“When people lack a shared circle of friends with their partners, sharing media like TV shows, books, and movies with partners may compensate for this deficit and restore closeness.” ~ Gomillion, S. et al., “Let’s Stay Home and Watch TV: The benefits of shared media use for close relationships.”
Have you ever seen the show Orange Is the New Black? If not, your productivity thanks you. But you may just be missing out on one of the better shows of the last decade.
Basically, the show revolves around one Piper Chapman (played brilliantly by Taylor Schilling). Laura Prepon, famously known as “the redhead from the 70’s show,” is equally fantastic.
In short, Piper’s past comes back to haunt her. A successful public relations executive, Piper was caught up in a drug smuggling operation with her ex-partner (Prepon). As a consequence, she is sentenced to a few years behind bars.
Anyways, Chapman shares the following dialogue with her fiancé while incarcerated:
“Promise me you’re not watching Mad Men without me … that when I get out of here, we’re going to binge watch it, together, in bed, with takeout.”
Why is this relevant?
Well, researchers state that “sharing media like TV shows, books, and movies” may be essential for maintaining social niceties in the event romantic partners do not partake in the other’s social network.
Apparently (and sadly), Ms. Schilling’s character falls into that category.
Let’s delve into this study a bit.
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Social identity is critical
Social identity is a shared social circle between two or more people. Here’s what the researchers had to say about its importance in a relationship:
“Sharing a social identity is a key component of interdependence in romantic relationships. In particular, sharing a social network of friends and family members with a romantic partner enhances relationship quality.”
Of course, it isn’t always possible for one partner to partake in the other’s social activities. There are many reasons for this – perhaps one doesn’t particularly care for their partner’s friends, is too busy with work, or something else. So, it’s going to be difficult to fulfill this ‘key component of interdependence’ through social mingling.
As some semblance of social identity is necessary for a relationship to thrive, it is crucial that another route is discovered.
What is that route? Read on.
Media and relationships
Researchers of the study cite something quite profound:
“… we propose that sharing media like TV shows and movies with romantic partners can provide a shared social world and that this sense of sharing a social world is highly important to relationship maintenance. Moreover, we argue that the fictional social worlds provided by TV shows and movies can allow partners to compensate for lacking a shared social reality in the real world.”
It’s interesting that the authors cite fiction (non-reality) as the catalyst for emotional togetherness. When one considers this idea, however, it makes perfect sense. Here are a couple of reasons:
(1) The “real world” can be dull, depressing, and downright intolerable at times.
(2) The world of creation, non-fiction, is often fascinating. As an example, this writer loves the Batman movie series – from Tim Burton to Christopher Nolan. (My apologies to fans of the talented Adam West.)
It’s important to recognize that “media” is not limited to television and movies. This is great news for non-T.V. viewers. Books are included in this study.
Some of us aren’t big moviegoers or television watchers. If you’re among this group, you aren’t on an island! Books and even the occasional magazine or journal article are good too! If you’ve found a partner who adores the written word, the effects are equally powerful.
The bottom line …
Anything that can produce some happiness in relationships is a beautiful thing. Per the study:
“Like other forms of self-expansion with a partner, sharing an integrated social network … fosters interdependence by providing a shared identity.”
The importance of shared identity” adequately summarizes the study in just two words. In simple terms, there must be a shared identity for a relationship to thrive – if not survive – whether this mutual identification is achieved via each other’s social network, an ever-so-sweet streaming binge, or a captivating bestseller.
Enjoy and appreciate one another. Even if it means spending a bit too much time in front of the tube!
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Gomillion, S., Gabriel, S., Kawakami, K., Young, A.F. (2017). Let’s stay home and watch TV – The benefits of shared media use for close relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 34 (6). pp. 855-874.