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Romantic Comedies May Save Your Marriage

Romantic Comedies May Save Your Marriage

11 questions for you and your spouse to discuss after watching a rom-com.


Can watching romantic comedies make your marriage better? A new study by the University of Rochester suggests it might – if couples then talk about the movies afterwards.

Marriage counselors have traditionally focused on helping couples who already are experiencing problems. “The prevailing wisdom was that the best way to keep relationships healthy and strong was to help couples manage difficulty” says Prof. Thomas Bradbury, Director of UCLA’s Relationship Institute.

He, along with University of Rochester Professor Ronald Rogge, wondered if there was another way to help couples safeguard their marriages. Instead of waiting for troubles to crop up, can husbands and wives start working on their already-healthy marriages, learning listening and communication skills that will head off arguments before they develop?

The researchers offered newlywed couples both types of therapy. One group received traditional guidance on conflict resolution, meeting with a therapist weekly to learn strategies to employ during arguments, making sure they slowed down to listen to what their spouse was saying, and taking time to understand why their spouse was upset.

A second group also had weekly meetings with a therapist, but these couples focused on the positive in their marriages, instead of their conflicts. They did exercises to help find common ground and stress their similarities: these couples were encouraged to think of themselves as a team, be more accepting of each other, and were prompted to do random acts of kindness for their spouses.

After three years, the researchers had some startling results. Both groups had lowered their risk of divorce dramatically: improving day to day interaction was just as important for marriages as learning to manage stress and conflicts.

Incredibly, though, the researchers found that a third group – assigned to watch five movies together and talk about them afterwards – experienced the same benefit as those assigned to weekly marriage counseling - and cut their divorce rate in half - compared to couples who did nothing at all to work on their marriages. These dramatic results lasted throughout the three years of the study.

The key, the researchers found, is to spend time – they suggested 45 minutes – talking about the characters critically after watching a film, and discussing how we feel about their choices. What problems did the characters experience? How did they tackle the problems they faced? Were they supportive of their partner or not? Did they act together like a team? When they argued, was it in a constructive way? Were they kind or cruel? How did they make up following a fight? How do all of these choices relate to your own relationship with your spouse?

These questions remind us of what we already know – that being kind and supportive, that thinking of our spouse as a teammate rather than an opponent – strengthens marriages and brings us closer. Being reminded to think about these issues – and doing so in a fun context of watching movies together – helps make sure we learn and grow from the examples we see around us.

The Questions from the Survey

1. What was the main relationship portrayed in the movie? This is the relationship that you will focus on in the following questions.

2. What main problem(s) did this couple face? Are any of these similar to the problems that the two of you have faced or might face as a couple?

3. Did this couple strive to understand each other? Did they tend to accept one another, even if they were very different? Or did the couple tend to attack each other’s’ differences?

In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?

4. Did the couple have a strong friendship with each other? Were they able to support each other through bad moods, stressful days, and hard times? Did they listen to each other like good friends? Did the couple in the movie do considerate or affectionate things for each other?

In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?

5. How did the couple handle arguments or differences of opinion? Were they able to open up and tell each other how they really felt, or did they tend to just snap at each other with anger? Did they try using humor to keep things from getting nasty? Did it feel like they were really trying to understand each other?

In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?

6. If the couple got into arguments, did they tend to become heated? Did the couple ever start attacking each other, getting increasingly mean and hostile? Did they end up saying things they didn’t really mean? Once this started happening, how did the arguments tend to end?

In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?

7. When one of the partners brought up a problem, did he or she seem to do it in a constructive way (keeping things specific, explaining his or her feelings without attacking), or did it seem more like an attack? Did it seem like bringing up a problem became an assassination of the partner’s character?

In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?

8. How did the couple in the movie handle hurt feelings? Did they apologize to each other? Did the apologies seem sincere?

Did they tend to jump to negative conclusions when their feelings got hurt, or did they tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt?

In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?

9. Did the partners seem to have similar expectations of their relationship? Where did their expectations differ? Did it seem like they were aware of their own expectations? Were their expectations reasonable? Did they share their expectations with each other?

In what way was this relationship similar to or different from your own relationship in this area?

10. What other things happened in the movie that might lead you to think differently about your marriage?

11. What other comments do you have about this movie? How relevant was this movie to your own marriage?

February 8, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 3

(2) scott, February 12, 2014 6:53 AM

Interesting Idea

Wisdom comes in odd places. I like romantic comedies-three of my favorites star Hugh Grant. The three I like have very different takes on how Mr. Grant falls in love. In one he plays cinderella who meets a star and through a rocky relationship with a fairly unstable woman ends up marrying, having a child and living in the castle. In another he meets a younger woman that fits the physical type he liked as a young man and then "gets" her as his girlfriend despite the issues it might create for his responsible position and in the third he hires a woman to work on him and falls in respect for her and then finds out he loves her and becomes a potentially better man with a helpmate.

I think I like them simply because there are pretty people in odd situations and at the end everything works out for love and happiness in about 90 minutes. A true vacation from reality. But when I sit and think about the movies in the context of this article, deconstructing these relationships could become good fodder for discussions on relationships. The main question I would discuss is based on the relationships...which couple might have the best chance of living happily ever after? I think the only one that is not doomed is the third.

I believe that the more conversation couples can have about expectations for their marriage the better-especially before the wedding.

As for the commenter who had a problem with these movies being watched.. While many choose to live in communities where the custom is to consult the rabbi on every decision, I live in Israel where my orthodox shul has never had a rabbi in its forty years of existence. By choice. So I'm not sure why someone like me would seek approval from a rabbi to do anything. I have rabbis from which I seek advice and wisdom. To have a teacher is a thing every jew should have. But not a master. We already have one of those.

Anonymous, February 24, 2014 1:15 AM


I agree that a Rav is not to be a person's master. Ultimately, like you have stated, Hashem is the Master of the Universe. Also, we are taught that we ultimately are to aim to be as much of a master over ourselves, our more earthy bodily parts as we can in order to be as refined as possible. However, is it not the Sages who have taught in pirkei avos, "make for yourself a Rav" --, "make" meaning, it takes effort. Is that merely poetry? I have a number of rabbis. Rav Noach Weinberg zt'l, founder of Aish Ha'Torah teaches in one of his 48 Ways to Wisdom classes that it's okay to have many teachers in life, but part of the foundation of Judaism, to the best of my understanding, is that part of humility is learning from those we recognize as wiser than ourselves, also in order that we can pass on lessons to those less wise then us too. Where would clal Yisrael have been without Moshe Rabeinu? And lastly, I don't want to mention this great teachers name in case I am misquoting him, but he is a teacher of teachers, author of several Feldheim books, who stresses, that one of the most important aspects of education is to teach one to be able to make decisions & "use his brain." Guidance is important or we can easily become more like humanists in a pick and choose religion, and I believe that this is not in conflict with seeking guidance in ones life. Finally, often I have seen good rabbis who will ask in response to a question, "would you like guidance or a psak (an answer)?" No one is forcing anyone to do anything; force doesn't work. But it is beautiful to connect with the rare great people in our nation who have deep Torah understanding & shine more greatly than others with their greater breadth of Torah knowledge. There's a reason why Torah leaders are not "elected". They are sought out passionately as people get word of their greatness.

(1) Anonymous, February 9, 2014 4:19 PM

interesting, however...

A very interesting article, & it's sad that the state of many Jewish homes is shaky. Some teach that better than any chinuch (parenting/education) tool it shalom bayis (peace in the marriage). I'm concerned though that people might latch onto suddenly watching certain movies with questionable content that they might not have otherwise, in order to apply the wonderful messages you've presented here. A fascinating concept taught my a marriage expert, is that couples, in trying to connect, go against the grain trying forcefully "communicate in order to connect" with each other, when, this teacher contends, "connection before communication" is really the key to effective communication, the kind of connection that the couple likely felt through out their dating before choosing to marry each other. By virtue of participating in the study, the couples involved in this study already may have had a bit of a learning-curve growth oriented approach, but perhaps even more significantly, that the act of enjoying the movies together & discussing the movies afterwords, & so one step removed in the discussions as well must have aided in connecting as well, created the "connection in order to effectively communicate" process. Without the movies it might take more (of that four letter word) "work", arranging babysitters for dates together etc, but I believe it can work without the watching of movies. If couples aren't "holding" there & are motivated to grow & work to together but wanting to go this specific route, I think that there might be some rabbanim who, on a case by case basis, who may actually not object to the respective couple watching movies, but I think guidance would help give it a emesdik (truth-based) foundation that might not otherwise be there. I am not unfamiliar with, in these turbulent times we live in, rabbanim giving, again on a case by case basis, their approval for things like secular music or movies etc. depending on the circumstance.

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