My mom used to say that watching TV would “rot your brain.” While I think she was probably right (fun fact: moms are always right), on occasion TV and movies can teach us a thing or two about our relationships. Here are ten relationship lessons that the writers at ScienceofRelationships.com have culled from TV shows and movies like Twilight, Mad Men, How I Met Your Mother, Big Bang Theory and many others:
1. Expose Yourself, Get Liked
In this case, “expose” means that you should be in close proximity so that the person sees you and can interact with you (so please keep your pants on). On How I Met Your Mother, Barney describes this idea in his “Mermaid Theory.” Read more here.
2. Communicate Clearly and Respectfully with Your Partner
Coach Taylor and his wife Tami from Friday Night Lights have a lot to teach about what a good relationship looks like. One key lesson is how a couple can disagree and argue, but still remain respectful in a way that makes their disagreements productive. Read more here.
3. To Look More Attractive, Choose Your Surroundings Wisely
In the movie Hall Pass, the characters are out at a bar and notice an attractive woman, but realize that she appears attractive only because she is with a group of less attractive women. Science calls this phenomenon the contrast effect; we call it a great movie. Read more here.
4. A Highly Romantic Courtship May Not Be So Great
Couples on the Bachelor/ette begin their relationships high on romance (i.e., exciting excursion dates) but short on reality (i.e., paying the bills). Sounds ideal, but overly romantic relationships have the potential to flame out, as the relationships formed on the show often do. Read more here.
5. Knowing Your Attachment Style Can Help You Understand Your Relationship Patterns
Ever wonder why Mad Men’s Don Draper isn’t successful in his personal life? It may have something to do with his avoidant attachment style, which leaves him closed off from others. Read more here.
6. In Your Relationships, What Happened in the Past Is Likely to Happen in the Future
There is a common saying in psychology, “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” The same is true in your relationships. On the Jersey Shore, which is basically a clinic on bad relationships, we see how couples’ past problems have a way of recurring again and again. Read more here.
7. “Ambush Dating” May Be an Effective Way to Start a Relationship
An “ambush date” is when you think you are doing one thing (e.g., going out with friends) only to realize that it is actually a date. This strategy was successful for Leonard and Penny on the Big Bang Theory and there is some science to support the utility of the strategy. Due to the principle of reciprocity, we like others who like us…so simply finding out someone likes you, even if via ambush, can lead to attraction. Read more here.
8. Why Are You More Forgiving of Your Partner Than Your Friends Are?
When your partner screws up, you may be quick to forgive while your friends hold a grudge. Research on social networks suggests that you and your friends have different motivations that shape your thoughts. In other words, because your friends aren’t dependent on your partner, they may see things more clearly than you do. Read more here to see how this dynamic unfolds on True Blood between Bill, Sookie, and Tara.
9. Secrets, Secrets, Are No Fun…
Pretty Little Liars is a show chock full of lies and secrets. However, research shows that keeping secrets from your partner isn’t a good idea. Specifically, hiding things about yourself (known as self-concealment) can undermine relationship satisfaction and commitment. Read more here.
10. Avoid Controlling and Coercive Partners (Even If They’re Vampires)
Fans of the Twilight books and movies typically cite the relationship between Bella and Edward as an appealing love story. However, their relationship is actually a great example of what not to do if you want to avoid an abusive relationship. Bella has low self-esteem and an affinity for forbidden men and danger while Edward is controlling, coercive, and possessive. Recipe. For. Disaster. Read more here.
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Dr. Gary Lewandowski - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lewandowski's research explores the role of the self in romantic relationships with a specific focus on self-expansion. He has authored dozens of publications for both academic and non-academic audiences and is a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.