Married At First Sight – a Parent Coach’s debrief

Has anyone else found themselves caught on the couch these last few weeks (against their better judgement) in the clutches of back-to-back episodes of Married at First Sight (MAFS)? It’s a little like watching a car crash in slow motion as couples walk down the aisle in a trance of matrimonial bliss only to find themselves, over subsequent weeks, dissolving into a melting pot of breakdowns and break-ups on national telly.

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Look away now if you can’t bear the thought of six bickering couples meeting each other for the first time at the altar and setting about trying to make their relationship work in real life. But for the rest of us, there is something almost satisfying about busting open the myth that everyone else has the perfect relationship. We get a strange kind of comfort observing other people struggle with the everyday, ordinary parts of a committed relationship. (It might be a bit of a dream crusher if you are in the market for perfect love though).

The blind faith of the experiment for the 12 bright-eyed hopefuls is equally disturbing and intriguing. We watch as they post their partner wish list to the experts like an internet order at Countdown – then get terribly upset when their order doesn’t turn up as requested.

Just quietly, I can see the attraction. Dating these days is pretty intense. Not to mention time-consuming, awkward and expensive. Imagine no more swiping right or left, no more awkward first dates, no more time wasted waiting around for Mr/Miss Perfect and no more taking the rap for our dud choices. In the show, it’s replaced with glorious optimism that the experts will crunch the numbers and put the wheels of fantasy into motion. What could go wrong?

Well, let’s cut to the chase and breakdown why five out of six of the couples stopped short of hitting the love jackpot.

 “This isn’t what I ordered”

Despite their credentials, it seems the experts had a bad day at the office when they matched the couples. With five out of six of the couples failing to thrive, the participants spent most of the time looking over their shoulder wondering why the experts had got it so wrong.

Let’s be honest, when love is not working, it’s much easier to blame it on someone else instead of taking some ownership for how we might be contributing to things.

There are a few essential ingredients for a healthy relationship. One of them is kindness and another is honest communication. Instead of throwing the toys out of the cot in an indignant flap when our partner gets under our skin, words like, “It was not my intention to hurt you just now. I don’t want to hurt you. Can you help me work out where I went wrong so I can put it right?” go a long way. (They certainly would have helped the couples)!

“Relationships should not be this hard”

Or should they? Perhaps it depends on the version of love you were aiming for – fantasy or reality. The science of love tells us that we are all the same when it comes to conflict – we don’t like it. When we feel threatened, we react in very predictable ways by –

  • Retreating back into ourselves and threatening to leave or
  • By going after our partner with insults and accusations or
  • By doing nothing at all and keeping the peace

This is the ancient biological programming of flight, fight and freeze. So as new love morphed into the hum drum of reality for the couples, we saw the cracks begin to emerge in their relationships. At the first sign of conflict, our couples clambered into the ring and weighed in with criticism, blame, defensiveness and stonewalling. Then things got messy.

Another essential ingredient for a healthy relationship is the ability to regulate our own emotions enough to listen and respect what our partner is trying to communicate. This takes practice and time – which just might explain why most relationships are hard work at times.

“I am not attracted to him”

Well, I guess this is the gamble you take when marrying someone you have never laid eyes on before! Unsurprisingly, most of the couples slammed headfirst into their first obstacle before they even got to the end of the aisle – physical attraction (or the lack thereof). The experts sure have some work to do on their algorithm.

It’s true that romantic love is built on physical chemistry. If that’s not there, it’s really just friendship. There is no doubt having both physical attraction and emotional intimacy is the Holy Grail for healthy relationships. The absence of either is tough. That said, both of these take time to grow and develop through the deepening of emotional intimacy and connection. They do not exist in entirety at the beginning of a relationship. Perhaps our couples needed a little more time and a little less pressure for the seeds of love to grow.

“The moment I found out this wasn’t working for me, I put new plans into motion”

Relationships made for one don’t work. When one person is making all the effort and taking all the risks with vulnerability, it gives the other person too much power simply by default. Sometimes this happens when one partner doesn’t feel safe enough to open up. Relationships are a two-way street that work best when both partners are equally invested.

If we have been hurt in a relationship before, we carry this with us for a long time, and we try protect ourselves from being hurt like that again. This means it can feel dangerous to open up and trust again. It is challenging but by no means impossible. With the right basic ingredients, safety and trust can develop slowly over time with kindness.

We are all creatures of survival. To survive and even more, thrive, we need close connection with another trusted human being. Bonding science tells us that our need for others is wired into our DNA, like our need for air, water, food and shelter. Science doesn’t mince its words when it comes to the toxic and debilitating impact of loneliness, which is why most of us will do just about anything to get the love we need – or something that resembles it. Our drive to find love is pretty strong and our frustration when we can’t find it, or keep it, is pretty distressing.

If there is anything to learn from way too much time on the couch watching MAFS it’s that, despite the bad press, love is most certainly still alive and totally worth aiming for. The radiant glow of one happy couple gave us all the feels for what love could actually look like –  full of kindness, laughter and doing life together in the moment.

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