Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul
“ANYONE SITTING AT HOME WATCHING DATING SHOWS IS LIKELY THINKING: A ;9F 9;LM9DDQ J=D9L= LG L@AK
While many Australians may consider reality-TV dating series as trashy, mind-numbing fodder, millions more tune in to watch them each week. Sure, they get dismissed as guilty pleasures, but could watching these shows actually be good for you, your partner
Arguments. Accusations of cheating. Actual cheating. Red wine thrown on a white dress. Gaslighting. Backstabbing. Lying. Rumours. Jealousy. Body-shaming. More drinks thrown, this time in someone’s face. Welcome to the world of reality-television dating shows – where anything and everything goes.
“Why would anyone ever go on a dating show?” is a refrain often asked by Australian audiences as they sit on their couches watching the shenanigans unfold with morbid fascination. But here’s the thing: relationship experts agree that while it’s easy to dismiss reality dating shows as car-crash TV, there is actually value in watching them because they provide tremendous insight, often in what not to do in a relationship.
“We don’t put people on dating shows to role-model healthy behaviour,” says sexologist and relationship expert Nikki Goldstein. “Dating shows are more about the entertainment factor and we all love to watch drama. I think we see an array of unhealthy behaviours, but it’s great in certain formats that it can be highlighted to make an example of what it is that you shouldn’t do. And the comments about these shows online help to show what people think is right and wrong, which all help to set examples of what a healthy relationship should be.”
While Body+Soul cover stars Martha Kalifatidis and Michael Brunelli are two of the few lucky enough to have found love and happiness on the juggernaut reality series Married At First Sight (MAFS, in the 2019 series), they agree that there are important lessons to be learnt from the show.
“In terms of educating people when it comes to relationships, and what can be unhealthy in relationships, the show is fantastic at doing that,” Kalifatidis, who has leveraged her popularity to become one of Australia’s most in-demand influencers, tells Body+Soul.
“It depicts real life in the sense that it opens the door and puts a microscope on to the positives and negatives of relationships,” her partner Brunelli observes. “Gaslighting is horrible and we’ve seen first-hand what it does. I hope that there is a woman or a man, anyone sitting at home watching that, thinking, ‘I can actually relate to this.’ And it’s opening their eyes to see that maybe they’re being manipulated, maybe they can take a step back and see their relationship for what it really is and be able to learn from it.”
Indeed, watching the successful relationships play out on these TV shows can also give us insights into what we want in love – from how we can argue in a healthy way, to how to address niggling issues. It also brings more awareness to words like gaslighting and body-shaming, given the audience has observed said behaviours across a swath of reality shows such as MAFS, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, Love Island, Farmer Wants A Wife, Seven Year Switch, First Dates, Love Is Blind and Too Hot To Handle.
“Reality dating shows can teach us that in relationships anyone can feel vulnerable and experience difficulties,” says Jacqui Manning, aka The Friendly Psychologist. “We often don’t have a window into other people’s worlds – unless you’re a therapist. And it can be refreshing to see people you may relate to having similar experiences in starting or maintaining relationships. Viewers see behaviours that they don’t want to emulate and they may learn how to recognise red flags.”
Goldstein postulates that dating shows particularly help with communication. “They provide a great catalyst for conversations within a relationship.
Communication is so important, but it’s not always easy to do. What do you talk about? How do you start conversations about certain, possibly awkward, topics? When watching these shows, it can be easier to talk about how you feel about what’s going on. You can discuss certain issues and topics within your relationship using these storylines and drama as a catalyst.”
Relationships Australia NSW CEO Elisabeth Shaw agrees. “Even though the examples may be amplified and even extreme, there are kernels we can often recognise,” she says. “The help given can be useful to take on board for our own situations. It can also be a way to start conversations in one’s own home that we have been struggling to do, by using the ‘out there’ topic before bringing it ‘inside’ and between you and your own partner.”
For Kalifatidis and Brunelli, who now live together in Sydney’s Bondi Beach, the positives of their experience vastly outweigh the negatives. The pair is closer than ever and will celebrate their threeyear anniversary in September. Even though they do get negativity thrown their way – predominantly on social media – they have weathered the storm together, just like they did on the series.
“All the drama on the show brought us closer,” Brunelli says. “We became a team and we were unbreakable. We would always support one another no matter what was going on. Now we have never been more in love.”
Kalifatidis adds, “When the cameras weren’t there, it was just us two and we weren’t really involved in the drama. But obviously when they’re filming, you have to give them something to film. We were really just in our own little bubble. And that’s kind of what made us so strong. Together, I think we can do anything.”
Senior reporter at news.com.au,
James Weir – who has a devoted following of his withering recaps of several reality shows – agrees that for all the drama there are lessons to be gleaned from such programs. “The teachable moment that shines through is how to argue with your partner without being a jerk,” he tells Body+Soul. “These contestants are terrible at arguing and have provided vivid examples of what gaslighting and point-scoring looks like – from both men and women. As a general rule of thumb, viewers can watch how these contestants behave… and then do the complete opposite.”