The Simple Activity That Wards Off Separation & Divorce

It’s fun. It’s easy. It’s cheaper than relationship therapy and it can put the handbrake on the downward slide to arguing over the tangerine armchair that you only started wanting when he wanted it too.

In a comparison with other more intense relationship training, this simple activity has proven to be a surprisingly effective way to keep a relationship firing.

Research has shown that watching a movie centred around an intimate relationship, and chatting about it together afterwards, is at least as effective as couples therapy and training in fending off separation and divorce. (Interested? Keep reading for the list of suggested list of movies.)


What They Did:

The study randomly assigned 174 couples to one of three groups:

  • Conflict Management:

    Couples were taught how to discuss heated issues and channel the focus on what is being said, rather than on formulating a response.

  • Compassion and Acceptance Training:

    Through a series of lectures and exercises, couples were encouraged to: work together as a team, approach their relationship with greater empathy and compassion, practice random acts of kindness and affection, and use language that communicated acceptance.

  • Movie and Chat: 

    Couples attended a 10 minute lecture about how watching other couples in movies could highlight both the healthy and destructive behaviours in their own relationships. They then watched and discussed movies which centred around an intimate relationship.

What They Found:

The groups were compared three years later and all had a similar divorce and separation rate of 11%.

This was compared to a rate of 24% for a group of similar couples who received no training or instruction.


Watching relationship movies together and chatting about them afterwards is just as effective in preserving a relationship as more intensive programs.

What makes a movie and a chat so special?

As explained by Ronald Rogge, Associate Professor of Psychology at UCLA,

‘I think it’s the couples reinvesting in their relationship and taking a cold hard look at their own behavior that makes the difference. The sad truth is that when life knocks you down, you come home and the people you are most likely to lash out at in frustration are the ones you love the most.

For these couples to stop and look and say, ‘You know, I have yelled at you like that before. I have called you names before and that’s not what I want to do to the person I love the most.’ Just that insight alone, is likely what makes this intervention work.’

Rogge adds,

‘You might not be able to get your husband into a couples group, especially when you are happy, but watching a movie together and having a discussion, that’s not so scary. It’s less pathologising, less stigmatising.’

Although the research looked at couples in the early stages of marriage, finding an innocuous, easy way to look at the relationship is going to be good for any couple at any stage of their relationship.

In any relationship, having focused time with each other, free from the distraction of work, children, dishes, dinner will be sustenance for any relationship.

As Rogge notes, ‘The results suggest that husbands and wives have a pretty good sense of what they might be doing right and wrong in their relationships. Thus, you might not need to teach them a whole lot of skills to cut the divorce rate. You might just need to get them to think about how they are currently behaving. And for five movies to give us a benefit over three years – that is awesome.’

Keen to try? Click here for the list of movies and discussions questions used in the study.

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For our children, we start building the foundations for adolescence in their earliest years - the relationship we’ll have with them, who they are going to be, how they are going to be. One of the things we’ll want to build is their capacity to know their own minds and be brave enough to use it. This isn’t easy, even for adults, so the more practice we give them, the more they’ll be able to access their strong, brave, beautiful minds when they need to - when we aren’t there.

This means letting them have a say when we can, asking their opinions, and letting them disagree.

When kids and teens argue, they’re communicating. We need to listen, but the need won’t always be obvious. When littles argue because it’s spaghetti for dinner and ‘I hate spaghetti so much’ (even though last week and the 5 years before last week, spaghetti was their favourite), they might be expressing a need for sleep, power and influence, or independence. All are valid. When your teen argues because they want to do something you’ve said no to, the need might be to preserve their felt sense of inclusion with their tribe, or independence from you. Again, all valid. 

Of course, a valid need doesn’t mean it will always be met. Sometimes our needs might need to take priority to theirs, such as our need to keep them safe, or for them to learn that they can still be okay if everything doesn’t go their way, or that sometimes people will have conflicting needs that need to take priority. What’s important is letting them know we hear them and we get it.

It’s going to take time for kids to learn how to argue and express themselves respectfully. In the meantime, the words might be clumsy, loud, angry. This is when we need to hold on to ourselves, meet them where they are, let them know we hear them, and step into our leadership presence. We might give them what they need because it makes sense and because there isn’t enough reason not to. Sometimes, after giving them space to be heard we’ll need to stand our ground. Other times we might solve the problem collaboratively: This is what you want. This is what I want. Let’s talk about how we can we both get what we need.♥️
Anxiety will always tilt our focus to the risks, often at the expense of the very real rewards. It does this to keep us safe. We’re more likely to run into trouble if we miss the potential risks than if we miss the potential gains. 

This means that anxiety will swell just as much in reaction to a real life-threat, as it will to the things that might cause heartache (feels awful, but not life-threatening), but which will more likely come with great rewards. Wholehearted living means actively shifting our awareness to what we have to gain by taking a safe risk. 

Sometimes staying safe will be the exactly right thing to do, but sometimes we need to fight for that important or meaningful thing by hushing the noise of anxiety and moving bravely forward. 

When children or teens are on the edge of brave, but anxiety is pushing them back, ask, ‘But what would it be like if you could?’ ♥️

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Except I don’t do hungry me or tired me or intolerant me, as, you know … intolerably. Most of the time. Sometimes.
Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.
When the world feel sunsettled, the ripple can reach the hearts, minds and spirits of kids and teens whether or not they are directly affected. As the important adult in the life of any child or teen, you have a profound capacity to give them what they need to steady their world again.

When their fears are really big, such as the death of a parent, being alone in the world, being separated from people they love, children might put this into something else. 

This can also happen because they can’t always articulate the fear. Emotional ‘experiences’ don’t lay in the brain as words, they lay down as images and sensory experiences. This is why smells and sounds can trigger anxiety, even if they aren’t connected to a scary experience. The ‘experiences’ also don’t need to be theirs. Hearing ‘about’ is enough.

The content of the fear might seem irrational but the feeling will be valid. Think of it as the feeling being the part that needs you. Their anxiety, sadness, anger (which happens to hold down other more vulnerable emotions) needs to be seen, held, contained and soothed, so they can feel safe again - and you have so much power to make that happen. 

‘I can see how worried you are. There are some big things happening in the world at the moment, but my darling, you are safe. I promise. You are so safe.’ 

If they have been through something big, the truth is that they have been through something frightening AND they are safe, ‘We’re going through some big things and it can be confusing and scary. We’ll get through this. It’s okay to feel scared or sad or angry. Whatever you feel is okay, and I’m here and I love you and we are safe. We can get through anything together.’

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