Exclusive: MAFS’ Shawniece And Jephte On Their Critics, Not Wearing Wedding Rings, And How Having A Baby Changed Their Marriage
The pair, featured in Season 6 in Boston, had an incredibly rocky start to their marriage, struggling to see each other as more than strangers and grow their chemistry. They were able to eventually overcome that and capture people’s hearts, defying the odds, only to end up on the brink of divorce when cameras cut off. They appeared on the 2018 spin-off Married at First Sight: Happily Ever After preparing for a baby, not wearing their rings and attempting to fight for their marriage after depression, outside sexual relationships and heartache. Nevertheless, they managed to make it work, and this year, will celebrate three years of marriage.
Despite the ups and downs, Shawniece and Jephte haven’t shied away from stepping in front of the camera and revealing the raw ups and downs of their relationship, critics be damned. That’s why they jumped at the chance to be on the latest Married at First Sight spin-off premiering next Wednesday, called Couples’ Cam. They are one of eight popular former MAFS pairs giving viewers insight into their marriage through the self-shot series. No production. No “experts.” Just the couples and a camera.
“We decided to do Couple’s Cam because we wanted to show how we’re coping with COVID-19. We also thought it was a cool concept, that we could film this stuff ourselves,” Jephte said. “But it’s a lot harder than we thought. We miss production. It’s not easy doing everything on your own, getting the camera angles, the lighting. There’s so much that goes into it that we never thought about.”
That includes trying to figure out what is worth it to film and not being hesitant to capture more vulnerable moments, but in a natural way.
“I’ve been trying to set up little things for us to do, like our date night and things like that,” Shawniece said. “I’ll set it up and get the cameras ready and he’ll be like, ‘Oh,we’re filming?’ And I’m like, yeah, but I won’t tell him so he can be in the moment. It’s been fun trying to come up with ideas of what to film and what not to film.”
Knowing these two, there will be plenty to document — and to talk about. We caught up with them to see how they’ve navigated the struggles of working on their marriage in the public eye and how they don’t allow the outside opinions, including the many on social media, to keep them from doing things their way.
MadameNoire: How did you both move past dealing with the outspoken critics of how you guys do things in your relationship? I know people are pretty tough on Jephte especially.
Jephte Pierre: In the beginning they were really tough on me. It was really hard in the beginning when I had to go through it, but you learn more about yourself and how you deal with adversity or critics. You think you can handle it because you grow up thinking, he said that about me, she said that about me, who cares? But when it feels like everybody, it feels a lot different. But you just learn how to live within yourself and lean on family. Having a daughter helps, and a family because it really helped me to focus on people who kept me grounded. They’re saying this but your family loves you and the people who actually know you love you. If anybody else has anything to say, they’re there to defend you. But figure out who you are and the people who know you, stay around them and stay in contact with them because you can get lost in overthinking like, “Oh my gosh. Is what they’re saying true?” And that’s when their projected problems get put on you, and you don’t want that.
How has being parents to your daughter Laura helped, or in some ways, complicated your relationship?
Shawniece Jackson: She is the reason we became a family of three so we always try to make sure she’s okay, she’s good and that she’s a priority. But sometimes it’s like she’s the bigger priority and she’s keeping us busy, so what about us? It’s hard to equally balance everything.
Jephte: She’s always going to need us more than we need each other, but it’s because she’s so young. If she was a 15-year-old kid you could leave her alone for a little bit. She definitely raised the stakes of us trying to work it out because Shawniece got pregnant really fast and really early.
Shawniece: Before our relationship could be as strong as it is now.
Jephte: And though we love the baby, 10 out of 10 recommend being a parent, we don’t recommend having a baby that fast.
Shawniece: Especially being married at first sight.
Jephte: She was a surprise blessing and the biggest, greatest blessing of all. She definitely raised the stakes and I feel like I personally had to mature a lot faster than I would have if I hadn’t been on Married at First Sight and had a child so soon. I feel like the growth I had was expedited. I feel like it would have taken me until 35 of me messing around and getting things wrong before I got to the point where I’m at now, mentally.
Shawniece, would you say keeping Laura’s best interests in mind and your shared love for her played a part in you sticking with your marriage after Jephte’s infidelity?
Shawniece: Honestly, no. Let me be clear because everyone always says this. When we were struggling and trying to figure out if we wanted to be together or not be together, I made the decision to say, let’s get a divorce. I had mentally left the relationship and of course when you’re married, you’ve got to go through the paperwork, you’ve got to go through the separation. So when he went back to living his normal life and he did what he did, I don’t consider that as him cheating or infidelity in this marriage because we both were out of the marriage but legally bonded. But as for as if having her helped, no. We both said we want to do this because of me and you wanting to be together. We didn’t want to do it because of the baby. She helps us push forward, and sometimes we lean on that, but we both did not want to be in a marriage or stuck in a marriage because of the child. We want to make sure she’s in a healthy environment at the end of the day. If we weren’t right with ourselves and right with our family, we couldn’t give her the nurturing that she needed.
Jephte: We don’t want to be the parents who argue all the time and your children see it and we’re just waiting for her to leave the house for us to split. We said a long time ago if we ever felt it wasn’t working, we’d make it work as co-parents. Laura is super important, but our happiness is more important. If we ever felt we couldn’t be happy with each other, we would figure that out when it comes. But we’re in a good place right now and at that time, it wasn’t Laura that helped us stay together. It was the fact that I thought Shawniece was a really good woman. When we took that time away, there was no plan on coming back because my life could resume back to as normal as possible while she was still pregnant. Although I did try and stay in touch, there were times where she blocked me completely and I had to make fake Twitter pages just to check up on her and go through her mom. We were in a bad place where we never planned on getting back together. But the space we had helped us reflect. I realized the social backlash I received, I projected a lot of that on Shawniece. So her and all that backlash, all that pain at the time, were synonymous. So whenever she was around at the time, I would feel uneasy. I felt like she came with all the negativity that was in my life for the first time. That was the most mental pain I’d ever been through. Feeling like she came with that, it was tough to have her around. So with that space I was able to think about it. Shawniece’s mom helped me reflect a lot. She was like, “I don’t think you tried your hardest, Jephte. I think you shut down when it got really negative and because of that, I don’t think you tried your hardest.” I thought about it for a while and I was just like, yeah, I didn’t. I shut down when I felt like I was getting attacked. But it was little but big things like that that helped us push through that hard time.
So with those early struggles, have you guys done any couples therapy to help you stay on track?
Jephte: We tried early on.
Shawniece: We tried couples counseling before we decided to go our separate ways in the beginning. It was like right around the time we found out we were pregnant. It was hard because I think we just didn’t understand each other. And even though we did therapy, they still don’t understand the scale of it all. This is not a regular relationship. Some people feel like love is at first sight, but initially for them there was some type of attraction and spark there. This was, okay, I figured out a person for you, and this person might work for you. You guys come together in this marriage. It’s something really big and now you’re trying to figure out two separate people who don’t know which way to go. So yes, sometimes counseling would help, but then it also was kind of tricky and weird too because she didn’t understand why some things were happening. When we decided to come back together and we were doing the Happily Ever After, it was Dr. Jessica [Griffin] who made a point that stuck out to us. She said, “If you guys aren’t going to be together or don’t want to be, at least you guys need to get along to learn how to co-parent.” I didn’t know how to deal with the anger of, you don’t want to be with and I don’t understand why. And he was dealing with everything that was happening to him with the backlash on social media. She made it easier for us to realize that granted, you guys are undecided, but let me help you guys navigate how to communicate and how to figure things out. If the relationship grows and blossoms, great. If it doesn’t, you still need to co-parent because a child’s involved. That’s what really helped us.
Jephte: It put less pressure on making it work. We didn’t feel like, “Oh my goodness we have to make this work or else it’s going to be the worst thing in the world.” Now we’re in a space where we can just try naturally and move at our very own pace. Through that, we were able to really grow.
Will fans see you in your wedding bands on Couples’ Cam, or are you over the public preoccupation with rings being tied to ultimate marital happiness? I know you’ve were questioned about where your rings were since doing Happily Ever After.
Jephte: I still get messages like, “Put a ring on that finger, boy!” [laughs]
Shawniece: People still talk about us and say we’re not happy and he doesn’t love you, and he’s only there for the baby. We got put in this situation, and even though we both knew we were going to be married at first sight and we applied and all that, it really became a relationship that came with the fan base and everything. We’re grateful for that. However, we wanted to feel like a piece of this marriage was our own, because it is our own at the end of the day. When we renew our vows, we can do whatever we want and make it our very own marriage and not have to worry about what the fans are thinking or what people even outside might say or think about us not wearing our wedding bands. I still say my husband, he still says my wife. It’s just, we don’t have rings because Jephte said he’s going to propose and get down on one knee. I would love to see that. I want that feeling and I dreamed about it as a kid, however, I got married differently, so that’s going to be nice. But at least that part will be like having our own thing and not feeling like it’s everybody else’s or we’re just doing it to make everybody else happy. Uh uh.
Jephte: I’m the worst type of person when it comes to telling me what to do [laughs]. They gotta be smarter than that. They gotta be like, “Jephte, don’t ever put a ring on it!” I’m like, what you say? You telling me not to do it?! Get out of here! Watch this” But honestly, I told her next time I put a ring on my finger, it’s because I got on my knee and proposed. At that time [we stopped wearing rings] we were really in a super dark place. That was probably one of the lowest parts.
Shawniece: Yeah, it’s one thing to wear a ring but not at a time when you don’t even like your husband or wife and you want a divorce.
Jephte: But at least the ring’s on!
Shawniece: Right! So people think you’re okay. At the end of the day, a ring doesn’t matter, whether you wear it or you don’t wear it. It’s one of those things where, yeah, people want to see that, and that’s great, but we wanted to make sure we had the commitment first.
So the outside chatter doesn’t get to you guys anymore?
Shawniece: Even though I’m like, oh my God, the fans still think the same thing after three years, the reason I try to keep doing this is because I want to show that not every marriage looks the same. There are many ways for a marriage to look like. It might look like some of the things you’ve seen on TV, it might not. But not every marriage is the same. We’re very real, we’re very honest, but we just want to make sure we showcase that it’s not just the glamour and gold you expect marriage to be. It’s that, but there are other things that come along with it. It takes a lot of hard work. I get messages all of the time from women that say, stay together, we’ve been married 20 years and it takes a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of “sorry” when you’re not sorry. They tell me it takes that, but then you have the people who just think, well it’s marriage, make it work. But it’s like, no you can’t expect that from people and you can’t put that pressure on someone just because they got married on TV.
Married at First Sight: Couples’ Cam premieres May 20 at 8pm ET/PT on Lifetime.