I have a favorite movie. It is the Italian Life is Beautiful, starring the Oscar-winning Roberto Benigni. The plot is centered around a father protecting his son from the horrors of a concentration camp during World War II by creating a game out of it. The father’s ingenuity was fascinating and his sacrifice was moving.
Being a romantic at heart, I also enjoyed watching his adoration for his wife. Something about his attention reminded me of my husband, and for months after watching it, my husband would walk into a room and shout, Roberto Benigni style, “Bongiorno, principesa!” picking me up and swinging me around in front of my small children. It was actually super enchanting.
If more men watched this movie and were inspired to treat their wives in like fashion, I’m convinced that I could work myself out of a job.
Movies can actually be used as a type of marital intervention. Any time we are presented with a story that includes characters to whom we relate, it can be like looking into a mirror, reflecting parts of ourselves back to us that aren’t always readily apparent. We can use that information to be more expansive in our own problem-solving and actually enhance our relationships.
Recent research led by Dr. Rogge at the University of Rochester reveals how watching movies can actually be used to help couples work through problems in their own marriages, or to prepare for problems in marriage. A few months ago, I was interviewed for an online article related to this topic, and was asked to comment on the research that had just been published in an academic journal, showing that by watching movies together and discussing a set of questions after, couples could reduce their divorce rates as effectively as couples who received formal training in relationship skills.
One of the main criteria for movies was that they devoted some screen time to show what a couple was doing well and some time to show a couple making common relationship mistakes. The couples were then asked to spend a certain amount of time identifying aspects of the onscreen couples’ relationship dynamics, such as friendship and conflict management, and to discuss how their own relationship might have similar issues. This process allows couples to pinpoint specific relationship processes and hopefully apply them in their own marriage.
I am guessing that a substantial part of how this helps couples is that it normalizes some level of conflict and challenge in marriage. Too many couples think that if they have conflict, they are doomed. Untrue. If you dance with someone, you are going to get your toes stepped on, and if you live in close proximity with someone, the only way to avoid any conflict is to never get close enough to have contact. The trick is managing the conflict.
My worst nightmare as a marriage therapist is a couple who comes in and reports that they “never fight,” because it almost always means they either don’t get close enough to have conflict, or they just don’t really care enough about the partner to get wounded in the marriage.
So, the next time you are looking for a date idea, you might consider watching a movie and answering some of Rogge’s discussion questions.
If nothing else, this method for a stronger marriage might be cheaper than marriage therapy.
To link directly to the movies and discussion list, you can click here: http://edu.surveygizmo.com/s3/1508519/movie
If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Rogge and the study, or wish to participate by downloading the movies and questions, you can click here: http://www.courses.rochester.edu/surveys/funk/