Can a modern couple find marital happiness without knowing each other before the wedding? Can reality television teach married couples what it takes to sustain healthy relationships? Married at First Sight -FYI’s hit reality TV show–seeks to do both.
On the program, “experts” select six random singles and arrange three marriages based on their potential compatibility. The participants meet their designated spouses at the altar, sight unseen, knowing nothing about them than that they had been “scientifically” matched up. Fast forward to a wedding and a honeymoon. Then the two move in together and began life as husband and wife. Five weeks later, the couples decide whether to continue their marriage, or call it quits. Along the way, each couple receives counseling from four relationship experts: a psychologist, sociologist, sexologist, and spiritualist.
Talk about a quickie!
Despite all the high drama that makes reality TV a guilty pleasure, and the contrived premise, there was real human vulnerability and emotion on the set, which has producers already casting for the second season and cultural critics wondering: what does this say about the current state of marriage?
It is undeniably an enticing notion: do we need the hassle of courtship, with all its emotional uncertainty and time commitment, or can we end up in the same place by hiring some experts and learning on the fly?
For two out of the three matched couples, so far, so good. Only one matched pair decided that divorce was the best option for them. Verdict?
To call a marriage successful because it lasts more than five weeks is silly (80% of U.S. marriages make it at least five years). Yet, the month of marital “boot camp” was illuminating. Although the couples were matched based on objective criteria, relationship success came through hard work and emotional commitment.
Take Jason and Cortney, (still married, and now in love). They learned how to communicate openly and honestly with each other. They made an effort to include each other in their lives, even when it meant operating outside their comfort zone (see: Jason awkwardly dancing in the chorus of Cortney’s burlesque show). We saw Jason’s difficulty opening up to Cortney, since he admitted that trust doesn’t come easily to him. However, they shared a mutual desire to make the marriage work and to acknowledge their vulnerabilities, which enabled them to grow as individuals and develop trust in each other. They were able to incorporate advice from the experts, and by the show’s end, Jason admitted he was learning to trust Cortney and even in that short time, had felt a growing sense of intimacy.
On the other hand, Monet and Vaughn, (the divorcing duo), was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Whenever Monet tried to express her own needs to Vaughn, he felt threatened and would put his needs first. The two would butt heads over the smallest issues because instead of working together, they were quick to lay blame on each other. Advice from family, friends, and experts seemed to bounce off of them. Despite the couple’s high sexual compatibility, they could not find a way to communicate their needs in a thoughtful way.
What created “success” in two of the three marriages wasn’t love at first sight, or any romantic view of courtship. It was the desire to make the relationship work, and an acquired ability to listen to one’s partner, and use the advice from third parties with a vested interest in their success. Ultimately, a willingness to be vulnerable to another person got these men and women through to the end.
“Marriage at First Sight” might be reality-show entertainment, but this clever social experiment contains lessons for us all.