Psychologists tracked 174 couples and assigned them to 4 groups: 2 groups received intensive forms of professional therapy, with one professional-led group focused on learning compassion and empathy-building techniques, and the other professional-led group focused on learning to improve their listening-based communication. The researchers assigned a third group to watch popular movies about relationships and discuss them, and a fourth group received no intervention as the control.
Though the researchers expected the couples who received professional therapy to fare best, it turned out that the movie watchers saw almost the exact same improvement as those in the intensive therapist-led groups. The separation rates of the two groups in therapy, as well as the movie watchers, dropped from 24% to about 11%.
The bottom line: these findings suggest that we might not always need a therapist to help us recognize when we’re behaving badly in relationships; maybe all we need is a non-threatening prompt to talk about it.
Curious to try it at home? Researchers looked for movies that depicted couples not just falling in love (save “When Harry Met Sally” for another time), but also facing problems in their relationships, like “Couples Retreat,” with Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman, and “Date Night,” with Tina Fey and Steve Carell. The couples in the study were assigned to watch 5 movies and have a 45 minute guided discussion afterward. You can find the researchers’ list of movies here and their discussion questions here.