Movies to save your relationship

It’s Valentine’s Day and love is in the air. Despite the crass commercialism of the product that is “Valentine’s” it seems churlish on this day to not at least talk about love and, more importantly, how to create more of it. Love and loving relationships are a wonderful thing, the heart of life, yet a sad reality is that many relationships that start out on a sea of love end up foundering on the rocks of divorce. Statistics tell us that one in three Australian marriages ends in divorce. Within those cold statistics are tales of lost love and heartbreak. Now a new study has suggested that just by watching movies some of those divorces might be avoided.

The study was based on the premise that the best way to keep relationships healthy is to be able to manage difficult and potentially divisive conservations. To test this they assigned newlyweds to one of three groups.

One group learned a conflict management technique for discussing heated that slows down the pace of discussion and helps the people involved focus on what their partner is saying rather than thinking about their response. This requires the partners to paraphrase what their partner has been saying to ensure that the message of each person is heard and understood.

A second group engaged in compassion and acceptance training that involved a exercises to foster compassion in relationships by encouraging the individuals to listen as a friend to their partner, engage in random acts of kindness for their partner, and use the language of acceptance.

Both of these groups involved lectures, practice, and assignments with the help of a therapist.

The third group watched movies…well, it was a little more complex than that. This group first attended a lecture that emphasised the importance of relationship awareness and how watching movies can make couples aware of their own behaviour. The couples then watched the 1967 movie Two for the Road starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney, a film set in the south of France where a couple examine their 12 year relationship while on a road trip. After watching the film the couples discussed questions about how the couple handled arguments and were then asked how the couple in the movie were similar to or different from their own relationship. The couples were then sent home with a list of 47 movies that have intimate relationships as their central plot and were asked to watch one a week for the next month. After watching each movie the couples were asked to answer a series of questions. A list of the movies and the questions (like “Did this couple understand each other? Did they accept one another even if they are different? Or did the couple tend to attack each other’s differences? In what way is this relationship similar to or different from your own in this area?) can be found at the researcher’s website www.couples-research.com) .

In addition to the three intervention groups there was also a control group who had not training of any sort.

To the surprise of the researchers all three interventions worked to reduce separation rates. In the years following the initial intervention the divorce rate in the control group was 24 per cent but in all three intervention groups the divorce rate dropped to around 11 per cent.

The researchers think that the key is to spend time in reinvesting and talking about your relationship. So if you really want to give your partner a gift this Valentine’s day, why not give them some time and your self.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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