What We Can All Learn From “Married At First Sight”
The concept of this show fascinates me. It’s taking the concept of arranged marriage, adding the knowledge and support of psychologists and relationship experts and applying the mixture on modern singles who, by the very fact they are willing to take this risk, may not be very traditional. The show’s participants first must submit to hours of interviews and psychological tests in addition to a home visit before they are even considered. Then, when the producers have their potential partners narrowed down, the experts (a psychologist, a sexologist and a spiritual advisor) sift through the candidates in order to determine which ones would make good matches.
Not for a date.
Or even to live on an island together for a month.
But for a marriage.
A legally binding, til death do us part promise, delivered to a person they have never met.
Now, of course this is sensational. And extreme for most of us. But it’s also a very interesting social experiment that has some surprising elements of wisdom that we can all learn from.
Even good people may not make good spouses
It’s interesting to hear the experts debate about the candidates. They each have their own particular insight into personalities and insecurities. And they frequently will classify a person as a really good guy/gal, but pass them by because they are doubtful of their ability to make a good spouse.
There is a difference between being a good person and being a good partner. And that’s an important distinction to be aware of, whether you’re in the role of the good-person-but-not-relationship-ready or you’ve fallen for a good person who is missing key elements of relationship readiness. Sometimes good people need to be good and single, at least for now. And that’s okay.
There’s no such thing as a perfect match
As the experts solidify the matches, they point out areas where the proposed couple may struggle. And that’s after a pool of thousands has been scrutinized, analyzed and organized.
Because when you bring together two imperfect people, you’re going to have an imperfect union.
The participants are counseled before they commit to the experience that their match will not be utopian. And that’s a good conviction to start a marriage with. Because when you don’t lead with the expectation of perfection, you’re less likely to run away at the first sign of disharmony.
Marriage requires sustained effort
The participants go in with the assumption that they’re going to have to work at building a relationship with the stranger-spouse. Whereas, in a typical marriage, we go in with the assumption that the work (dating, etc.) is already done. There’s a dangerous belief out there which states that marriage should not require work and that one that makes demands of effort is somehow lacking in authenticity.
Either those that perpetuate that myth have never been married to a person with their own beliefs and opinions or they misunderstand the definition of work. Because marriage absolutely requires work – mental or physical effort expended with the intention of achieving a desired purpose or result. And if you don’t work at it, it won’t work for you.
Let your support system support you
The participants in the show may have to deal with the endless cameras and individual interviews, but they are lucky in one regard – they have support and a lot of it. Most of us are not fortunate enough to be surrounded by a team of professionals that are all rooting for our marriage.
Yet even though we don’t have the budget of television, we can all choose to surround ourselves with people that support us AND believe in our marriage. The people we encircle our marriage with are almost as important as the person we choose to marry.
Attraction can grow
Some of the matched pairs display an immediate attraction. But most approach their spouse for what he or she is – a stranger. Neither compelling or repealing, but simply an unknown that they are about to pledge their commitment to. But those that agree to this experiment all have a powerful belief that attraction can grow and be cultivated.
Not convinced? Have you ever felt attraction fade due to inattention or a focus on the negative? Why would this only run in a single direction? Whatever you nurture, grows. Rather than gazing over the fence, water your own grass and grow the attraction in your marriage.
Let’s talk about sex BEFORE we talk about marriage
I applaud the inclusion of an expert in sex and intimacy on the show. Sex is important in a marriage and while any amount or type of sex is variable and up for debate, the spouses’ agreement on it is not. As with anything, it is easy to lead with assumptions and shame about sex – “This is what I like, so it must also be what my partner likes.” “The amount of sex I want is normal and anybody who wants more or less is either sex-addicted or frigid.” “I’m uncomfortable talking about sex, but it’s just the act that matters, right?” “Sex is a sign of a healthy relationship.” “A relationship must be healthy before sex can take place.”
Of course, the couples in the show don’t have the opportunity to discuss sexual needs, desires and hang-ups before the marriage. So the experts do it for them. They are careful to avoid pairing someone with more puritanical views with a person who is more passionate and adventurous. For the rest of us, we have to do that talking ourselves. And yes, it is important to talk. Because the added hormones at the beginning of a relationship can hide a lot of incompatibility.
Commit to the marriage separate from the person
On the best days, you will be committed to your marriage AND to your spouse. But they’re not all best days. In fact, some of the days of the marriage will be awful. And those are the days to be even more resolute in your commitment. Not to your partner (especially if you can’t even look at them without growling at the moment), but to the marriage.
And that’s exactly what the participants in the show do. They’ve committed to the marriage (and yes, to the show) before they ever pledged their loyalty to a particular spouse. And there’s real value in that. As long as the spouse is not abusive, let your commitment to the marriage be the glue that keeps you together through the hard times.
Focus on fixing yourself and getting to know your partner
It’s so easy to focus on your partner’s flaws and to pronounce that everything would be better if he or she would simply change. Yet in the show, that option is rarely there since the spouses know next-to-nothing about each other. Instead, they (with the encouragement of the support professionals), work to address their own issues and insecurities while making an effort to get to know their partner. They’re a little less likely to lay blame at the feet of the other.
Those duel processes – improving yourself and listening to your partner without assumptions – are ongoing. People are dynamic. Marriages are dynamic. If you stay static, you’ll miss the magic.
At the end of the show, some spouses do call it quits and decide to divorce. But others see the potential and the progress and elect to stay married.
And at the end of the day, marriage is more about the hundreds of commitments made every day than the single big vow on the wedding day.