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Creativity and Couples Part III: Using Movie Messages in Marital Treatment

Westside Behavioral Care / Counseling and Therapy  / Creativity and Couples Part III: Using Movie Messages in Marital Treatment
Creativity and Couples Part III: Using Movie Messages in Marital Treatment

Movies as homework.

With any couple, if there is willingness from the start to work on the issues mentioned in Part I and Part II—unmet expectations and related resentment, difficulty communicating, not being able to argue like adults, waning romantic connection and many others—then that willingness must come from both parties. If both members of the couple are committed to staying in the relationship, then couples treatment can and often works well.

In assigning “homework,” movies can be used. The couple is instructed to watch the movie once for the story—not to try to relate to any character, but just to see the story for what it is. Next, the couple might be asked to watch the film separately and come up with some points that they might relate to or disagree with, or ways in which they might see their partner’s traits in one or more characters in the movie. This homework assignment gives me a lot of information about the couple that I can use in therapy. For example, one partner watches the film and the other chooses not to. This helps me gauge the couple’s willingness and commitment to therapy and ultimately to their marriage.

The overall idea is to remind couples that their problems, while unique to them, might be more common across the board than they realize. Sometimes, by the time couples come to treatment, they are so beaten down by repetitive negative behavioral patterns they believe that they have the world’s worst marriage. In those instances, viewing couples in movies might remind them that every relationship is not without its problems.

To illustrate this, I offer one my favorite films of all time: Two For the Road with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. This is a story of a ten-year-long marriage told in the present and through flashbacks to earlier years of the courtship and marriage. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the film is set in a glamorous French backdrop, but regardless, the emotional pain that both individuals experience comes across clearly. But there is humor in the story, and this is what sustains the couple through their many quarrels and obstacles as they revisit the tale of their ten years together. Sometimes I assign this film just to remind couples of how provoking marriage can be, and how through the ups and downs it’s important to remember the beginning in order to realize how far they have come.

At the beginning of any couples treatment I gather history and ask each member of the couple to give their own version of the beginning to the present day. One film points this out well. Throughout When Harry Met Sally with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, director Rob Reiner inserts interviews with older couples, each telling the story of how they met and fell in love.

Next in Part IV, Sex and the City and The Four Seasons