So we’ve watched the third and fourth episode of Marriage at First Sight. For those unfamiliar with the series, it’s a reality TV program where participants agree to live as husband and wife for one month with a person matched to them by science. Each of the four couples meet for the first time at their wedding which, while not a legally binding event, has all the rituals of a typical wedding – rings, vows, photoshoot, reception and honeymoon.
We are rather sceptical about the value of the series (you can read our thoughts about the first two episodes here), but we do want to call out some redeeming features. For example, we noted (and appreciated) that the participants and the ‘experts’ in the series appear to be working from the assumption that marriage is a life-long, sexually exclusive relationship between a man and a woman and almost all the participants expressed a desire to have children. In a culture that seems totally confused about marriage and its purpose, it’s refreshing to have this basic understanding of natural marriage reaffirmed.
It is also good to be reminded that for couples who haven’t found their way to lasting love, the longing and heartache is very real and very painful – we old marrieds too often take what we have for granted.
But honestly, we’re struggling to find much more than that to praise. In fact, though the series pitches itself as a social experiment designed to test the reliability of the matchmaking science, the matchmaking process seemed anything but scientific. Though there was apparently some profiling and testing, exactly what was tested was never clearly explored.
In the third episode, the couples move in together with one of the partners vacating their normal abode to take up residence in the home of their new husband or wife. Predictably there are some awkward moments. It would be confronting to a mere girlfriend to discover that her new boyfriend keeps his motor bike in the spare bedroom, but they would have time to negotiate whether this is to be a permanent arrangement long before they became husband and wife. But in this ‘social experiment’ there is no warm up period, no opportunity for the usual exploration of each other’s interests or priorities, or views about the domestic needs of a motorbike. Instead, each partner is thrown head first into the other’s world. While it’s supposed to be reality TV, it’s far from any reality in Australia.
And that seemed to be a theme that even the couples themselves voiced. In a normal relationship, there is a gradual increase in the time spent together. There is a first date, followed by a day or even a week before the second one, giving couples space to reflect on their developing relationship. The intensity builds gradually, and as each partner gains more knowledge of the other, so does their trust and willingness to be vulnerable.
But in this series, there’s no gradualness; it’s zero to one hundred percent in the first five minutes. A number of the participants commented in their conversations with their friends that this aspect was disconcerting and probably hindered the bonding process rather than accelerated it.
Of course there are lots of relationship hurdles planned for these couples in order to sustain the drama; the shopping for a new bed challenge, the DIY furniture assembly challenge and, in the fourth episode, the meeting with the other couples to compare their relationship progress.
Again, in a normal relationship, couples aren’t tracking their relationship day by day against another couple – each relationship is given its own timetable. But in this series, each couple is forced to conform to the timetable of the program producers. They’ve got just one month to decide if they want to stay together and so everything must be accelerated beyond its natural pace.
If anything, these aspects of the program are more likely to undermine their bonding rather than fast track it. Because if there’s one thing science (that is the real variety as opposed to the pseudo version used here) tells us, it’s that relationships are far more likely to endure when they are allowed to develop in a progression that respects the boundaries of the participants.