Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when husbands and wives have good relationships. The family is the core – or basic – unit of society; when families are strong, the communities and nations where they live are strong. A strong family depends on the husband and wife having a good relationship with each.
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” was issued in September 1995 (see Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102). This declaration, made to the sisters of the Church, states: “We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”
Prophets and Apostles reminded us that Heavenly Father has a plan for the happiness of His children, and the family is central to that plan. It is within the family that children learn to properly interact with other people and to learn how to love and learn and grow.
The proclamation continues by declaring that “happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”
I know that families who practice these principles are stronger. I also know that good communication between husband and wife is important in relationships. Learning how to discuss difficult topics is important but not always easy.
Dr. Ron Rogge, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology at the University of Rochester, focuses his research on understanding relationships and the early years of marriage. With the approval of the U of R Research Subjects Review Board, Dr. Rogge presented some of his studies.
Some of Dr. Rogge’s findings (Rogge et al., 2013) suggest that couples can strengthen their relationships by watching movies together. He suggests that this activity be done during the first three years of marriage. The key is for couples to use the movies to discuss their own relationships. With approximately half of all marriages ending in divorce, many religious and secular organizations offer counseling programs. This self-help program is apparently a very effective alternative.
Susan Hagen, also at Rochester, wrote about the findings of the study. “Discussing five movies about relationships over a month could cut the three-year divorce rate for newlyweds in half, researchers report. The study, involving 174 couples, is the first long-term investigation to compare different types of early marriage intervention programs.
“The finds show that an inexpensive, fun, and relatively simple movie-and-talk approach can be just as effective as other more intensive therapist-led methods – reducing the divorce or separation rate from 24 to 11 percent after three years.
Hagen quoted Dr. Rogge as saying, “We thought the movie treatment would help, but not nearly as much as the other programs in which we were teaching all of these state-of-the-art skills. … The results suggest that husbands and wives have a pretty good sense of what they might be doing right and wrong in their relationships. Thus, you might not need to teach them a whole lot of skills to cut the divorce rate. You might just need to get them to think about how they are currently behaving. And for five movies to give us a benefit over three years – that is awesome.”
Hagen quoted Dr. Rogge as explaining that this self-help could help married couples on a broad scale. “It’s incredibly portable. There are really great marriage intervention programs available now but most require trained therapists to administer them. If couples can do this on their own, it makes it so much easier to help them.”
For the study, the couples were divided into three groups: Group 1: A conflict management group that learned a technique of how to discuss heated issues by listening to their partner and paraphrasing what they heard back to their partner. This technique has been proven effective at developing better relationships.
Group 2: A compassion and acceptance training group where couples learned how to work together as a team, find common ground, and how to approach their relationships with more compassion and empathy.
Both of these programs involved weekly lectures, supervised practice sessions, and homework assignments. The couples invested approximately twenty hours but spent only two of those hours with a therapist.
Group 3: The “movie-and-talk couples group devoted half as much time to their assignments and all but four hours took place in their own homes. Participants 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 behavior, both constructive and destructive.
“They then watched Two for the Road, a 1967 romantic comedy about the joys and strains of young love, infidelity, and professional pressures across 12 years of a marriage. Afterward, each couple met separately to discuss a list of 12 questions about the screen couple’s interactions. One question, for example, asked how the movie partners handled arguments: `Were they able to open up and tell each other how they really felt, or di they tend to just snap at each other with anger? Did they try using humor to keep things from getting nasty?’ The 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.
“Which approach proved most effective? To the surprise of the researchers, all worked equally well. All three methods halved the divorce-and-separation rate to 11 percent compared to the 24 percent rate among the couples in the control group. Partners in the control group received no training or instructions but were otherwise similar in age, education, ethnicity, relationship satisfaction, and other dimensions.
“Discussing relationship movies, it turns out, was just as effective as more intensive skills-building programs. The results suggest that many couples already possess relationship skills, they just need reminders to put these into practice, the authors conclude.”
Since watching movies together is a common activity for couples, what made the difference? Rogge explained, “I think it’s the couples reinvesting in their relationship and taking a cold hard look at their own behavior that makes the difference. … [Instead of lashing out at their loved one, they decided to do something different.] Just that insight alone, is likely what makes this intervention work.”
The movie and discuss idea could work with couples who feel uncomfortable attending relationship workshops or other group activities. Some of the couples had been married as many as seven years. This fact caused Rogge to speculate that the movie method could help long-term marriages also. “Taking time to sit down and take an objective look at your relationship with your partner is going to be helpful for any couple at any stage. They can make it a yearly thing they do around their anniversary – watch a movie together and talk about it. That would be a fantastic thing to do and a great present to give themselves each year.
I plan to present this idea to my husband of nearly fifty years and encourage you to consider it also. You can find a complete list of movies fromthe study as well as additional movies – and questions here. You can also sign up to become part of the study at the same site. I believe we can strengthen our marriages and families – and thus strengthen our communities and nations by watching and discussing movies!