What We Can Learn from Married at First Sight
BY: BRIANA ROBERTS, LMFT-A
Would you marry someone who you never met? With the rise of shows like Married at First Sight and 90 Day Fiancé, more people are willing to take on that challenge than one may think. While primarily for entertainment, shows like these can provide learning experiences for their audiences.
Arranged marriages happen worldwide and are customary in many parts of Asia and Africa (Allendorf, 2017). Interpersonal compatibility and love are not very high on the list of needs, if on the list at all. The marriage, typically arranged by the parent(s)/primary caregiver(s), is based on factors such as their family lineage, ethnicity, religion, and economic status/standing (Allendorf, 2017). Arranged marriages are not as common in Western cultures, but they happen; sometimes, they even make it onto TV shows.
Married at First Sight first aired in the United States in 2014, highlighting couples who are matched together by relationships experts (ranging from sociologists, therapists, marriage counselors, pastors, relationship advisors, sex therapists/experts, sexologists, and psychologists) to be, you guessed it, married at first sight. The couples meet each other for the first time at the altar. Unlike more traditional arranged marriages, these couples are paired up based on interpersonal compatibility and what they tell the experts they are looking for in their ideal partner. After the wedding, the couples go on their honeymoon and then live together for about eight weeks. After the eight-week trial period, they decide if they would like to continue forward or get a divorce (Minnicks, 2020).
Married at First Sight is still airing on Lifetime and is on its thirteenth season. Each season has three or four couples, so that is about 39- 52 couples in total. According to an article published by the Lifetime Network (Dempsey & Morgan, n.d.), only 11 couples are still together. It is not uncommon for shows like this to have low relational success, to no one’s surprise. While these shows are primarily for entertainment, we can also catch an informative glimpse into how American culture views marriage and what constructs we believe make a “happy marriage.” Married at First Sight does a pretty good job of showcasing our expectations about marriage and love, and how important it is to have conversations about these expectations with our partners.
People looking to partner can look at shows like Married at First Sight to see some of the expectations people have. One that definitely pops up on the show, and absolutely should be addressed more frequently than it probably is, is role expectation.
As a couples therapist, one of the most common issues I see brought to therapy is incongruency in role expectation. Often couples state that there was minimal discussion about expectations of their partners prior to getting into the relationship, let alone before getting married. But, they definitely have expectations and, often, these expectations are not getting met. Because of the nature of the show, Married at First Sight couples have to discuss these expectations veryearly on. In contrast, more traditional pairings may not discuss these topics until much later on in the relationship. The same way these conversations are being had on this reality tv show is how they should be happening in more traditional dating routes, too: relatively early on. Should it be on the first date? Maybe, maybe not. It is up to individual choice. Should it be after people get married? Probably not.
Pretty often, we see differences in how each partner identifies their and their partner’s role. A good question to start with would be what do you expect from yourself and what do you expect from your partner, and — if marriage is a goal— do these expectations change after marriage? Societal influences on gender roles around household and childcare responsibilities remain a significant source of contention within relationships (Clyde, Hawkins, Willoughby, 2020). Couples should get into the weeds of the conversation: how are household chores going to get done? What about the responsibility of having and caring for children? How do we address the financial support of the household? Does one of us work and one of us stay home? If so, who does what? Are some of these questions a little intense for a new relationship? Sure! But, our life experiences will shape how we view relationships, and not everyone has the same life experiences; therefore, our expectations may vary.
Role expectations are important for couples to consider. They are not the only thing to consider, but with the prevalence of disjointed thoughts around role responsibility in relationships, it should be a high priority conversation. Premarital therapy can help facilitate these discussions (Clyde, Hawkins, Willoughby, 2020), but couples can discuss these things even if marriage is not on the table. If Married at First Sight can teach us anything, it is that before saying “I do,” you should probably make sure you actually “do,” and the only way to find out is through open and honest dialogue.
Allendorf, K. (2017). Conflict and compatibility? Developmental idealism and gendered differences in marital choice. Journal of Marriage and Family, 79(2), 337-355.
Clyde, T. L., Hawkins, A. J., & Willoughby, B. J. (2020). Revising premarital relationship interventions for the next generation. Journal of marital and family therapy, 46(1), 149-164.
Dempsey , B., & Morgan , C. (n.d.). Which married at first sight couples are still together? Lifetime. https://www.mylifetime.com/shows/married-at-first-sight/pages/which-married-at-first-sight-couples-are-still-together.
Minnicks, M. (2020, February 25). How ‘married at First Sight’ works. ReelRundown. https://reelrundown.com/tv/Married-at-First-Sight-Statistics.