Save your marriage, watch a movie.
Take your pick: “On Golden Pond,” “Date Night,” “It’s Complicated,” “The Notebook.”
“The Devil Wears Prada.”
“The Devil Wears Prada"?
Is there a relationship with anything but shoes in that movie?
“We don’t think the magic is in the movies themselves,” says Ron Rogge, a psychology professor at the University of Rochester and co-author of a recently published study that shows a decrease in the divorce rate among couples who watch relationship movies.
The study landed him a spot on “Good Morning America” last week and spawned “Chick Flicks as Couples Therapy” headlines.
Warning: It’s not as simple as cuddling at the megaplex with a box of buttered popcorn and some Jujyfruits.
“It’s the discussion that happens after the movie.”
Rogge is a 1986 Lincoln Northeast High School graduate who made his way to psychology via biology -- including eight years studying the genes that cause cancer.
“I loved research but I really wanted to interact more directly with people and help people have better lives.”
He’s been studying marriage and relationships -- what brings people closer, what pulls them apart -- for more than 18 years, the last decade in upstate New York.
The research that led to the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology publishing his results in December happened while Rogge was working on his Ph.D. in psychology back in Los Angeles.
He was lead researcher in a group studying ways to make marriages stronger in their early years, when the divorce rate is highest.
“There’s no seven-year itch, but there is a first three- to five-year hemorrhage.”
It makes sense.
“At the beginning, you think about each other all the time, you think about all the fun little things you can do for each other … and then you stop thinking about it.”
Other things besides the relationship take priority.
The study was designed to test whether intervention in those early years would bring couples closer and, thus, keep marriages from failing.
Rogge and Bradley enlisted 174 couples.
Two groups received more traditional varieties of "marriage enhancement techniques" in a group setting.
"Like a couples retreat," said Rogge.
A third group received no therapy.
The fourth watched movies -- five in a month’s time, picking from a list of 47 titles.
“The Break-Up,” “The Money Pit,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Barefoot in the Park.”
To make the cut, the movies needed to show couples handling day-to-day life -- handling some things well but also making mistakes, said Rogge.
That ruled out most sci-fi movies. (Robots don’t leave the lid off the toothpaste.) And all falling-in-love flicks. (What problems? We don’t have problems!)
Afterward, the couples answered questions supplied by the researchers. What was the main relationship portrayed in the movie? What problems did this couple face? Are these similar to problems you have faced as a couple?
And the surprise: It worked.
When they contacted the couples three years later, the divorce rate in the group that had no intervention was 24 percent, or about one in four. The divorce rate in the two groups that received more traditional couples counseling was 11 percent -- about one in 10.
The Let’s Watch a Movie and Talk couples: also 11 percent.
That was the surprise.
“We just threw that in as a control. And we found out, maybe we don’t have to teach all these skills, maybe spending time together works just as well.”
That's good news, said Rogge, for couples who want to manage on their own. (Although it might be bad news for marriage counselors.)
More good news: It doesn’t have to be a movie on the list, which has now been expanded to more than 100.
TV shows work. “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The King of Queens,” “Mike and Molly.”
And yes, Rogge and his partner of six years practice what he studies.
“My poor partner, he’s married to someone who is completely obsessed with this stuff.”
And when they watch TV and see onscreen couples and their annoying habits, they can look at each other and say: “That’s totally me, I am so sorry.”
The media fuss over the study has helped recruit more couples for a new and expanded study on the movie method. (Visit www.couples-research.com to find out more.)
“And it was kind of fun being on ‘Good Morning America.’”
It's been a long time since Rogge made his hometown paper.
He was a 26-year-old biologist when he helped Steven Spielberg and crew create a believable lab for a movie set in a dinosaur theme park -- with screen time as a scientist extracting DNA from a petrified gnat.
“I enjoyed working on the movie, but it’s nothing I’m about to build a career on,” he told the Journal Star in 1993.
His other career appears to be going just fine.
And, in case you were wondering, no, “Jurassic Park” is not on the list.