Could your next Netflix night also be a form of couples therapy? A growing body of research suggests that watching meaningful films together can actually help partners grow closer and weather challenges better. Let’s dive into the fascinating findings from psychology on how movies may give your relationship a boost.

The Power of Meaningful Movies

A 2021 study from Ohio State University found that watching “meaningful movies” – those that explore the human condition and elicit a range of positive emotions – can help rewire our brains for greater resilience and empathy.[1] Lead researcher Jared Ott and his colleagues surveyed over 1,000 adults about their responses to watching either a meaningful movie like The Shawshank Redemption or a more straightforward Hollywood blockbuster.

The results were striking – viewers who watched meaningful movies reported:

  • Feeling better able to make sense of difficulties and suffering in their own lives
  • Being more motivated to pursue their goals and show courage in the face of adversity
  • Accepting that both joys and sorrows are a natural part of the human experience
  • Wanting to be a better person and act with more compassion toward others

In other words, meaningful movies stretched viewers and made them more psychologically flexible. As study co-author Professor Michael Slater explained, “Some films may help people cope and grow through difficult periods in their life. And people may recognize this effect years after they have seen a particular movie.”[2]

Creating Shared Meaning

So how does this apply to couples? Relationship researchers like Dr. Gary Lewandowski argue that watching thought-provoking, emotional films together can be a powerful bonding experience for partners.[3] It gives you a chance to immerse yourselves in someone else’s story, challenges, and world view. You get to feel and discuss a whole palette of emotions together, from grief to joy to fear to triumph.

This shared emotional journey creates a sense of intimacy and connection, even if the movie has nothing to do with your day-to-day lives as a couple. You’ve gone through something meaningful together, just the two of you. Often, the themes or lessons from the movie will resonate differently for each partner, sparking deep conversations. You may find yourselves asking each other afterwards:

  • Which character did you relate to the most and why?
  • What did you take away from the ending? Was it hopeful or tragic?
  • If you were in the protagonist’s shoes, would you have made the same choices?
  • Did the movie change your perspective on anything or motivate you to live differently?

Having these discussions helps you gain insight into each other’s inner worlds – your values, fears, dreams, and philosophies of life. It’s a way to update your maps of one another’s minds and stay attuned as you both evolve over the course of your relationship.

Of course, not every meaningful movie will resonate for both of you. Maybe Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is your jam, while your partner is more of a Saving Private Ryan fan. The key is taking turns choosing films you each find moving and meaningful. Over time, you’ll expose each other to new stories and perspectives, stretching your minds in the best of ways.

Using Movies for Relationship Maintenance

Beyond bonding, watching meaningful movies as a couple can also become a form of proactive relationship maintenance.[ If you think of your partnership as a garden, you have to intentionally water and weed it on a regular basis. You can’t just expect it to magically thrive on autopilot.

Scheduling a regular movie date night is one way to nourish your relationship garden. It ensures you’re consistently making time to connect, even when life gets hectic. And if you select films that inspire you to be your best selves and live according to your values, it’s like adding some fertilizer to help you grow together in a positive direction.

During tough relationship seasons, movies can also be an indirect way to broach sensitive subjects. If you and your partner are struggling to communicate about a fraught issue, try watching a movie that grapples with a similar theme. Afterwards, ask open-ended questions about the characters’ choices and motivations. Often, it’s easier to have a productive conversation when the focus is on someone else’s story rather than your own baggage. You can gain perspective and practice empathy in a less charged way.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, movies are no substitute for Gottman Couples Therapy or other professional interventions if your relationship is seriously struggling. And watching The Notebook on repeat won’t singlehandedly divorce-proof your marriage.

But the research is clear that meaningful movies can be a powerful resource for couples. They allow you to trade your everyday identities for a few hours and immerse yourselves in a shared emotional journey, expanding your sense of meaning and connection in the process. Those benefits can ripple out into your relationship long after the end credits roll.

So the next time you’re scrolling through streaming options for date night, consider choosing an emotionally stirring, thought-provoking film. Take a chance on that indie drama with rave reviews. Press play and let yourselves be stretched together. Your relationship just might reap the rewards of some cinematic couples therapy.

Practical Takeaways:

  • Schedule a regular meaningful movie date night to nourish your bond
  • Take turns choosing films that you each find moving and discuss them afterwards
  • Use movies as a safe way to indirectly process relationship issues together
  • Look for films that inspire you to be your best selves and live your shared values


  1. ^ Ott, J. M., Slater, M. D., & Smirnova, A. (2021). Eudaimonic media in lived experience: Retrospective responses to eudaimonic vs. non-eudaimonic films. Mass Communication and Society, 24(1), 1-23.
  2. -3.^