March 3, 2021

Is What Your Watching on TV or in Movies Affecting Your Relationship?

By: Caitlin McNulty

Television and movies play a significant role in our daily lives, which should come as no surprise considering the average American household watches 7 hours and 50 minutes of television per day. Moreover, popular date night activities include going to the movies or staying in to binge-watch the latest hit television show. However, have you ever stopped to think about whether the movies and television shows you watch impact how you act and what you expect from your relationship? Research shows that constant exposure to media’s depictions of romantic relationships may form or reinforce your own behaviors and interactions. This alternate reality can be either beneficial or detrimental to your relationship, depending on what you watch, how long you watch it, and how realistic you believe it to be.

Romantic Programming

Romantic movies and television series can have different effects on your relationship depending on how you perceive what you are viewing. On one hand, romantic programming can be a good influence on your relationship through its reinforcement of optimistic relationship outcomes. Research shows that television comedies, television dramas, and romantic movies all positively affect one’s relationship through the consistent themes of love conquering all and having soulmates. Can you think of one romantic comedy where the main characters don’t end up together? Even in La La Land, when they don’t actually end up together, the writers still included an alternative ending so they could show what happens if they did end up together! By consistently portraying happy endings even after conflict, movies and television shows reinforce the idea that no matter what happens between a couple, true love overcomes everything. With thousands of easy-to-follow plots reinforcing this exact ideal, we are programmed to believe that this is true and can happen in our own relationships as well.

However, romantic programming can also be a bad influence on your relationship if there is a divide between what television and movies portray as normal relationship behaviors and what you are actually experiencing. Research shows that more time spent watching relationship programming is associated with lower relationship satisfaction. Romantic programming – whether it be a rom-com, drama, or soap opera – tends to foster unrealistic standards and expectations of partners by their portrayal of the “ideal” partner. When one partner messes up in a romantic movie or television show, he or she tends to know exactly what to do to make it all better – whether it be a grand gesture or the perfect apology. Let’s face it: no significant other in real life knows exactly what to say and do to make it up to the other partner after every conflict. Resolution between partners in a real relationship requires communication, not mindreading like soap operas and dramas often depict.

Reality Dating Shows

Dating shows have become one of the most popular subcategories of reality television over the past few decades. While the Bachelor was basically one-of-a-kind in the early 2000s, there are now dozens of different reality dating shows available for streaming today, with seven new variations premiering in 2020 alone. One theme that is constantly reinforced on reality dating shows is the idea that dating is a game. This idea normalizes the fact that multiple people should be competing for your love, instead of focusing your attention on cultivating one relationship with a potential partner. This perspective may make men and women more hesitant to settle down and form serious bonds with one another.

Reality dating shows also constantly reinforce gender stereotypes: that men are sex-driven and women are sex objects. One study found that these roles were reinforced once every 4 minutes for an hour in a sample of different reality dating shows. This constant reinforcement of sexual gender roles can lead to unrealistic expectations about sex within a relationship and blur the boundaries that women have when it comes to sex, which could increase conflict in a relationship.

How realistic one perceives reality dating shows significantly affects how one perceives their own relationships. If you watch the Bachelor purely for comedic relief or to scout out your next vacation destination, then these stereotypes may not carry over into your relationship. However, if you view it as a guide to finding true love and planning the perfect date, these stereotypes may carry significant weight in how you act in your relationship.

Violent Media

Excessive exposure to violent programming can negatively affect your relationship. Violence is portrayed in television and movies as either physical aggression, such as punching and hitting, or emotional aggression, such as manipulation and yelling. Researchers have found that repeated exposure to physical aggression on television is associated with men’s increased physical aggression in romantic relationships. Films and television shows that depict physical violence between romantic partners tend to portray the male as the perpetrator and the female as the victim, which increases the tendency of men to mirror physical violence in their own relationships. On the other hand, repeated exposure to verbal or emotional aggression on television is associated with increased verbal or emotional aggression for both males and females. Verbal aggression is instigated by both sexes in the media, which reinforces its normalcy in relationships among both partners. While it is important for different media sources to shed light on the dangers of physical violence, a detrimental side effect is that it may also normalize aggression and constant conflict among couples.

Take Home Message

What you consume daily gets ingrained into your brain and either consciously or subconsciously manifests itself in your behaviors. Although television and movies can have positive impacts on your relationship, they can also carry some negative impacts as well. To protect your relationship from the negative effects of TV and movies, make sure to realize that most movies and television shows – even reality shows – are scripted and therefore not real life. By drawing the line between fictional relationships and real relationships, you can still enjoy your favorite movies while maintaining realistic expectations towards your partner and your relationship as a whole.

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