Married at First Sight NZ experts on why we can't look away from reality TV

Reality TV is often referred to as a guilty pleasure, but why do we enjoy it so much?

By Emma Clifton
Reality TV is often referred to as a guilty pleasure, and given that the ratings – and water cooler chat – in New Zealand for the international versions of Married at First Sight are always high, there are a lot of us finding joy in watching total strangers muddle through the dating process. The reasons for this are twofold, relationship counsellor Tony Jones says.
“It’s voyeuristic in the way reality shows are, because people like to see the kind of conflict that gets played out at home but we like to see it when other people are doing it!”
The second reason is the show acts as a microcosm for the three general stages all couples go through: Romantic love (the honeymoon phase) followed by power struggle, when the performance aspect of a new relationship, and the perfect behaviour that comes with it, slows down. The toilet seat stays up. The bad habits are unveiled.
“It’s an ego situation,” fellow MAFS expert Pani Farvid says. “It’s about you as a person going, ‘Is this working for me? What does this mean for the future?’ But in some ways, a lot of the issues that come up in the power struggle are red herrings for our desire to just want true love, respect and connection. If couples can engage less in the power struggle and talk about what’s underneath, that’s where the real growth happens.”
If you learn to navigate that process, the third phase is conscious love. How a couple ‘does’ conflict can be a deciding factor, Tony says.
“People always say, generically, that communication is the key to a good relationship but actually it’s how to do conflict well.” Watching brand-new couples work through this in real time is part of the appeal, but it’s also because we’re all obsessed with romance.
“Centuries of art and literature is about love and passion; it’s a huge component of our daily lives, but also one that can create intense, out of control feelings,” Pani says.
“Getting married is a huge decision and here, it’s happening in a way people don’t necessarily expect – particularly in a Western context. People are interested in the social experiment aspect.”
Arranged marriages have been taking place for hundreds of years. But in that situation, it’s most often friends or family who do the match-making.
The stats for long-term arranged marriages are better than you might think. In India, where most relationships are still organised by family, the divorce rate is one of the lowest in the world and, crucially, the majority of those in arranged marriages registered higher rates of satisfaction than their non-arranged counterparts. Suddenly, the argument for out-sourcing your love life starts getting stronger.

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