The latest incarnation of Married at First Sight, the show that carefully matches complete strangers and fast-tracks them into marriage, saw two couples facing the decision as to whether they should stay together or seek a divorce.
It’s certainly a premise laced with risk, allowing science, insight and statistics to ordain the right partner for you — but there seems to be a fairly simple romantic lesson on show, too.
Of course, the path to true love was never a simple one, so with the help of COSRT-accredited sex and relationship therapist Jo Coker (one of the experts on the show tasked with matching the couples), we put some relationship clichés, adages, and assumed bits of knowledge under the microscope…
1. Opposites attract
A long-held view among romantics: the idea being that a yin should seek out a yang, presumably formulated from the literal metaphor of the magnetic pull of a positive to a negative side on an AA battery. But, how much truth is there in it?
“Broadly speaking, people can be opposite in smaller dimensions and still get on well,” says Coker.
“One can be a couch potato, the other a fitness fanatic, but dig deeper and they’re very rarely opposite in terms of their how they view the world. People tend to have similar ideological beliefs, which means that when it comes to making big decisions, they’re on the same page.
“Even couples with different polarities of political belief are generally fine, so long as they share a moral blueprint.
It’s not the end of the world if you’re in a relationship with someone who wants to climb Kilimanjaro and you don’t, but the core of your relationship needs to be similar to be successful, otherwise, you could come unstuck.”
2. Stay in your lane
If you close your eyes and really concentrate, you can still feel the faint reverberations from the gasp elicited in 1993 when pin-up Julia Roberts tied the knot with the very-much-not-a-pin-up country singer Lyle Lovett, before quickly divorcing less than two years later. Surely for romance to work and relationships to sustain under the increasing pressures of daily life, a couple needs to occupy similar territory on the spectrum of gorgeousness.
“It’s a big generalisation, but people do tend to go for similarly attractive people,” agrees Coker. “But looks are only one element of a relationship and this can become a problem. You can have really attractive people who become incredibly unattractive when you get to know them. Likewise, you can meet someone you’re not immediately attracted to, but as you get to know them and know their personality, they become very attractive, because they’re kind or they make you laugh.”
She also points out that this unattractive-to-attractive alchemy has become harder to perform, thanks to the impatient state of modern dating.
“Dating apps like Tinder are so superficial that it can be hard to see beyond the exterior, and if there is a disparity, it’s often based on an overt exchange based on what someone can offer — hence why someone with a lot of money might get together with someone considerably better looking than them.
“But, if you’re looking to have a happy long-term relationship you may not always stay physically attractive — so a successful partnership needs to have more going for it than just fancying each other.”
3. ‘Happy wife, happy life’
“I would say ‘happy couple, happy life’ because no one should be dominating the happiness stakes,” insists Coker. “In fact, the couple I dread is the one that comes through the door and says: ‘We’ve never had a cross word in over 40 years’ — because it suggests that one partner has simply given in to the other one in order to avoid conflict. But in any relationship, no matter how good it is, there will be grittiness, discussions that need to be had, and rightly so.”
“Even if you’ve got a great functioning relationship, there will always be areas — be it tricky in-laws, or having children — that cause stress. You need to feel comfortable expressing yourself, no matter how awkward that can be, otherwise, resentment can build up.”
The other type of couple that should beware is the constantly bickering couple, especially if it takes the form of someone putting your partner down and ridiculing them.
“Often, the bickering can be disguised as humour, but these relationships are seldom ‘funny’ and can very quickly escalate to become abusive and disrespectful”, says Coker. “You are supposed to be in your partners’ corner, not letting them down, so help each other be the best version of yourself you can be.”
4. Never go to sleep in an argument
In terms of awkwardness, it doesn’t get more excruciating than the argument that stretches into bedtime and pretending to immediately fall asleep despite the inner war raging in your head. The wise person knows to nip this one in the bud.
“Even if you agree to differ, it’s good practice,” concurs Coker. “As people, we can’t achieve perfection all the time, but don’t get into bed, turn your back and feed the resentment, it won’t help. You’re a team and there will be ups and downs, but going to bed angry will create anxiety and tension in a place that should be your sanctuary. Ultimately, it just puts an avoidable strain on your relationship.”
5. divorce in the family
There have been various studies over the years looking at whether people from broken homes are more likely to get divorced themselves. These tend to feature opposing sets of “findings”, depending on which way the wind blows — some suggesting that they’re definitely more likely, with divorce increasingly seen as a tangible resolution to a wobbly marriage, while others insist that the emotional disruption it caused in childhood has turned children of divorce into lumps of unshiftable marriage granite.
“I can see that,” says Coker. “You hang onto marriage by your fingernails, because you don’t want to replicate divorce from your early years. But nobody should stay in a relationship they’re not happy in, and divorce certainly doesn’t carry the stigma that it used to, so it’s much more common now.
“We’re at a stage where we want society to manage divorce in a therapeutic way, with the children — if there are any — at the heart. The truth is, with the huge strains on families these days, in a society where everyone increasingly wants it all, marriage can be very hard.”
6. A shared sense of humour
“A good sense of humour is so important,” says Coker. “Couples develop their own kind of humour, and it becomes a shorthand way of communicating for them. This is especially useful if you can diffuse situations when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Essentially, to laugh together at the ridiculousness of life.”
7. Sex is a good barometer
“Your sex drives won’t always stay on the same page, and it’s about how you manage that which really counts,” says Coker, assessing the notion that the amount of sex you have directly correlates to how potent your love is.
“Some couples don’t want or need that much sex, some like lots of it. The problem comes when sex drives are out of kilter, which will happen in most relationships, and no one is talking about it.
“Sex isn’t the barometer here, communication is, and the real key thing is to discuss it early on so that it doesn’t balloon into a bigger problem than it needs to be.”
8. ‘Love at first sight’ exists
“Well now, that depends on what you conceptualise love as,” insists Coker. “But for me, it’s a complex set of emotions that grows and develops. I believe in attraction at first sight.”