How confusing TV and reality can harm a marriage

How confusing TV and reality can harm a marriage

By Celeste Tholen Rosenlof | Posted - Sep. 28, 2012 at 8:32 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — Don Draper's escapades in "Mad Men" may be partly to blame for a lack of commitment in some marriages, a new study suggests.

A study published last week in the journal of Mass Communication and Society called "When TV and Marriage Meet" looked at marital satisfaction and commitment as they relate to television viewing. The researchers found that the more a viewer believed what they were seeing on TV reflected real life, the less committed they were to their marriage.

Study author Dr. Jeremy Osborn looked at 392 married participants who answered 18 questions in an online survey about various aspects of their partners, relationships and television viewing.

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Osborn found that belief in the realistic nature of TV romances, not the amount of time spent watching, determined expectations for and assessments of marriages. Participants who bought into a show's amorous situations were less committed, viewed their marriage as having higher costs than rewards, and saw their alternatives more attractively. Overall, however, it did not affect marital satisfaction significantly.

He concluded that the reason for the findings may be that TV characters face challenges, move from relationship to relationship and have a "seemingly endless supply of attractive partners." Their lives are exciting, novel and full of beautiful people.

"(T)he nature of the content, the amount of that content one digests, and how one interacts with that content all appear to be related to the expectations one has for relationships," Osborn wrote in the study.

Kim Warner, MSW, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who counsels couples and families, agrees that the message of shows has an effect on relationships, and recommends limiting TV viewing to shows which reflect more positive and healthy relationships.

"That's the problem sometimes with movies' or TV's portrayals of sex, is that if (a viewer's) marriage isn't strong, or they're not communicating what their sexual expectations are, then they might get from the TV an abnormal expectation," Warner said.


If you're going to set unrealistic expectations for yourself or another person, and your expectations are always too high, what is going to happen when your spouse, your kids, your friends don't meet those?

–- Kim Warner


Her number one recommendation for couples who look to television for examples of intrigue? Evaluate your expectations and then communicate them.

"If you're going to set unrealistic expectations for yourself or another person, and your expectations are always too high, what is going to happen when your spouse, your kids, your friends don't meet those?" Warner said. "You're setting yourself up to always be hurt, disappointed and angry."

If a couple is looking for more romance, Warner suggests making sure basic needs are met first. She recommends the Five Love Languages to determine how an individual gives and receives affection and use those to display your appreciation.

"If you feel disconnected or you feel angry at your spouse, you're not going to want to be intimate," Warner said. "Connection and intimacy comes when you feel appreciated, taken care of, when you feel your needs are being met."

From there? Feel free to release your inner Rachel Green. Get creative.

"The rest of it just comes when you feel appreciated," Warner said.

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Celeste Tholen Rosenlof

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