I am a couple counselor who loves movies. I consider myself lucky to be able to bring my passion for film
into my work as a therapist and educator. I have used movie clips for thirty years to spice up my talks to
resident physicians and graduate students. I routinely use movie assignments in my work with couples
to illustrate important concepts and get couples talking to each other. Finally, I have written several
books and professional articles about the use of movies as a teaching tool and, specifically, what movies
can teach us about coupling.
All of which begs the question: What makes movies so great for teaching? And what makes them so
perfect for couples?
First off, there are lots of outstanding movies about relationships from which to choose. Certainly, not
all relationship-oriented movies are accurate in their depictions but the good ones are very spot-on. Not
surprisingly, research from the University of Rochester has shown that newlyweds who watch romantic
comedies once a week and discuss what they saw are half as likely to divorce. Perhaps this research
finding can be explained because it is easier to discuss someone else’s relationship before focusing
attention on one’s own relationship. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt to be spending a fun evening with
your spouse, either!
Secondly, films tell stories and humans are wired to respond to stories. Like the ancients who told
stories by their campfires, talented directors, actors, screenwriters and film editors tell celluloid stories.
And we respond to them with emotion and empathy.
Thirdly, movies are memorable and easy to retain since they are processed in the non-logical part of the
brain. I can tell couples how to apologize but watching Richard Gere apologize to Julia Roberts in “Pretty
Woman” is a lot more effective (and way more fun). In this way, I have discovered the wisdom in the
saying that a “picture is worth a thousand words.”
Finally, movies and movie clips are great triggers for dialogue and self-reflection. The best part of seeing
a movie with your spouse is often talking about it afterwards. In my couple empowerment weekend
workshops, I use movie clips not just to illustrate valuable concepts but to also get couples talking to
each other. It is a safe way to start a dialogue and learn something new.
To summarize, movies are great for teaching because they are fun, memorable, on-target (when they
get it right) and an evidence-based means to improve marriages and promote self-understanding.
Popcorn or not, well-crafted movies are great for teaching couples how to get the most out of their