Add to this picture the verbal debrief that the couples were encouraged to do after their movie watching during the study and it all comes together. A Harvard Business review article in the 90s said the number one cause of profit loss in corporate America and the divorce rate in American homes was miscommunication. In all three of the areas in the study done at U of R- compassion training, conflict management, and movie watching- the couples were given contexts to communicate. The reason I imagine the movie watchers took ½ the amount of time to save their marriages compared to the hard working couples in the other interventions is explained by another body of scientific research from the Institute of HeartMath.
HeartMath shows us that verbal communication centers in the brain are also responsible for intimacy and the development of long term bonding, as well as things like creative problem solving, seeing things from another person’s perspective, and other qualities that make being in a relationship a fundamentally cool and productive experience. These centers of brain are all activated when we are experiencing positive emotions like love, care, appreciation, and joy. One of the ways that Robert and I keep those positive emotions (and the loving communication that comes from them) alive in our relationship is to hide little messages of gratitude for each other every day on Post-It notes. It is super hard to hold a grudge against a partner who put a gratitude note in your shoe or your shaving kit!
The same centers in the brain that light up when we feel good and are responsible for verbal communication and bonding, shut down when we are emotionally distraught, angry, upset, hurt, resentful, etc. It makes sense when you consider that these emotions trigger our survival physiology. You don’t need to bond with a tiger trying to attack you- you just need to run or fight! Fighting for a relationship to work can trigger that same survival physiology and create more separation in your relationship than love. Working hard at trying to fix yourself and your marriage (and especially your partner) has the awful potential of dredging up judgments, old hurts, and blame, making the very thing that keeps relationships alive- communication- a burden or a bore, rather than a delight leaving us wanting more. By orchestrating communication around something entertaining and fun (movie watching) the brilliant instigators of the University of Rochester study conditioned couples to enjoy intimate communication as part of their entertaining down time, all while learning from the stories they were watching at the same time.
If your own love story feels more like a horror film to you at the moment, the answer may not be in working harder at it but rather in learning to enjoy it more. To get some expert free coaching in how to do that, visit us here!