In recent years, we have seen more reality TV shows about relationships. These shows are popular because they show how romantic relationships can be. What do viewers think of reality TV shows about relationship when they are market as science or feature relationship specialists?
This week’s Seven Year Switch was the latest instalment. Four heterosexual couples taken to the program by their fragile relationships and they swap partners. They live and sleep together with like-minded individuals in the hope of saving their marriage.
The process is overseen by relationship experts who also make the decisions about the partner swaps. This program shares elements with Married at First Sight. In this experiment, relationship experts paired individuals who had never met to create a scientific approach to partner matching that would lead to long-lasting relationships.
These shows are argued to create a space for viewers to examine their relationships. The experts and couples are said to give viewers insights that can help them improve their relationships. Married at First Sight producer said that these shows can do for couples what MasterChef did for amateur chefs.
Programs Can Be Problematic Reality
This sounds great in principle. However, these programs can be problematic because they attach scientists and relationship experts to experiments to justify them without any scientific evidence or testing. Let me change the context of the Seven Year Switch. Imagine that you and your partner are having significant difficulties and that you seek advice from a relationship expert who tells you:
I have an untested intervention that might work. For two weeks, leave your partner and invest in someone else. You may find that you like the person you are investing in. We’ll then give you a bed to sleep in, and we’ll see if this helps with your relationship. What would you think of this advice from a relationship expert. What would you think about this intervention? Would you be willing to take part if an expert endorses the intervention?
Social media feedback suggests that many viewers of Married at First Sight and Seven Year Switch perceive these social experiments as fake. Some people find these shows more acceptable, however, because they have a scientific basis. According to research, watching shows about relationships can influence how people perceive their own relationships.
These shows don’t necessarily change what people want from a partner but they can affect how they view their partners. Most people view their partners as not fulfilling their ideals and underestimate the potential alternatives. These perceptions can lead to decreased satisfaction in relationships and increased chances of you losing your relationship.
What about the couples who take part in these programs. Although there may be many reasons for their participation, these couples are vulnerable and are sensationalized through some clever editing to grab the attention of the audience and score a ratings bonanza.
Participation in experiments is a key part of research. Ethics applications must address the risks and benefits of participation. We must ensure that participants are protect from any risk we create. These TV programs fall short of the ethical standards we adhere to when conducting scientific studies.
Research has shown that commitment is a key factor in a successful relationship. It requires that people invest in their relationship and consider other options as worthy pursuits.
How does the Seven Year Switch experiment compare to 30 years of commitment research. It’s pretty poor. It’s a bad idea. Research shows that we feel most validated when our partners are sensitive and responsive to our needs. This is possible even if you have a different partner. These social experiments are not support by relationship science.