogge said.

It’s not like any old movie will do, however. People have to choose films that will spark discussions about the couple’s own relationship. That means a romantic relationship at its core, Rogge said. “That cuts out almost all science fiction and fantasy movies,” he explained.

There's no clear data on which movies work best as marriage therapist substitutes, but Rogge suggests movies like:

  • “Couples Retreat” 
  • "Four Christmases” 
  • “Terms of Endearment” 
  • “When a Man Loves a Woman” 
  • “Funny Girl” 
  • “Two for the Road” 
  • “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” 
  • “Yours, Mine and Ours”

If those don't leave you snuggling, the researchers provided a list of other films included in the study. And men don't have to suffer through a genre they hate.

“We don’t want it to be a miserable experience for the guy,” Rogge said. “We did try to spice it up by including movies like ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith,’ which is an action movie, but it also shows them fighting as a couple.”


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