Reality Bites

In the realm of reality television, morality is a myth. As such, it should come as no surprise that the present season of Married at First Sight has gradually normalised emotional abuse, gaslighting, and antiquated gender roles in relationships.
In the last few episodes, tension built between one couple, Andrew and Cheryl, after Andrew spent a “boys night” bad mouthing Cheryl and encouraging others to follow suit. After Cheryl was told what had happened, she confronted Andrew in front of MAFS relationship expert and psychologist John Aiken. Andrew denied having done anything wrong, claiming that he could not clearly remember the night, and rather than address what had happened, John Aiken focused on the idea that Cheryl wasn’t trying hard enough to keep her man happy.
Then at a dinner party, Andrew openly mocked Cheryl, dismissing everything she had to say, belittling her in front of all the couples. He continued to deny his behaviour at the boys night, even when confronted by those who were present.

This has been a trend throughout the series. Gradually conditioning viewers to accept that broken, abusive relationships can work, if only the participants work harder. Early in this season, when Andrew was dumped by his TV wife, a rumour quickly spread that he had started a fight with a bouncer on their wedding night. If true, this shows a pattern of behaviour that the “experts” really should have picked up on. It could have become a teaching point for viewers of the show, helping people recognise negative behaviour in relationships – potentially helping victims of abuse to escape.

Instead, the show rules force couples to stay together if only one wants to leave; an archaic notion that predates the no-fault divorce. One might even question the qualifications of John Aiken, as the resident psychologist, in ignoring such clear and present warning signs.
This whole episode is reminiscent of an incident on My Kitchen Rules in 2016. One couple was having trouble getting their meals cooked in time, and as the night progressed, an endless torrent of abuse was showered upon Tim by his wife Dee. The tirade was noticed by viewers, who called it out as bullying and psychological abuse.

The big difference here, of course, is that when Tim was being bullied by his wife, viewers seemed to notice it more because it was such a rarity – seeing a man as the victim of an abusive relationship.
When Andrew is seen to be gaslighting and manipulating his TV wife, viewers react far less forcefully, because this sort of relationship has been a television mainstay for half a century – going back to shows like The Honeymooners.

Married at First Sight is easily one of the worst shows on television, for both content and style, and this latest controversy has driven further nails into its coffin.
With at least one Australian woman being killed each week, on average, we need to be able to recognise abusive behaviour when it is screened.
With one in three Australian women having experienced physical violence since the age of 15, we need to put a stop to the normalisation of unhealthy relationships on TV.
With psychological and emotional abuse being the most common form of domestic violence in Australia, we need to be able to call out Andrew and name his behaviour: it is abuse, plain and simple.

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