A fascinating study done by relationship experts at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh sought to determine if romantic comedies influenced how we view love, sex, and marriage. They specifically examined 40 box office hits between 1995 and 2005, such as Runaway Bride, Notting Hill, You’ve Got Mail, Maid in Manhattan, and While You Were Sleeping. Have you seen any of them? If so, researchers were interested in how they might influence your expectations about love.
A test group of 100 volunteers watched romantic movies and then discussed their view of love and romance. Researchers concluded that these comedies could easily “spoil your love life” by fostering unrealistic ideas of love such as believing fate brings individuals together and that a soulmate will anticipate your deepest needs without you having to voice them. Researcher Kimberly Johnson offers this realistic assessment: “Films do capture the excitement of new relationships but they also wrongly suggest that trust and committed love exists from the moment people meet, whereas these are qualities that normally take years to develop.”
“Films do capture the excitement of new relationships but they also wrongly suggest that trust and committed love exists from the moment people meet, whereas these are qualities that normally take years to develop.”
-Researcher Kimberly Johnson
Other relationship experts agree and suggest that through much trial and error it takes couples on the average nine to 14 years to find a rhythm their relationship. Such information will help us adjust our expectations and take a long view of our relationship, knowing that it takes years—and many struggles—to adjust to married life and work out the relational kinks. Couples who call it quits in the first four years of marriage—the average for couples divorcing in the United States—are simply not giving themselves enough time to find the rhythm of their marriage and develop a healthy marital climate.
How can an overly romantic view of love affect our marital climate? A prototype is the clearest example of a category. Thus, we all have prototypes of the perfect date, the perfect job, the perfect car, the perfect romantic evening, the perfect marriage. We also have a prototype of romantic love. When I ask my students to describe the person they want to marry and love for the rest of their lives they give the following: a person who will always care for me, always look out for me, always accept me, always pursue me, always be interested in me …” What they are describing is Divine, not human love. To expect our spouses to completely love, pursue, or understand us is unrealistic and sure to cause frustration and profound disappointment. Only one being can accept you perfectly—God. Perfectly consistent love—one that isn’t subject to good and bad days—can only be found in the Scriptures, not Hollywood.
To expect our spouses to completely love, pursue, or understand us is unrealistic and sure to cause frustration and profound disappointment.
Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University and author of several books, including I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting. For the past 18 years, he and his wife, Noreen, have been frequent speakers at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Muehlhoff regularly writes and speaks for the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. Follow Dr. Muehlhoff on Twitter.