Married at First Sight psychologist: 'Cracks appear' for couples

Christie and Mark appear in the second season of Married at First Sight.
Christie and Mark appear in the second season of Married at First Sight.

One of the matchmakers behind the hit show Married at First Sight has hinted at upcoming drama for the newlyweds, saying cracks appear as new information surfaces.

Australian relationship psychologist John Aiken said a viewer's impression of the new couples, made during the first three episodes, won't necessarily be that accurate "as the experiment goes on".

"The pressures come on, cracks appear, and things come out that people don't know about, suddenly changing everything."

This is an example of the show's unpredictability, he said. There are things that the science of matchmaking can't control.

"Experiment" and "science" are words Mr Aiken uses a lot when describing his role on Married at First Sight, which screens on TV3.

He is one of three experts on the show and has his own private practice in Sydney, where he was born and grew up.

Mr Aiken shed some light on how the Married at First Sight couples were matched when he spoke to the Herald from Sydney this week.

He used newlyweds Erin and Bryce to explain.

"Erin is a 25-year-old fashionista and she's been put with Bryce, who's a very ... down to earth guy. Now Erin, by her own admission, is very anxious at times, but certainly full of self criticism, and dating or intimate relationships are very hard for her.

"She often gets sarcastic, she can be flippant and quite dismissive at times to her partners, and so one of the things that we're curious about is what she's going to do with a guy that we match her with. She has lots of good sides to her as well."

Mr Aiken said this curiosity began to play out in the very first episode.

"Already at the wedding she really did freak out prior to meeting this guy. But then she was able to find comfort with him quite quickly, which surprised us but delighted us as well. That's why we matched them. That's an example of how there's a lot of unpredictability."

John Aiken practices relationship psychology "day in, day out" at his private practice in Sydney.
John Aiken practices relationship psychology "day in, day out" at his private practice in Sydney.

Mr Aiken said thousands of people apply to be on the show each year, and are whittled down over a two month period.

He said once the experts and production team decide on who is ready and available, the scientific process starts.

"I'll interview them individually, we'll do all sorts of tests on them - personality, attachment, communication styles, and family values. All sorts of things. Then we do the matching process."

Mr Aiken said it is "lengthy and exhausting" and, on top of it all, things can change last minute.

"Several people, just before being selected, have found a boyfriend or a girlfriend and have had to pull out. So we have to think on our feet and adjust to get the matches for the experiment."

He said while a lot of people want to be on the show, finding couples that are compatible is not that easy.

"For instance, you can have a couple that are just a great match, but he's too short and she won't be on the show unless the guy is taller than her."

There are a number of variables at play before the show even starts, Mr Aiken said.

The main deal breakers over the first two seasons are height, smoking, and not having kids. "They're the big three."

People often tell the experts they have made bad matches, he said, but he doesn't take it personally.

"My ability as a psychologist - it doesn't ride on whether the couples get over the line or not. I just match according to science and then I watch with anticipation as to how they manage things. But in saying that, we do try and give them every chance to get over the line.

"I would love it if four couples go in and all four stay together. That would be great. But the fact is, some of them will, some of them won't, and there are a lot of things that we won't be able to control."

Only one couple from the first season of Married at First Sight is still together.

Clare marries Jono in the second season of Married at First Sight.
Clare marries Jono in the second season of Married at First Sight.

Mr Aiken said attraction, chemistry, in-laws, and friends are just some of the uncontrollables, and so is how people manage conflicts when they're under pressure.

"What we've found overall is that the couples that stay together, side together when they're under pressure."

He said his reaction to mismatches playing out on the show is one of surprise and fascination.

"I'm intrigued because like everyone who's watching, we actually don't know what's going to happen. The reason Married at First Sight works and has become the front runner of all the relationship shows now, is because it's unscripted.

"It's not orchestrated. What the couples are doing - it's real and it's very raw. And because of that, we basically are watching it with everyone else with bated breath, hoping that they're going to be able, as a team, to grow together and really connect."

But what about pressure from the show's producers when it comes to matching the couples? You are trying to make good television, after all.

"No, generally speaking they have, right from the word go, said to us, 'look, you guys know the science and we've got to take your lead on this'.

"All of the couples have big personalities, but when we're looking at our matches, we are looking at the testing process and what their results are and how they are on interviews. So it's very much driven by us."

That testing process has been more of a challenge this season, Mr Aiken said, after people got a taste of the show in season one.

"It becomes harder in terms of really making these selections so that we're not getting people that just want fame. We take that very seriously.

"We have to do the testing process very carefully on that front. We try to rule out any type of Big Brother contestants. We're drilling down on their motivation, why they need us, what they've tried in the past, what do their test results tell us."

The matchmaker's credentials

Mr Aiken practices relationship psychology "day in, day out" at his private practice in Sydney, and said he signed on for the first season of the show when he found it was a good fit for him.

"It was fun, it was fresh. It was something that allowed me to talk about relationships and it got me out of my comfort zone, because there's a good deal of controversy around it as well."

Like the applicants, he also had to audition.

"It was a bit like the X Factor. They had auditions over a number of days in front of a panel and we had to essentially do what we do on screen. Then over probably a two to three week period, they whittled us down to, finally, the three experts."

Mr Aiken, who has a Kiwi wife and has spent time in New Zealand, said working on Married at First Sight has been "fabulous".

"It's been great for my business opportunities, it's raised my profile and it's given me a lot of experience working on a major network in a prime time show."

He said if it was his daughter, son or friend appearing on Married at First Sight, he would be just as "surprised and shocked" as those family members filmed on the show finding out.

"If that was my family member, I'd just say let go and make sure you're in the process for the right reason and also just prepare yourself for the spotlight.

"Because for all of these couples, social media goes off when the show is on air and there's a lot of feedback towards them."

He said there is access to psychological help outside of the experts for the couples, both before and after the show.

- NZ Herald

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