Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Married At First Sight?

What does this show say about us?

Married At First Sight, the controversial new reality show on the former Biography Channel, FYI, debuts this week. In the first episode three sets of complete strangers submit personal surveys and undergo interviews with a sexologist, a sociologist, a psychologist and a spiritual advisor, who arrange real marriages for them. In future episodes the strangers marry, go on their honeymoons and attempt to make their marriages work. After one month the arranged couples have the option of continuing their marriage or getting divorced.

This is really a Back To The Future moment for America. There is no difference in result from this reality show and the arranged marriages of Fiddler On The Roof or Anna Karenina, matchmaking and store bought spouses of a supposedly less-enlightened era. If one endorses the mail-order business of importing women from the Phillipines and Russia to be an instant bride, then there is nothing wrong with letting a panel arrange your partner. Let's just admit we have regressed back to the 19th Century.

Almost a century ago courtship and marriage began to evolve from the enslaving patriarchal system to the enlightened companionate model so that both men and women could become personally fulfilled within a heterosexual relationship. Tragically, the original companionate model became mutated between the 1940s and 1960s. Growing numbers of young Americans, largely instructed at the grass roots level by their peers and encouraged by influential media of music, film and later television, learned how to cheat the system. If contemporary courtship success  under the new companionate system was based on sexual attraction and suitability as companions, then pretending to be emotionally compatible would greatly increase the chances for short-term courtship results.Why go through all that time and trouble actually getting to know someone with no guarantee it will ever lead to anything when you can use approval-seeking to fake that you were meant to be together? In a media-dominated society that praises the idea of living for the moment, defrauding a person for immediate companionship has become an accepted way of life, even among the most religious of Americans.

The original reason the patriarchal system was rejected was to free women. But now, a century later, women in heterosexual relationships are often finding themselves just as bad off, if not worse, than they were in the restrictive patriarchal system. This is especially true for lower and middle class women. At best they often end up with strangers for mates in marriages and cohabitations that have no permanence. At least within the patriarchal system, the woman was guaranteed a steady, solid and dependable, if not spectacular mate for life, who would work as a team with her to  provide financially for her family over generations and provide guidance and discipline to her children as an important male role model. Today we see skyrocketing out of wedlock birthrates among all ethnic groups and the accompanying social pathology that were simply unimaginable when John F. Kennedy was president.

 

The reason such a preposterous show such as Married At First Sight or the equally ridiculous The Bachelor franchise has seen the light of day is that Americans intuitively sense that something is desperately wrong with male-female relations and are hoping someone, somewhere, even on TV-Land, will hit upon a winning formula to restore things to a level of sanity. Sadly, returning to the quaint practice of arranged marriages isn't The Solution. 

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

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