A new study conducted by UR Psychology Professor Ronald Rogge found that watching films about relationships and discussing them is just as successful in reducing divorce rates as therapy workshops.
The study involved 174 engaged and newlywed couples. 80% were engaged to be married within the next year, and the remaining 20% had been married for less than six months. Rogge recruited all participants through radio, television, and flyer advertising, or at bridal shows and similar events.
They were randomly split into four groups, two of which attended preventative divorce and communication workshops, and a third which received no treatment.
The couples assigned to the fourth group were asked to watch five movies over a one-month period as a substitute for therapy workshops, and to then spend about thirty minutes discussing the relationships seen in the movie and comparing them to their own.
The progress of the couples in the four groups was charted over the span of three years.
The fourth group assigned to the movie discussion was initially created “to control for benefits that couples might get just from spending time together, focusing on their relationship and talking about their relationship,” Rogge said.
According to him, he movies provided a more comfortable outlet to discuss the problems and situations that they were unhappy with in their own relationships.
“When you’re watching a film, you can laugh about the areas that you might not be doing such a great job at,” Rogge said. “…it won’t be so stigmatizing because the character probably did it in a […]more extreme way.”
The results showed that while 24% of the couples with no treatment went through divorces by the end of the third year, only 11% of relationships in the workshop and 11% of relationships in the movie discussion groups failed.
The purpose of watching the film was not to have couples attempt to emulate the idealistic life that Hollywood portrays. In America, film and media influence our perception of the “perfect relationship,” according to a 2003 study.
“I think that there’s a stereotype, or a conventional kind of love, that the media is trying to portray and trying to get across,” Digital Media Studies student Max Nadler ‘17 said. “It is just based on the types of morals that we create and the media tries to portray for us.”
“Aside from whatever messages the scriptwriters are inadvertently sharing with us, we can use these movies as a way to talk about what our own relationships in our own lives are doing, how they’re functioning, and what we want them to be,” Rogge explained.
The movie-discussion tactic was so effective because it forced couples to spend time together, provoked discussion about touchy issues, and allowed each partner to look at his or her own behavior in an relaxed, non-threatening environment.
Rogge said he believed that his findings can be applied to strengthening families and calming disputes between parents and children.
Rogge’s research has been featured on “Good Morning America,” “the Today Show,” and in the Democratic and Chronicle along with 900 other newspapers.
Douglas is a member of the class of 2017.