I wrote an article this week about my issues with Married at First Sight and the lack of action I felt the experts take to intervene in the marriages they match that end up being emotionally abusive. In this current season, the glaring example of this has been Matt Gwynne and Amber Bowles. I asked why, for the sake of Amber’s well-being as an individual already dealing with abandonment issues, more wasn’t being done to, in theory, save her from Matt. I heard what you, the readers, had to say. Today, I got to hear from an actual expert’s mouth the rationale behind allowing emotionally unhealthy marriages they matched to continue. Enter Pastor Calvin Roberson.
For the record, the speaker, author and marriage coach was glad to find out that so many people who have tuned into Season 9 have been concerned for Amber and that they care, because he’s been just as worried for her and just as confused by Matt’s behavior.
“We’re seeing it in it’s entirety as fans are seeing it. We have advanced knowledge of what’s going on but when we actually watched it, the Matt that we saw, that’s not the guy that we interviewed,” he said. “That’s not the guy that we chose.”
Pastor Cal noted that you never know how people are going to react to the pressures they’re put under on the show. All participants are forewarned heavily about the stress of the situation, especially with the cameras present and it being a new marriage they’re attempting to keep together. However, Pastor Cal says Matt and Amber have received a great deal of counseling off-camera (the cast and experts were filming 40 to 50 hours of footage a week and counseling could last for upwards of 90 minutes) to help them improve their relationship. He said that neither party really took heed to the advice they were given.
“We are giving these individuals a lot of support off camera. Even with Amber, there have been numerous conversations with her about the situation, about her having the opportunity to leave, about how she’s feeling about it,” he said. “I told her to speak up for herself. ‘Amber, your voice is important. Don’t say something and then take it back when you’re in his presence because you want it to work.’ And as much as we tell them that, that’s what they do. That’s what she did.”
Nevertheless, Pastor Cal and the experts understand the questions they get about why they don’t step in. He says that he gives all the couples counseling and coaching they need to help them resolve conflicts. He used Jephte and Shawniece, a MAFS success story, as an example of individuals who took the insight they were given and used it to better their situation.
“They followed the counseling. Matt did not,” he said. “Matt’s just not listening.”
He also said that Matt wasn’t 100 percent honest about his family situation. For those who’ve been watching, you know that not one single person from Matt’s family appeared at the wedding or at any point this season because he doesn’t speak to them.
“He told us that he didn’t have a great relationship with his parents since the divorce and we’ve seen that before. That wasn’t really a deal-breaker for us,” he said. “We didn’t know that it was to this extent because he didn’t tell us. His psych evaluation didn’t give us a red flag either. So it was a surprise that he was that estranged from his family. His family is out of town so we figured, fine. But Matt told us what he wanted us to know.”
In the end, Pastor Cal says Matt told the experts what they wanted to hear because he wanted to be married in theory, but not practice.
“He thought he was ready so he convinced us he was ready. In fact, he was not. I’ll take the bullet for that one,” he said. “Do I want Amber to get out of it? Yes. I’m the guy who fights for marriages. As much as I believe in marriages, I believe in having a healthy self-confidence even more. If you’re not a healthy person, you’re going to make a lousy partner. And I want these people to be healthy.”
With that being said though, he said that even if he tells the participants that a situation is not good for them, he can’t force them to walk away from it. They do give couples an out if they want it, and in Season 4, if you’ll recall, the marriage of Heather Seidel and Derek Schwartz was the first to end midway through the season.
“We will not force anyone to be in a marriage when they really don’t want to be there,” he said. “If they really feel like it’s over, it’s over. I don’t want that responsibility of forcing somebody to be in something where there are going to be emotions destroyed.”
“We can’t make people leave,” he added. “We can’t vote them off of the island [laughs]. It’s not that show. But these are people who actually want their marriages to work. They actually want to stay in it.”
Pastor Cal did say that the experts, as well as the producers, would certainly step in if things went to the level of physical violence (“It goes without saying”), but in the case of Amber, she has been provided with a lot of counseling in this process to help her maintain her emotional health, which fans were concerned about. The experts haven’t left her to be broken down by Matt, and he maintains that the couple wasn’t matched so that we could sit back and watch the drama that has ensued in their relationship. Not only is it just not right, but as Pastor Cal put it, it’s against what he and the other experts stand for.
“I’ve got a reputation,” he said. “Dr. Pepper and Dr. Viviana, we all do this outside of the show. I’m not trying to pollute the idea of marriage by choosing people just for the drama.”