Toxic MAFS message that needs to change

 

COMMENT

Last night's Married at First Sight commitment ceremony treated us to the full spectrum of relationship happiness - or unhappiness.

As always, each couple was questioned about the ups and downs of their pairing and asked whether they wanted to "stay" or "leave".

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Holding up "stay" cards were Aleks and Ivan, who are proving themselves to be comfortable, contented companions. Also in a double-stay situation were Cathy and Josh, who overcame their first big argument and committed to keep things going.

On the "leave" side of things Tash and Amanda - mercifully - escaped the incompatibility that brought out the worst in both of them and agreed unanimously to go their separate ways.

But every Sunday, when each pair of participants perches nervously on the couch to receive their admiration or admonishments from John, Trish and Mel, they're given a third, more confusing and concerning option.

One participant can opt to "leave" while the other says "stay".

When this happens, "stay" wins by default and the couple, as John gravely intones, "must remain in the experiment".

It's a troubling dynamic considering campaigners, and the community more broadly, is doing a lot of work to try and highlight the very real harm that can come from people remaining in the clutches of unhealthy relationships.

And the optics of forcing someone to stay in a coupling that is making them uncomfortable feels very wrong right now.

The couple that set off the most alarm bells in this regard were Melbourne barber Steve and his onscreen wife Mishel.

Mishel and Steve at last night’s commitment ceremony made for uncomfortable television. Picture: Channel 9
Mishel and Steve at last night’s commitment ceremony made for uncomfortable television. Picture: Channel 9

Mishel has made it abundantly clear that she's had enough of Steve's behaviour. According to her accounts, Steve puts her down for her interests - such as adventure sports. She said he polices her language - pulling her up if she swears or even uses words like "poo" or "wee".

He stands and looms over her instead of sitting at her eye level. And on Wednesday night's dinner party we saw him repeatedly shutting Mishel down when she tried to talk.

"I'm very, very aware of the way you try and control me," she said during last night's episode.

You can’t get clearer than that. Picture: Channel 9
You can’t get clearer than that. Picture: Channel 9

 

Steve voted to stay meaning the couple has to stay together for another week. Picture: Channel 9
Steve voted to stay meaning the couple has to stay together for another week. Picture: Channel 9

It's more than a little disquieting to see relationship experts tell a woman who is plainly calling out behaviour that makes her uncomfortable, and who has unreservedly said (you don't get much plainer than writing it on a bit of paper) that she wants to remove herself from the situation, that she must stay in the relationship.

As a disclaimer, it's important to underscore that Mishel and Steve are not in a "real" relationship. They didn't actively choose each other as partners - they were forced together for a TV show.

So it's not fair to assume that Steve isn't a good partner in his real-world partnerships - who knows how any of us would act if they were cornered into the hell pit of MAFS for relentless weeks on end.

But Michel clearly doesn't believe this is healthy relationship behaviour, and it's - once again - irresponsible of the show to encourage her to tolerate it, or Australia to condone it.

What we should have seen instead was a moment where one of the experts forced Steve to examine the way he was acting. It wouldn't be unprecedented - in 2019, one of the show's experts, Mel Schilling, strongly condemned one contestant, Bronson Norrish, for calling his "wife" Ines Basic a "c**t".

See something, say something. Call out bad behaviour. Don't be a bystander. All phrases we use again and again we try to think of ways that we, as a society, can do better when it comes to stopping our epidemic of unhealthy relationships.

The opportunity was there but MAFS chose not to grab it.

If John or Mel had drawn a line in the sand and told Steve that his behaviour was starting to take an unacceptable turn and that Mishel should race for the door right this second, it mightn't have made for the "good television" the show's creators want.

But it might've been the "good television" the rest of us need.

Watch Not Here To Make Friends live every Sunday and Wednesday straight after MAFS, when James Weir is joined by guests live on Facebook and news.com.au, discussing the couples' ups, downs, sideways, pimples, pashing and misjudged PDAs.

The podcast will be available on news.com.au, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all the usual suspects straight after the live stream.



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