5 Reflections from a Vicar on Married at First Sight
TV channel E4 is picking up high figures for the latest iteration, series 6, of its show, Married At First Sight. And media coverage is only set to increase with the ‘news’ that one of the contestants has been removed from the show!
I had the opportunity to discuss the series on local BBC Radio today. Here are a handful of reflections I sought to share…
1. Yes, #MAFS is ‘good TV’, but its popularity also reveals our deepest longings
Married at First Sight is certainly what we’d call ‘high drama TV’, especially after this week’s post-honeymoon episodes. I guess the sceptic would say that of course it’s been designed to entertain – and we certainly get that strange pleasure of spectating on people’s lives.
But for me, the fact it’s been really popular reveals two human longings that we all have. Firstly the longing to be truly loved, and secondly, the longing to be truly known.
And so often in life, we feel we’ve got to trade those off against each other. To be loved we’ve got to change who we are, put a filter on ourselves – or else, when we are known, warts & all, we can fear (or experience) being rejected.
But I wonder if the popularity of the show shows that marriage is seen as a place where just maybe, we can be both loved and known.
2. Whilst we may feel the nature of the show ‘disrespects marriage’, it’s also an opportunity to consider our definition of ‘love’.
The current series is slightly vague about whether the marriages are actually legal as we’d traditionally understand it, which is revealing in itself.
And obviously there’s a whole range of characters and presumably motives for going on the show, but it seems there are some really sincere people – one person bravely confessed, ‘this is my last chance’. As a Christian minister, I love it when people see something in marriage that is attractive – often that security and faithfulness that come from being loved and known.
But ultimately it comes down to where do we get our definition of love?
The old song, “I wanna know what love is, I want you to show me” -(apologies if that’s stuck in your head all day!) – asks a real important question.
And as a Christian minister it’s crucial for me that love is not defined by a Hallmark card sentimental feeling, or an all consuming Love Island style animal attraction. Love is defined at the cross of Jesus Christ – where we see a love that is all about giving.
And actually that’s why we care about marriage. Jesus’ love for his people is described as a marriage, because he says ‘I will take you’ – warts & all. At the cross, he says, “All that I have I give to you – and all that you have – the good, the bad and the ugly – I take it upon myself”.
3. Marriage involves a decision to commit to someone, so yes, be wise. But no one ever has full knowledge on their wedding day.
Part of my role is to help couples prepare for marriage – not just for a wedding day. Increasingly over the last decade there has been an immense pressure to make it all about The Wedding. Interestingly, I think the restrictions of lockdown weddings have actually been really refreshing for a lot of couples. I’ve heard people say, ‘I’m so glad we don’t have to worry about all the other stuff’.
But as someone makes those big promises to another person, of course we want people to do that wisely. It’s important that marriage is an informed choice, because it’s a big deal. It’s a decision to commit to loving someone.
But that said, let’s not pretend a couple can know each other completely on their wedding day. And likewise, no one knows what the future will bring. I took a lovely wedding the other day, and the couple were clearly really devoted to each other. But as I said in the service, even with a strong understanding and awareness of each other, the reality is you don’t know what ‘in sickness and in health’ or ‘for richer, for poorer’ is gonna mean for you. That’s the point. Come what may you are committing to love.
4. The best marriages have three people in them.
As someone who has been married eleven years, I can tell you the ‘L plates’ are still well and truly on. Marriage is full of joys, but it can be hard too – because we’re messy people.
And that’s where we often say, ‘marriage is a three chord strand’. It’s not just about the couple. We need the support of family, friends and communities, but we also need to bring God into it.
For me, I’m glad there is a third person in our marriage. A living knowledge of God – who He is, what He’s done for us, His transforming presence – brings with it those daily rhythms of saying sorry, of putting ego and selfishness to one side, of learning to forgive and bear with one another. True self-care involves seeing we were made and designed by a Creator. It’s mad to think we can do life in God’s world – whether we’re married or not – without Him.
This is my experience, but ultimately ‘doing marriage with God’ brings the strength, character change and internal resources to grow a healthy marriage.
5. You can spot a healthy view of marriage because it doesn’t denigrate singleness.
A number of people have pointed out to me that MAFS felt like it has a very negative view of singleness.
I love people considering marriage and I love taking wedding services. But marriage isn’t the ‘be all and end all’. And any individual or couple who make it such is surely destined for frustration and disappointment, damaging themselves and their spouse in the process. No human person can bear such a burden.
But there’s another marriage we need to factor in. The Bible speaks of an eternal wedding between Jesus Christ and all those who have said ‘I do’ to him. That is the relationship we were made for. Human marriages aren’t meant to bear the weight of all our expectation, hopes and purposes for life. We need something bigger than that.
The wonder of the good news at the heart of Christianity is that Jesus says, ‘My life for yours’. “I’m offering to love you, faults and flaws thrown in.” Whether we’re single or married; whether we’d hope to be married or have been married; whether we’ve had experiences of being let down or can’t bear the thought of opening ourselves up to another person, Jesus says, ‘My life for yours’. That’s a marriage made in heaven.
What do you make of the show? I’d love to know what you think!