Halfway through Season 2 of Married At First Sight (MAFS) the couples had psychological check-in sessions with Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Joseph Cilona.
I was in awe, watching his amazing interaction with the individuals and couples, and it left me wanting more.
What exactly is the role of the experts? What is the ‘real’ time reference in comparison to the ‘perceived’ time of the viewers? What is it like for Dr. Joseph to see and watch these relationships play out?
I’ve got answers to these questions…and so much more.
Can you explain the primary role of the experts in Married at First Sight?
The primary role of the experts in the experiment is to use the tools we have available to us and our professional judgement and expertise to create matches that we believe to have the highest potential for success based on:
1. The self-report information the potential participants give us in the questionnaires (we really must take most of this at face value, though of course we are skeptical and examine all of the carefully, as well as compare/cross check with all of the interviews we conduct). As a self-report measure, there are some very obvious and important limits to this type of data.
2. Interviews by each of us with all of them, as well as with family members and friends (chosen by the potential participants).
3. The home visits by Dr. Pepper Schwartz
4. All the assessments I administer
5. The psychological evaluation each participant undergoes, done by an outside firm that specializes in these types of screenings. I am given a report of results.
6. Back ground checks
7. We have now begun to look at social media presence, but we don’t have access to many of these. We are working on making that a requirement for future seasons.
What would be the secondary role?
Our secondary role as experts is to make on-camera formal check-ins with the couples and to provide support and guidance. We are not these couples’ therapists. This is very important to understand and is made very clear to them at the onset.
Support, guidance and checking in with them is NOT therapy, nor should it ever be considered as such.
It’s important that we (the experts) always have to be mindful of striking a balance between providing support and allowing these couples to develop and navigate their own relationships.
If we are too intrusive and step in to provide support every time the couples are facing a serious issue or challenge, it can compromise their ability to navigate these relationships on their own, as well as the experiment.
However, this is obviously an exceptionally unique and stressful process, so we feel support should be provided as requested, within reasonable limits. If the couples reach out to us prior to our formal meetings with them, we provide support based on what they share with us about what is happening.
To better help the couples understand themselves and the challenges they are facing, are you able to see footage of what they are experiencing prior to your formal check-ins?
No, the experts do not see any footage of the couples during the process, outside of the initial interviews that all the experts have with the potential participants that are being considered for matching.
We all review each other’s meetings with each participant, so we know how each person presented to each expert and what was said in those interviews first-hand.
However, we don’t actually see any other subsequent footage until each episode airs. We see things the same time as the viewer, after the experiment has ended and the show begins to air.
What is your contact with the matches during the filming process?
I think it’s important for viewers to understand, once we make the matches and meet with the individuals to let them know they have been matched and will be married, we have no contact with the couples. We see no footage of them until our formal check-ins, which begin about halfway through the experiment.
The piece I played for Davina was from one of her initial interviews. Aside from general updates from production about how they are doing, the only source of information we have to go on is what they choose to tell us (and how that information is presented in the formal check-ins).
The couples are advised from the very beginning that we are available to them if they need support or guidance before the formal check-ins and throughout the process. However, it is the responsibility of the couples (and each individual) to reach out to us if and when they want our support or guidance. They can contact us very easily either directly or through production.
If and when they contact us outside of the formal on-camera check-ins, it is their responsibility to explain to us exactly what is going on. If they do not, we have no other way of knowing.
These are adults that have made the decision to engage in this process and are extremely well-aware of what it entails. They are offered our support, but it is up to them to take advantage of it.
Finally, it’s also very important to note that only a very small portion of the support we provide is shown. For example, when I formally check-in with the couples, I meet with each person individually, then with them as a couple. These meetings total between 4-5 hours for each couple. The same goes for the other contacts we have. I spent several hours in total speaking with Sean and Davina during the phone calls I had with them. I believe Dr. Pepper Schwartz spent well over 3 hours on her Skype call with Jessica and Ryan. Only a few minutes of highlights of all these contacts are able to be included in each episode.
The editors have the very challenging job of selecting which moments are most significant and most representative of the journeys of these couples. Overall, they do a great job in doing so, but I can definitely say there are many frustrating moments for me when reviewing viewer commentary and reactions. I very often wish it was possible for viewers to see much more of our interactions with the couples.
We saw you listening very intently to Jessica, ask thought provoking questions and show video footage to Davina and speak very directly to Ryan D. How important is adapting your communication style to each individual to the success in advising these couples?
For example, I felt it was important for Davina to view that specific piece of her interview footage and to see and hear herself speak her own words, to help the message I was trying to make have the most impact. It was important to really prompt her to examine herself and how she was experiencing the process and her relationship with Sean at that juncture.
With someone like Ryan D., a much more direct, clear and strong style of communication is likely to be most effective.
Jaclyn is an excellent communicator and exceptionally thoughtful, self-refelctive, self-aware and insightful. These qualities really facilitate thoughtful and effective conversations with her.
Ryan R. has a lot of sensitivity, integrity and is very aware, respectful and thoughtful about how his words impact others. Sometimes he struggles with communicating about things that he feels might cause hurt or discomfort. I would also describe Sean similarly to Ryan R.
I think that both Sean and Davina are very intelligent and analytical, but sometimes those very great qualities can have a double edge to them. They can end up causing problems, like over analyzing and discussion things too much.
Jessica, for all that is discussed about her communication issues, is actually a very effective communicator under certain circumstances. During her interview with the experts and also throughout her interviews speaking to the camera about what is going on and how she is feeling, she demonstrates very strong communication skills and self-awareness. This was one of the primary reasons that we felt she was really equipped to grow though the process with regard to some of her struggles with communication in relationships.
As it is turning out, her style of communication changes a lot when she is in conflictual or otherwise uncomfortable and stressful situations with Ryan. Her pattern of letting things build up until they just burst out, often passive-aggressively, continues to persist, despite her high level of awareness and motivation to move beyond that.
Ryan D.’s very short temper seems to get greatly exacerbated by the process and Jessica’s communication issues. Unfortunately, it went in a completely different direction. His behavior, at times, really crossed some boundaries that should never be crossed. The experiment has really seem to greatly exacerbate many of his issues, as well.
Is there any ongoing or follow-up support given to the couples?
There are very real production limits in terms of how much time we have to do interviews. In my line of work, there are certain issues that really take some time and many meetings over weeks, months or even years to begin to become revealed/emerge.
The couples are free to seek out support in any other form they choose at any time during the process. We would absolutely be available to help connect them with resources should they request it.
It should also be clarified that given the intensity of some of the conflicts that emerged between them, Jessica and Ryan were offered formal counseling to be paid for by production, on at least six different occasions. I myself, very strongly encouraged Jessica on several occasions to accept this offer for formal therapy by a licensed and credentialed treatment provider.
The production company has expanded that offer to pay for therapy for all of the couples, after the process, as well. None of them have accepted.
With that said, it’s important to state that Married At First Sight is, indeed, an experiment in many respects for the couples, experts and producers, alike. This is a work in progress. We are all very mindful of that and are always paying close attention to how we should adjust this process.
This season has certainly given us a lot to think about and we are actively doing that. There were elements of Season 2 that blindsided us all and unfortunately, it is most often in hindsight that many of this can be examined and new strategies developed to try to make the process better for future seasons.
What would be helpful for viewers to know?
I think it’s important for viewers to know that although MAFS is touted as a “reality” show, aside from the obviously contrived element of the blind arranged marriage, it is essentially more accurately described as primarily a documentary.
Granted at times the flavor of the editing (e.g. before and after commercial breaks) has a bit of a reality feel, but in my opinion, MAFS is much closer to a documentary style than anything else at it’s most basic level.
After the blind, arranged marriage, the journey of these couples’ for the following six weeks is documented on film and they are interviewed about their thoughts and feelings regarding it all.
As with all documentaries, production does their very best to interfere as little as possible in their lives and relationships. Although they are there to document the journeys of the couples’, they have to minimize influencing them as much as possible.
This is certainly challenging when the couples are filmed and interviewed so much, but production is very sensitive to this issue and does their best to interfere as little as possible.
Another element that viewers should be mindful of, is the fact that this is not happening in real time. The six weeks occurred, beginning with the weddings in mid December 2014. It’s also important for viewers to remember the six week experiment is aired over about 14 episodes.
There have been many comments this season about how long it took for experts to check-in and provide support. The perception of the real-world timing of when this occurred (aside from all the off-camera support) can be easily misinterpreted at times.
The last question is from your own personal lens. Can you share your most profound “aha” or “breakthrough” moments you experienced as you met with the individuals and/or couples for check-ins?
My most profound moments came not during meetings with the couples, but rather as I watched for myself the day-to-day interactions of the couples for the first time as the show airs from week to week.
The intensity of the conflict between Jessica and Ryan D. was shocking at times, as were many of the other elements of their interactions with each other. These interactions were not communicated by Jessica or Ryan during my one-on-one meetings with them, or in their couples meeting.
I was aware through Dr. Pepper’s Skype with them early on in the process and also advised by production, that the relationship was extremely conflictual, turbulent and intense at certain moments. But actually seeing these conflicts erupt and play out was a very different thing.
Seeing on-screen, the dynamics of the relationships of the other two couples was very striking to me, as well.