Marriage

Popcorn Therapy: Can Watching Movies Save Your Marriage?

Research shows a surprising alternative to couples therapy.

Posted May 20, 2018

Stockpic/Pexels CC0
Source: Stockpic/Pexels CC0

Have you ever sat down to watch a sappy romantic comedy, only to wish your partner could be more like the protagonist? Have you ever shared that news with your partner? Have you ever considered what might happen if you did?

According to research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, it may just be a trick to saving your marriage. The research, comprised of a study designed to address gaps in existing research exploring the efficacy of skill-based programs which help prevent divorce, randomly assigned 174 engaged and newlywed couples to a 4-session, 15-hr small-group intervention which taught conflict and problem resolution (known as 'PREP') or skills in acceptance, support, and empathy (known as 'CARE'), or a 1hr session on relationship awareness ('RA') where couples received a list of 47 movies with an intimate relationship as a major plot focus and instructed to watch one movie per week together and discuss 11 open-ended questions about the movie and how it relates to their relationship as a couple for about 45 minutes following each movie. The results of the efficacy of each program was then compared to couples receiving no treatment at all. The research found that couples receiving no treatment at all divorced at a rate of 24% compared to couples who completed PREP, CARE, or RA, who divorced at a lesser rate of 11%, regardless of the intervention. This means, whether one received specialized training or simply discussed the movies on the list, a couple's chance of dissolving the relationship did not differ; they were both 13% lower than couples who received no intervention.

Try out the method yourself by watching films used in the study:

  • A Star Is Born
  • Adam's Rib
  • Anna Karenina
  • As Good As It Gets
  • Barefoot in the Park
  • Children of a Lesser God
  • Days of Wine and Roses
  • Desk Set
  • Advertisement
  • Dying Young
  • Fools Rush In
  • Forget Paris
  • French Twist
  • Funny Girl
  • Gone with the Wind
  • Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
  • Hanover Street
  • Husbands and Wives
  • Indecent Proposal
  • Jungle Fever
  • Love Jones
  • Love Story
  • Made for Each Other
  • Mississippi Masala
  • Move Over, Darling
  • Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse
  • My Favorite Wife
  • Nina Takes a Lover
  • Nine Months
  • On Golden Pond
  • Pat and Mike
  • Penny Serenade
  • Pfft!
  • Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker
  • She's Having a Baby
  • Steel Magnolias
  • Terms of Endearment
  • The Devil's Advocate
  • The Egg and I
  • The Male Animal
  • The Out of Towners
  • The Thin Man
  • The Way We Were
  • Untamed Heart
  • When a Man Loves a Woman
  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
  • With Six You Get Eggroll
  • Yours, Mine and Ours

Other additional movies to try:

  • American Beauty
  • Anger Management
  • Autumn in New York
  • Bee Season
  • Before Sunset
  • Blue Valentine
  • Coal Miner's Daughter
  • Couples Retreat
  • Crooklyn
  • Date Night
  • Deliver Us from Eva
  • Devil Wears Prada
  • Family Man
  • Father of the Bride
  • Fool's Gold
  • Four Christmases
  • Her
  • Hope Springs
  • It's Complicated
  • Julie & Julia
  • Jumping the Broom
  • Just Married
  • Life as We Know It
  • Longtime Companion
  • Love and Other Drugs
  • Marley and Me
  • Meet the Fockers
  • Monster-in-Law
  • Mr. & Mrs. Smith
  • Obsessed
  • Something's Gotta Give
  • Surviving Christmas
  • Sweet Home Alabama
  • Sweet November
  • The Five-Year Engagement
  • The Backup Plan
  • The Big Wedding
  • The Bounty Hunter
  • The Breakup
  • The Campaign
  • The Door in the Floor
  • The Good Girl
  • The Horse Whisperer
  • The Marriage Chronicles
  • The Mirror Has Two Faces
  • The Money Pit
  • The Notebook
  • The Story of Us
  • Think Like a Man
  • True Lies
  • Unfaithful
  • Waiting to Exhale
  • Why Did I Get Married?
  • You, Me and Dupree

Questions to discuss with your partner after each movie watched:

1. What was the main relationship portrayed in the movie? This is the relationship that you will focus on in the following questions.

2. What main problem(s) did this couple face? Are any of these similar to the problems that the two of you have faced or might face as a couple?

3. Did this couple strive to understand each other? Did they tend to accept one another, even if they were very different? Or did the couple tend to attack each others’ differences? In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?

4. Did the couple have a strong friendship with each other? Were they able to support each other through bad moods, stressful days, and hard times? Did they listen to each other like good friends? Did the couple in the movie do considerate or affectionate things for each other? In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?

5. How did the couple handle arguments or differences of opinion? 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? Did it feel like they were really trying to understand each other? In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?

6. If the couple got into arguments, did they tend to become heated? Did the couple ever start attacking each other, getting increasingly mean and hostile? Did they end up saying things they didn’t really mean? Once this started happening, how did the arguments tend to end?
In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?


7. When one of the partners brought up a problem, did he or she seem to do it in a constructive way (keeping things specific, explaining his or her feelings without attacking), or did it seem more like an attack? Did it seem like bringing up a problem became an assassination of the partner’s character? In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?

8. How did the couple in the movie handle hurt feelings? Did they apologize to each other? Did the apologies seem sincere? Did they tend to jump to negative conclusions when their feelings got hurt, or did they tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt? In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?

9. Did the partners seem to have similar expectations of their relationship? Where did their expectations differ? Did it seem like they were aware of their own expectations? Were their expectations reasonable? Did they share their expectations with each other?
In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?

10. What other things happened in the movie that might lead you to think differently about your relationship/marriage?

11. What other comments do you have about this movie?

For more on this research, visit couples-research.com

References

Rogge, R. D., Cobb, R. J., Lawrence, E., Johnson, M. D., & Bradbury, T. N. (2013). Is skills training necessary for the primary prevention of marital distress and dissolution? A 3-year experimental study of three interventions. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 81(6), 949.