Couples who watch and discuss movies about relationships are at a lower risk of getting divorced, a new study has claimed.
Researchers found that a fun and relatively simple movie-and-talk approach can be just as effective in lowering divorce rates as other more intensive therapist-led early marriage counselling programmes.
A team from University of Rochester and University of California Los Angeles studied 174 couples and found that discussing five movies about relationships over a month could cut the three-year divorce rate for newlyweds in half.
"We thought the movie treatment would help, but not nearly as much as the other programmes in which we were teaching all of these state-of-the-art skills," said Ronald Rogge, associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and lead author of the study.
Researchers randomly assigned newlyweds to one of three groups: conflict management, compassion and acceptance training, and relationship awareness through film.
The conflict management group learned a technique for discussing heated issues that slows down the pace of the exchange and helps individuals focus on what their partner is saying instead of rushing to respond.
The compassion and acceptance training cohort participated in an intervention aimed at helping couples work together and find common ground around their similarities.
Couples were encouraged to approach their relationships with more compassion and empathy by doing things like listening as a friend, practicing random acts of kindness and affection, and using the language of acceptance.
The movie-and-talk group first attended a 10-minute lecture on the importance of relationship awareness and how watching couples in movies could help spouses pay attention to their own behaviour, both constructive and destructive.
They then watched Two for the Road, a 1967 romantic comedy. Afterwards, each couple met separately to discuss a list of 12 questions about the screen couple's interactions.
Each couple was asked to consider in what way the movie relationship was "similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?"
Study participants were 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.
The study found that all approaches worked equally well. All three methods halved the divorce-and-separation rate to 11 per cent compared to the 24 per cent rate among the couples in the control group, researchers said.
The study was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.