Another year, another season of Married at First Sight and another group of people in desperate need of some real therapy throw their emotional lives under a bus for their 15-minutes of Instagram fame. Call me a cynic and a killjoy, but it’s just so frustrating to watch these people, some of whom seem to have real emotional problems and mental health issues get toyed with for entertainment.
Of course you have to call me a hypocrite too, because I still watch it! But this year more than ever, it’s lost some of it’s guilty pleasure for me. Especially because it must make people wonder just what psychology is good for when so called ‘experts’ pair people up that would be lucky to survive a long elevator ride together, let alone a ‘marriage’.
So I’ve asked our child & family counsellor, Penny, to put some of her thoughts together on the ‘experiment’ that is Married at First Sight.
Well aside from the obvious questionable production choices (such as shamelessly sensationalising someone’s virginal status), there has been something else playing on my mind this season.
Almost all of the participants view marriage as the panacea to their life’s problems.
There’s no doubt in my mind that reality television purposefully uses “sob stories” complete with background orchestral strings in an attempt to tug at my heartstrings. The problem with MAFS, however, is that it touts an expert panel of mental health professionals at the helm. They are highly trained individuals who have an ethical duty to provide services that benefit, not harm. These psychologists, and their data (always with the data), sit down with the participants to discuss what has impeded their ability to have a successful relationship. They highlight their vulnerabilities, nod knowingly, and assure them that this experiment is the right fit for them. Despite hearing details about issues of trust, abandonment, childhood trauma or loss, they agree that it would be an excellent idea to proceed with the experiment and pair them up with a life partner who now has the task of fixing their new husband or wife’s problems.
Here’s a perfect example from a recent episode (before things got really intense between these two):
Following 28-year-old Ines crying to the experts about the loss of her childhood due to war and trauma, she says that she is guarded and pushes people away.
She hopes that “this guy” (remember, a complete stranger!) will be the one to make her feel safe enough to be vulnerable and create happy memories that she never got.
One of the “experts” says that Ines wears a mask to cover the pain for a troubled upbringing.
The other expert responds, “Ines wants love but she wants someone who won’t be scared off before they see the real Ines.”
READ: SHE IS SCARED. FLAG.
The apparent solution? Pair her with Bronson who is “calm, fun and strong” and who has also experienced significant grief and loss. Luckily, “he’s still so easy going” and his light-hearted nature will help break down Ines’ walls.
Yes, they may find common ground in their experiences but this is not the solution to unresolved trauma. What they’re essentially saying is, “If she can learn to trust him, this will be successful” and “It’s up to Bronson to fix Ines’ childhood trauma and resulting defences”.
And we all know just how well that turned out for both of them so far! 3 weeks later there’s been nothing but; verbal abuse, complete contempt and emotional infidelity.
I have to believe that given their training and skills, the MAFS experts would be acutely aware of why some of the participants have had difficulty committing to a serious relationship. I also have to remember that this is television and producers will do anything to boost ratings. In the real world, us “experts” would be encouraging these prospective brides and grooms to look inwards (through therapy, self-reflection, or organic supports) instead of seeking an external person to fix their issues.
Aside from my professional perspective on this, I am recently married following seven years of courtship with my now husband. I have learnt a lot about myself, been to therapy, identified my vulnerabilities, had support from my partner to work through them, and dedicated considerable effort to grow and develop as an individual. I cannot imagine going into a blind marriage with the “baggage” I carried throughout my twenties. It would have been completely unrealistic and unfair on a complete stranger to provide the validation I needed when therapy was absolutely necessary (and boy, did it work wonders).
Let’s just remember that MAFS is a bonkers experiment. There have been 33 ‘relationships’ and only one has succeeded beyond the show. I hope this season is different (sucker for love over here!) but it raises so many questions about what people are seeking through marriage.
What I do know is that it’s more than just having the right person plonked down in front of you. These guys could have been matched with their true soul-mates (if you believe in such things), but if they are not in a place to see it, accept it and work at it, there’s no amount of tropical honeymoons and Gold Coast getaways that are going to turn it into anything real.
By Penny Gibson
Child & Family Counsellor