The Psychological Reason You Love Watching Those Catfights On ‘Married At First Sight’
Whether we like it or not, Married at First Sight is everywhere.
As we move into the heart of the season, you can’t step into an elevator or buy a coffee without overhearing chatter about commitment ceremonies, botched dates or a very unnatural set of fake eyelashes.
And while it’s an admissible guilty pleasure for some (a snackable centre point for weekday wine-and-cheese nights and WhatsApp groupchats), even those who don’t love the show and prefer to stalk Instagrams and read Daily Mail exposés on Chrome Incognito love the show.
If you fall into the latter category, we’re sure you’ll have already asked yourself this question: why am I so into it?
Sure, watching strangers matched up into not-so-holy matrimony like 17th-century arranged marriages is fun, and critiquing their questionable outfits is even more so, but truth be told, it’s the fights that get us.
You know: Cyrell getting physical with Martha-in-a-gold-face-mask. Tamara and Jessika’s tug-o-war over Dan. Cyrell getting into it with… well. Everyone.
It begs the question: why are we so drawn to watching these tense, often-times volatile and always uncomfortable fights? Thankfully, it doesn’t hint at a deeper psychological problem in our brains if you do get a kick out of it.
We quizzed Rachel Voysey, the principle psychologist at The Relationship Room, about the draw of watching women duke it out.
WHY WE LIKE WATCHING WOMEN FIGHT ON ‘MARRIED AT FIRST SIGHT’
Given how big Married at First Sight is and how complex the ‘social experiment’ sometimes gets, it’s no surprise that there are lots of different reasons why you might like watching two women go round for round.
The first reason? Because, as women, we can relate to why they’re fighting.
“When women are in conflict it is far less overt than when men traditionally do conflict. There is often a largely hidden aspect to the way women insult, gossip, socially manipulate and use strategic vulnerability to undercut and attempt to destroy their opponents,” says Voysey.
“This level of complexity makes it particularly fascinating for women to watch women fight as we can observe the often not-so-subtle way that we have been treated when in conflict with other women, but from a safe and observable distance.
“This distance often allows us to actually analyse and understand aspects of female conflict that, as women, we understand has happened to some degree to us or others we know in the past.”
And it’s true. Who hasn’t been caught off guard by a comment made by a friend? Or heard cheating rumours floating around? Or had to address some whispered gossip you’re sick of hearing?
Voysey notes that observing these fights from the distance of our television screens can serve a few functions for us.
“One, it gives us a kind of group therapy effect where we can understand past hurts and process past experiences by observing it in others,” Voysey tells ELLE, explaining that seeing these conflicts unfold can help us understand fights we’ve had in the past—and learn for future conflicts, as is her second point.
“Two, we feel we can learn things vicariously about conflict between women that may help us in the future to avoid or understand what happens when we are in conflict with other women.”
And the third reason draws on society’s “intrigue into public humiliation or punishing of people who have ‘done wrong’.”
“Three, there is an aspect of enjoyment in seeing the person we assess as the villain or wrong-doer be punished or lose the fight,” says Voysey. “Viewers enjoy the sense of public humiliation in the punishment when we watch the person we assess as ‘wrong’ lose the fight or suffer in the process.”
But there is an evolutionary aspect to this whole thing, too.
“Humans are naturally curious and learn through both experience and observation,” explains Voysey. “Because of this, watching others in conflict does have the effect of engaging our attention and this is very normal and hard wired into our brains, because learning about how to win or avoid conflict increases our chances of survival in an evolutionary sense in the primitive parts of our brain that still very much control us today.”
Need to excuse your MaFS habit to a non-believer? Just tell them you’re increasing your evolutionary survival skills.
MOST IMPORTANTLY… IS WATCHING IT BAD FOR US?
Sure, we all like to joke that it’s the flavour of TV that melts brain cells by the second, but could watching these constant blow-outs be having a negative effect on us?
The answer: not really… but maybe a little.
Voysey explains that the show does act to normalise “unhealthy conflict habits such as using criticism, aggression, bullying and violence, which are mal-adaptive ways to solve and repair relationships.”
She also notes that it’s “very unlikely you will learn any good habits or skills from these kinds of shows and, if anything, it reinforces unhealthy conflict behaviours.”
“The effect of normalising women treating other women badly is very unhealthy in creating a platform in which female bullying becomes something that viewers may see as normal or warranted.”
“Similarly, watching couples cheat, criticise, judge and manipulate each other does normalise unhealthy relationships without offering alternative healthy strategies,” she continues. “In fact there is never a good reason for anyone to treat someone else with aggression. There are much healthier ways to resolve conflict.”
The short of it? It won’t rot your brain to tune into your favourite guilty pleasure, just try not to take your relationship advice from it.
IS THERE A RIGHT WAY TO GET BACK TOGETHER WITH YOUR EX?
Bella Hadid and The Weeknd.
We don’t know if we’re reading too much into things, but it sure seems like getting back together with your ex is all the rage right now.
Between Bella Hadid and The Weeknd’s Parisian dates after they split up last year, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez’sexhausting on-off again relationship and Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik’s Insta-official cuddles, it’s a definite mood.
Even Twilight couple of our dreams Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson were spotted together again, proving exes are reconnecting left, right and centre.
And, of course, when we see celebrity couples rebooting like they’re Charmed 2018, it makes you wonder: Should I get back together with my ex?
Let’s be clear, there’s no easy answer to that question. Breakups, personality traits, circumstances, and family issues are all factors in the ex-equation, and only you (and your couples’ therapist, LBR) can know if it’s the right thing to mend your fences.
If you’ve got rekindled love on the brain, there are some questions you should be asking yourself before taking that plunge.
We chatted to Rachel Voysey, principle psychologist at The Relationship Room, to talk pros, cons, and green lights.
ARE THERE A SET OF SIGNS THAT INDICATE GETTING BACK TOGETHER IS A CAPITAL-B BAD IDEA?
If you’ve been breaking up and making up regularly, Rachel says things may be a little bleaker on the ‘happily ever after’ front.
“There’s quite a bit of research that shows that the more times you’ve broken up and gotten back together, the less chance there is of you having a satisfying, happy relationship,” Rachel told Cosmo. “If the on-again, off-again thing has been a trend in your relationship, that would be a red flag.”
And, of course, personality traits are a huge factor in the success of rekindled relationships.
“Trust issues, control issues, infidelity, emotional manipulation… These things are personality traits, not circumstantial problems, and should be thought twice about before jumping straight in.
“If the person’s personality was something that you didn’t like, it’s unlikely that’s going to change.”
WHAT ABOUT *MY* CURRENT STATE? ARE THERE SITUATIONS WHERE I SHOULD DEFINITELY COOL IT?
In this instance, thinking about the why and when you want to get back together is vital.
“If you got dumped quite unexpectedly, or there was a lot of grief associated with the breakup, you can feel like you just want them back to regain your power. That’s when it’s more about you than it is about how happy you two were as a couple, and that’s a big red flag.
“If you’ve had a recent bad breakup and you’re not feeling your best self, that’s not really the best time to make a decision about going back into a relationship because you’re coming out of your own issues.
“Any recent trauma, any big issues in life, career changes, you don’t want to make those decisions when you’re in that state.”
WHAT ABOUT THE GREEN LIGHTS I SHOULD BE LOOKING FOR TO SHOW IT’S AN OPTION?
Rachel notes the key to a good reconnection is self-awareness. Having a conversation where both sides acknowledge the faults and their own shortcomings is a major step towards solving those problems in the future.
“The green light is when you both have insight into why it didn’t work. If someone says, ‘Maybe I was a little bit controlling, maybe I was a little bit busy with work, maybe I didn’t make you a priority’.
“It’s a really good sign if you can both recognise what went wrong. That’s a good beginning.”
“Both people need to have the insight to say ‘this is why it didn’t work for me’ and listen to why it didn’t work for you.”
SHOULD I BE WORRIED ABOUT GOING INTO IT WITH EMOTIONS RUNNING HIGH?
Yes! When you get back together with someone, Rachel says you can be blinded by a thing called ‘limerence’ (this includes those feelings of longing, obsession and fantasy, basically the rose-coloured glasses of a new relationship).
“When you break up and get back together, there’s this big injection of limerence or, what you’d call lust, which gives you an invincible feeling. Like, ‘We can conquer anything’ and ‘It’s all going to be better’. The problem with that is, it is a bit of a trick to stop you from seeing the red flags.
“In the beginning, when you’re in limerence, you don’t have your best judgement. So you’d need to sit down and think through why you broke up. Was it really because of those ‘big ticket’ things? Like trust, personality, them letting you down?
“Ask yourself, ‘Why is it that we broke up?’ Think through it rather than feel through it.”
OKAY, SO ME AND MY PARTNER ARE TALKING ABOUT GETTING BACK TOGETHER – WHAT STEPS SHOULD WE TAKE BEFORE WE MAKE IT INSTA-OFFICIAL?
It doesn’t sound sexy, but having some serious conversations with bae before getting back together is of major importance. Rachel notes you should be talking about ‘big ticket’ stuff, and looking at the relationship long term.
“In a conversation about getting back together, you should check in on financial goals, commitment, marriage, living together…
“Does one believe in marriage and one doesn’t? Does one never want to live with a partner and one wants to? What are your beliefs on commitment and what does that look like? Do one or both of you want kids? How much do you want your extended family in your life?
“Check in that you’ve got the same goals moving forward before you put in all the effort in getting back together. When people get back together for a second time, both of them normally assume this is a committed, long-term thing.”
REKINDLING THE FLAME: THE PRO’S GUIDE
Check your reasons: “Sometimes people so stuck on trying to get their ex back that they don’t actually stop and think, ‘Why do I actually want them back?’”
Keep communication lines open: “A discussion about how you guys want to be different this time, why it didn’t work last time and then being aware of any extra support you might need to make that happen.”
Scary talks are good talks: “You have to have those scary conversations earlier rather than later. If you haven’t had those conversations, you’re more likely to get hurt when the answers aren’t what you want to hear.”
Don’t fall back into bad behaviours: “If you start to feel like you’re slipping back into bad behaviours, or losing track of yourself, or ruminating, or thinking about the relationship too much, or trying to manage the other person, then get out.”
The lust is real: “Lust will happen and it should and you should feel passionate and reconnected. That’s great, but if you let that take over and you just rely on your feelings, you might get yourself in trouble.”
Keep your head screwed on: “Enjoy it, but try to engage with your thinking about, ‘Is this the best thing for me and for them?’”
Is Travelling The New Couple’s Counselling?
This relationship expert says you need to book a trip with your partner, stat.
Travelling with your partner is one of the biggest tests you can put your relationship under – but it’s also one of those most valuable. There’s no strain like spending 24 hours a day together while navigating the unknown and tackling delayed flights and language barriers.
According to relationship expert and psychologist from The Relationship Room, Rachel Voysey, testing your compatibility through teamwork, compromise, problem solving and communication is sure fire way to work out if you’ll last the distance.
“Travelling should be a milestone for couples and considered as important as meeting the family, and moving out together. Going travelling with someone will test your teamwork and communication skills in ways nothing else can.
By booking a trip, Voysey says you will…
… Break out of the routine rut
“The time is now. Shopper Data Group recently surveyed 2,198 Australians and found that over 46% of the have no plans to take an overseas trip. Oh. Taking a holiday gives couples the opportunity to step away from everyday life and connect with one another. Travelling with your partner allows for new shared experiences and creates memories unique to the relationship. It can also be a break from talking only about work, and helps to better understand how to create a work/life balance.”
… Learn to work as a team
“Good teamwork is the basis for a successful relationship that operates on compromise and strong communication. Travelling can be revealing about your partner and will showcase their strengths and weaknesses. Having good teamwork as a couple means you are able to work in a way that complements and supports each other. Travelling gives couples the opportunity to develop their teamwork and will translate into a fair relationship with shared responsibilities.”
Quit your job, travel the world, and get paid
… Communicate more effectively
“Being together for an extended period of time forces you to talk and could open up unresolved issues. Being on holidays provides the perfect opportunity to discuss these problems, while not surrounded by stress and work and being in a different environment, which in itself can sometimes offer new perspectives. Travelling will force you to learn patience for your partner whilst enhancing your understanding of their behaviour and how they react to situations.”
… Be cool with compromising
“Agreeing on what to eat, what to do and see, and more importantly, what you may not be able to do can be challenging. Travel offers choice and will help to sharpen a couple’s negotiation skills. Being understanding of what is important to you and your partner and what you are willing to be flexible on is important. Knowing how to compromise in a civil way is a key quality in a relationship that will bring stronger commitment to the relationship.”
… Sit down and solve problems
“Travelling means you are often out of your comfort zone and can be very telling on how a person adapts to change and new environments. If you miss a train, have no accommodation, lose a bankcard or even a passport can ignite frustration but having the ability to problem solve as a couple can reveal dynamics of the relationship. Couples who can find peaceful solutions to problems whilst travelling, will be able to translate this back into everyday life and avoid feeling stressed.”
Travelling with your partner could make or break a relationship, but it can also offer a time to reflect and reconnect. As the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Ashleigh Austen is whimn’s lifestyle editor and writes about everything from way-out wellness trends and workouts to genius beauty hacks and bang-on fashion buys. Fuelled by soy cappuccinos and carrots, she can quote nearly every episode from The Simpsons. Follow her for non-stop serious journalism (lol) on Instagram and Twitter.
Reality TV shows like Married At First Sight inspire counselling boom
SYDNEY couples are rushing to seek counselling in the wake of TV shows such as Married At First Sight.
Psychology clinics across the city have noted the trend and told The Daily Telegraph they attribute spikes in bookings to couples therapy having a “pop culture moment” on programs such as Channel 9’s reality show, the Foxtel drama Big Little Lies and the Seven Network’s Seven Year Switch.
Psychologists at four clinics told how the prime-time shows, which all feature psychologists analysing relationships, have also driven couples to seek counselling earlier, rather than waiting until relationships are breaking down.
Rachel Voysey, principal psychologist at Balmain’s The Relationship Room, said the prevalence of counselling on TV is helping destigmatise a process once seen as “shameful”.
“In the past people have thought you have to have a problem to have therapy, that you need to arrive in a crisis, there’s been an affair or somebody has one foot out the door,” Ms Voysey said.
“What these shows are doing are saying, ‘You don’t have to go and get help just in a crisis, you can actually go early in a relationship,’ and that’s a really interesting change.”
Relationship counsellor Clinton Power said the trend was also spurred by celebrity couples talking about marriage counselling, including Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.
“When big-name celebrities come out and say that couples therapy has saved their relationship, it’s very beneficial because people think if they needed help, we might need it too.”
The psychologists likened the effect to the widespread acceptance of therapy in the US, where seeing a therapist as an individual or couple is viewed as something healthy people do.
Former St George Dragons rugby league player Tony Priddle and wife Eliza have been together for 12 years and still attend sessions to work on what triggers fights.
“Now we understand how we both respond to emotional triggers, we take responsibility for our own actions and our fights are over in two or three minutes instead of three days,” Ms Priddle said. “It’s completely changed our relationship.”
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