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C’mon let’s get married – on television

August 20th, 2007

Dr Petra

Occasionally every media company seems to hit on the same idea for a prospective series. Sometimes it’s because there’s a call for a specific kind of programme, and sometimes it just seems everyone has the same kind of idea at the same time.

Over the past couple of years there’s been a spate of shows about porn addiction, curing sexual problems with various dodgy ‘therapies’, and the perils of pubic hair.

Currently it seems we can look forward to programmes that test whether couples are fit to wed.

In the past fortnight six TV companies have all got in touch with programme briefs that intend to do the following

- pick a number of engaged couples
- see through a number of ‘tests’ whether they’re truly compatible or not
- have a psychologist/therapist vet whether they’re ready/right to wed
- tell the couple if they should marry or not
- film the fallout of the couples who’re not given the go ahead, and the weddings of those who are

The way in which companies want to go about this has varied and since these shows are in production I’m not going to go into much detail as to their plans out of fairness to them. But generally their focus has been that couples should be attractive, they shouldn’t be ‘too weird’, and they’ll all be given something visual to do to assess whether they’re right for each other.

The expert’s role also varies between programmes but seems to be along the lines of administering various visual activities (from bungee jumping to learning to care for a pretend baby) that will test couples ‘to the limit’. Some shows want their contestants to be given psychological tests (and even lie detectors), and all want the psychologist to give the deciding vote on whether the couple should or shouldn’t get married.

Now all this may well make for interesting viewing but the ethics of such programming and involving psychologists/therapists is tricky. If a couple decide on their own accord to wed and later split up it’s down to them. But if after going on a show like this they realise they’re not right for each other this is obviously going to cause distress and it’s unclear who may be held responsible. It’s also unclear who might be held responsible if a couple seemed to be given the green light to marry by an ‘expert’ yet later split up.

Obviously the kinds of couples wanting to go on a show like this may be more interested in being seen on screen rather than genuinely knowing if their marriage is likely to work, and because it’s for TV the ‘visual’ tasks they’ll be set won’t be any real indicators of their future relationship success.

Moreover these shows are all working from the premise that good relationships are ones where couples always agree, can negotiate and can work as a team. Although that might be a great model for some people relationships can and do vary and couples who row or can’t function as a team all the time also enjoy positive relationships.

Within all these shows the aim is of course to create tensions, set a standard for what equals readiness for marriage and allows for tears, tantrums, and tiaras for those lucky couples who make it to the end of the show. TV companies are all saying that these shows are necessary because of our ‘spiralling divorce rates’ and will therefore fulfil some form of public service broadcasting. What they’re really doing is creating shows that are going to make some couple’s unhappiness our viewing pleasure.

Naturally TV researchers and producers I’ve spoken to and expressed concern about this format have all said it’s just a bit of fun and everyone on the show will know what’s going on. None of them appeared to have any idea what they’d do with couples who split up as a result of the programme or who experienced distress during or after filming.

Wedding shows are popular, there’s no doubt about it. But this is another example of both reality TV and lifestyle programming where couples compete and an expert decides if their relationship is worthy.

Clearly I’m not getting involved with any shows like this, which according to at least one of the TV production companies I’ve spoken to is a sign that I’m not only boring but I don’t understand psychology or viewing audiences. To be honest if it’s a choice between being dull and doing this kind of show I’ll opt for the boring option. I’m certain there’ll be plenty of more interesting and less ethical colleagues who’ll see these programmes get made.

If you’re considering getting married, firstly congratulations. And if you want to be certain you’re ready (and let’s face it most potential newlyweds do) you might want to read Susan Piver’s excellent book ‘The Hard Questions: 100 questions to ask before you say I do’. You can also get advice from your religious institution if you’re planning a faith based wedding, or from organisations like Relate. Admittedly, we don’t know if such pre marriage counselling helps that much, but it’s pretty likely it’ll be more useful than bungee jumping on TV as a means of proving your togetherness.

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