Watch a Movie Together To Improve Your Relationship

Movies Encourage Couples to Discuss Challenging Topics About Their Relationship

Photo Alto-Ale Ventura/Getty

Brooke: I'm going to go do the dishes.

Gary: Cool (on the couch playing video games).

Brooke: It would be nice if you would help me.

Gary: No problem (keeps playing). Just a minute...maybe later...I just want to relax.

Brooke: Come on Gary, it only takes like 15 minutes.

Gary: I'm just going to sit here and let my food digest...just try to enjoy the quiet for a little bit (starts shouting at a TV video game).

Brooke: (Rolls eyes) I don't like waking up to a dirty kitchen.

Gary: Who cares?

Brooke: I care!!! (the fighting begins....)

This is a scene from The Break-Up, starring Jennifer Aniston as Brooke and Vince Vaughn as Gary. I often show this clip in my couples' workshops. Participants then discuss the interaction between the on-screen couple. This is a fighting pattern quite typical with couples I see in my practice. Brooke’s true concern is that Gary is not really there for her emotionally. She is fearful that she is not important to him. Asking for his help at that moment is a bid for connection. Gary is dismissive. He does not hear the underlying message, "If you help me [with the dishes], I will know I matter to you." When he is dismissive, Brooke's fear quickly ignites to reactive anger and the two are off in a distressing argument. They continue to fight over lemons, vacations, the ballet, etc., all the while not expressing the more vulnerable emotions underneath the surface and never reach the true issues underlying their arguments. ​

Movies provide an excellent opportunity for discussion between couples. In fact, it is often a great way to start talking about an issue that affects your own relationship without bringing it up directly. A study came out last year that provides support for this assertion. Drs. Ronald Rogge and Thomas Bradbury of the UCLA Relationship Institute have created a list of movies used in the study and discussion questions participants were asked. Although it is not a standardized model of treatment, “Cinema-therapy” is an acceptable treatment strategy and form of self-help. It can be a catalyst for growth and healing for couples who are open to learning how movies affect people and relationships. Couples must also watch movies about such relationships with conscious awareness.

Michael Diettrich-Chastain, a licensed professional counselor in Asheville, North Carolina states, "I have certainly referenced movies and books to clients over the years. I definitely believe that movies and books can inspire new ways of looking at situations and break us out of our patterns of closed-mindedness. Movies can be a great way to evoke new discussions between couples and help them to work through a stuck point. " 

Some of his suggested films are Away We Go and The FountainAway We Go is a movie about a couple expecting their first child and their travels around the U.S. to find a perfect place to start their family. Diettrich-Chastain notes that it is an "exploration of coming to terms with starting a family and the dynamics, struggles, and questions that may come up." The Fountain features a husband struggling with mortality, as he desperately searches for the medical breakthrough that will save the life of his cancer-stricken wife. Diettrich-Chastain believes that this is an "appropriate movie to explore and discuss the limitations of mortality, love across time, as well as the extent to which one can be committed to their love."

"Experiencing the cinema in itself is a healing tool between people, it's an experience you have with your spouse for example that creates a meaning, if there is a way to see the film and be immersed in the experience and then being able to reflect on the reality of others, it can serve as a wonderful way to validate, explore situations of others in a very metaphorical way, that softens and sometimes heals a wound a relationship is experiencing" states California licensed marriage and family therapist, Lisa Bahar. She goes on to say that movies "remind us to continue on, sometimes, dealing with relational stresses breaks up individuals, on the other hand, it can serve as a way to discuss issues and problems and possibly move through them." 

Bahar cites several examples, her favorites being The Descendants, Cake, and Brothers. The Descendants is about a land baron who tries to reconnect with his two daughters after his wife is gravely injured in a boating accident. Bahar likes how this movie "explores themes of infidelity, physical loss and learning how to connect with one's children again." Cake is about a woman in chronic pain who is also grappling with her own personal tragedy. She suggests this movie as the themes involve "the cycle of grief, loss of a child, suicidal ideation, mental illness and how this affects marriage and relationships." Brothers is quite different as it "deals with family dynamics, PTSD, infidelity, trust, and forgiveness" says Bahar.

California-based licensed marriage and family therapist, Holly LaBarbera, recommends couples watch Crazy Stupid Love as "there are themes of trust and betrayal, midlife issues, personal growth, forgiveness, determination, and commitment. Lots to talk about!" She also likes Date Night: "This movie includes topics of falling into a rut, reigniting a relationship, working together as a team, and trusting each other." Both of the movies she recommends are comedies, which she believes adds an important element for couples utilizing movies therapeutically. "When dealing with difficult relationship issues, keeping a sense of humor can be a way to connect and cope," says Labarbera. 

Watching a movie with your spouse or partner can enhance your relationship if the film sparks thought and conversation regarding relational issues between couples. Be sure to focus on and pay close attention to what resonates with you as you watch. Think about what problems the on-screen couple shares that you might also share with your partner. What does the couple do to resolve these problems? Can you relate to or identify with their struggles and coping strategies? How are emotions and feelings handled between the couple? There are many more factors to explore with your partner after watching the movie together. Viewing films are a therapeutic as well as an entertaining and fun way to enhance your relationship.  

Further Reading: 200 Love Lessons from the Movies: Staying Moonstruck for Life, Rent Two Films and Let's Talk in the Morning, Reel Therapy, or E-Motion Picture Magic or visit the website for some movie ideas by mental health category. 500 500