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If your relationship is suffering, it might be time to cut back on television. A new study found that those who watch a lot of television, and believe in the relationships they see portrayed, are less likely to be satisfied with their own relationships and view alternatives to their significant others as more attractive. Is your spouse not taking bullets for you? Is your boyfriend not planning extravagant dates for you like the fellows on The Bachelorette? The marriage proposal didn’t include a glee club performance? Hate to break it to you, but that’s real life.
The study out of Albion College found that couples with at least one individual who watches a lot of television and believes in the way relationships are portrayed on TV shows are less likely to be committed to their own real-life relationship. Researchers surveyed 390 married couples about their television watching habits, their belief in TV romances, and about their own relationships, including relationship expectations, commitment, and perceived “costs.”
They found that those who believed in the portrayals of romantic relationships on TV were less committed to their spouses and more likely to “think their alternatives to their spouse are relatively attractive.” Alternatives? Did these married people think that there was a house full of eligible contestants waiting for them to become the next Bachelor or Bachelorette? Or do they have invitations to Gossip Girl-esque galas where they could pick up aristocrats? Maybe they’re just looking around at those available around them to start a love triangle that would cause a ratings boost on television.
Those who watched a lot of TV and thought that the relationships were realistic rated the cost of their own relationships as higher. These costs included things like loss of freedom, loss of time, and their spouses’ unattractive qualities. The characters on TV never leave their dirty dishes in the sink or the toilet seat up. Heck, they never use the bathroom! Naturally, any normal relationship would seem like it had bigger strains in comparison to a chore-free television program.
The message to take away here is that we are exposed to many unrealistic portrayals of relationships, and they may affect the way we look at relationships in the real world. The study’s author, Dr. Jeremy Osborn, says that many do not realize how much media images of relationships impact their lives and expectations. “The rate of marriage failure in the U. S. is not dropping,” said Osborn, “and it is important for people to have a sense of what factors are leading to the failure of so many relationships.”
So when you’re watching TV, make sure that you keep in mind that the characters are not real, the relationship is not real, and the world they all exist in is not real (even the “reality” shows are created in unrealistic environments). That doesn’t mean that your expectations to split the household chores are unrealistic, but just remember that the couples you’re watching on TV don’t have chores to squabble over. So maybe tonight you should shut off the TV and spend some quality time with your spouse in the real world, even if it’s not a TV-worthy dream date.