Brought to you by MAFS: The two most toxic tactics in a relationship


At the height of The Biggest Loser’s success, a surprising study emerged. US researchers from the University of Colorado found that viewers were more likely to overeat when watching obese people on their screens, not less.

The findings put paid to producers’ protests that the show was all about helping people while educating viewers about healthier habits, but anyone who tuned into the show for even an episode could already see that.

Like most reality TV, The Biggest Loser was about schadenfreude (gaining pleasure from someone else’s misfortune) all along. What other television show will make you feel better about your own situation in life than one where you can watch people substantially fatter than you run around in the mud and fall over?

As it turns out, there is one show up to the task – Married At First Sight. Instead of overweight people trying to get healthy, the series places the vulnerable and insecure into a melting pot of booze and Botox under the guise of helping them find love and connection with “expert” guidance.

Just like The Biggest Loser, which has a stunningly poor success rate when it comes to contestants keeping the weight off, MAFS has equally failed to yield more than a sprinkling of successful relationships across its eight Australian and three NZ seasons.

And just like watching The Biggest Loser might make you fatter, watching MAFS could actually damage your relationship.

While each consecutive season has been a veritable “hold my beer” of escalating toxic behaviour when compared to the last, the current Aussie season – which, perhaps thankfully, will thump to a halt this week – has pulled out all the stops.

So problematic has the treatment of Melissa been at the hands of puce-hued villain Bryce that a petition requesting an apology from Channel 9 has already amassed nearly 15,000 signatures.

“[Melissa] has been subject to gaslighting, emotional manipulation, isolation, and countless other TEXTBOOK signs of a controlling and or abusive relationship,” write the petition’s creators.

“The network has also failed [in its] duty of care to viewers putting together a final edit that shows these signs, supporting the relationship, and completely ignoring the obvious signs of control and abuse Melissa is subject to.”

Obviously the extreme example of Bryce, a man who makes Dean Wells and Mike Gunner from previous seasons look like feminist heroes, is always going to be the most impactful. It’s the more subtle behaviour of this season, however, that has the potential to truly damage our relationships.

Toxic trait #1: Gaslighting

One such example is the much-discussed gaslighting between couples.

While commentators have been calling it out for years (“In my nearly 20 years as a writer I’ve never used the word ‘gaslighting’ as much as I have since I began writing about #MAFS” tweeted Alexandra Carlton in 2019. It’s a Guy Fawkes Night of Gaslighting.”), this season the experts appear to have done some googling of their own and we’ve heard it thrown about on the couch.

Sadly, the experts’ grasp of what gaslighting actually means is as questionable as their collective advice. More often than not we’ve seen them not only misidentify the behaviour, but allow its most egregious examples to go unchecked.

James, for example, after staying out all night and not returning to the apartment he shared with wife Joanne, blatantly denied her accusation, telling Jo, “I did go home. I have proof.”

He then, with a twitch of his topiaried facial hair the following night, revealed to the experts that he “needed some space”, which is why he had in fact stepped out for the night.

While James was eventually called out for his behaviour, the experts used him calling Belinda “frigid” and then backtracking as the example – leaving his blatant lying about the night in question mostly unexamined.

Ditto, Jason’s cowardly reimagining of the issues between he and wife Alana, where he somehow managed to make her defence of Melissa, yet again belittled and betrayed at the hands of Bryce, an indictment on Alana’s character and failure to “have his back”.

The experts chose to focus on Alana’s “self-sabotage” in relationships as opposed to the fact that Jason would rather throw both Alana and Melissa under the bus in order to protect the rapidly crumbling lies of his overlord, Bryce.

Julie Sweet, clinical psychotherapist at Seaway Counselling and Psychotherapy, says the normalisation of this kind of behaviour can absolutely have flow-down effects on the relationships of real-world couples.

“It may minimise poor behaviour at home and unknowingly give permission to some individuals to continue functioning as they are,” she explains, “because ‘people on TV act the same way, see there’s nothing wrong with me if they’re all doing it as well’.

“It can validate unsettling behaviour and promote the cycle of abuse.”

Toxic trait #2: Point-scoring

And then there’s the point-scoring.

While purportedly opposed to this strategy of conflict management in a relationship, the entire MAFS machine is set up as one toxic ping-pong game of emotional point-scoring.

The highly edited “gotcha” moments where a person’s lies are exposed lead directly to the blame-it-on-the-edit Insta-rants contestants feel compelled to partake in because they feel so very unheard during filming.

“Point-scoring is generally an overt symptom of a greater core issue, usually that’s avoidance and a lack of boundaries,” explains Sweet.

“Not only does it take the couple away from being present, point-scoring fosters resentment, contempt and in some cases disdain.”

But should the risk of damaging our own relationships turn us off this kind of car-crash TV for next season? Not necessarily.

As long as we keep in mind one salient fact: apart from the unicorn Cam-and-Jules chemistry that they happen upon occasionally, MAFS producers don’t give a flying red wine about the health of the relationships on screen.

And they sure as hell don’t care about yours.

Source: Read Full Article