Okay, confession time: reality TV dating shows are my guilty pleasure. I greedily consume shows like the Bachelorette, Love is Blind, Indian Matchmaking, etc. Though many around me are supportive of my reality TV habit, I sometimes hear rebuttals like, “Don’t you know that’s all fake?” or “Aren’t you going to be a therapist? How can you like such fake drama?”
And those people are right, I do want to be a therapist. So, like the Marriage and Family Therapy student that I am, I decided to analyze these reality shows. Why are these shows popular (even though we all know they’re fake)? What dangerous precedents are they setting for our relationships? And what, if anything, can we learn from these shows that can help our marriages and relationships.
Whether you are a reality show disciple looking for justification or the cynical spouse looking for the reason why your partner loves them, this is the post for you.
The creators of reality TV shows are clearly pandering to their audience, and a lot of the content they create is unrealistic and/or impractical. But they also have done a lot of research into what women (and men) want and their content plays into those desires. Here are some of the real wants/desires to which these shows cater:
1) Wanting to feel wanted/chosen
Most dating shows are about choosing your “forever partner.” Contestants are given a variety of people to choose from, and are somehow expected to narrow it down to their perfect match. Although real life is not this black and white, isn’t it nice to feel chosen?
One of the things that makes a dating show compelling is the gratifying moment at the end of the show where the couple chooses each other. We have seen them date and get to know so many other choices, but in the end they are willing to give up every other option in order to forever choose their partner.
Don’t we also want to feel chosen? Most people I know want to be assured that their spouse wants them and that they are preferred above anyone else.
Consider what you can do to make your spouse feel more wanted. How can you let them know that you choose them?
2) Wanting one’s feelings validated
Let’s be honest, reality tv shows are skewed towards women. Usually, a couple will get into a fight and then we cut to private interviews where each person tells their side. Most of the time, the audience is meant to side with the woman. Eventually, her love will come back and apologize for his wrongful actions. Or he gets voted off.
Why does this appeal to us? Because we want our feelings validated. Women are often characterized as dramatic or too emotional. Therefore, when we experience intense emotions, we may feel silly or “crazy” for having them. As overdramatic as they are, reality shows help us to feel validated. Others have similar, or even more intense, emotions. And they are valid in their pain, anger, sandness, and confusion, or in their excitement, passion, and joy!
As an emotional spouse, you can accept your own emotions. Choose to accept all the parts of yourself. This doesn’t mean that you let your emotions rule your life, but you can be mindful of your emotions and accept them without any self-judgment. As the spouse of an emotional person (which is everyone), you can try to be mindful of their emotional state. You can seek to understand where they are coming from instead of arguing your point. You can adopt an attitude of non-judgment and provide validation.
3) Feeling like one has a choice
Most dating shows include an element of choice. A contestant will date several different people, being wooed the whole time, before eventually choosing their “soulmate.” Having a whole group of attractive men vying for your attention, that’s the dream right? 🙂
All joking aside, something most people want is to feel like they have a choice. When we are dating, there is a certain excitement at the idea that you have the power to decide who your soulmate is. We tend to romanticize the experience of choosing the person we are going to marry. After marriage, that magic may start to fizzle out. We are comfortable, but that stability doesn’t feel as exciting. If we aren’t careful, we can even start to look back on our single days with rose colored glasses.
If you find yourself longing for those days when you had all the options, remember that you still have a choice. Instead of seeing marriage as the end, see it as the beginning. Decide every day to choose your spouse. Take the time to notice them and the ways they are growing and changing. Continuously date them by getting to know the person they are becoming. Let your spouse know you choose them by speaking their love language. I promise you, with this mindset, dating your spouse will be way more fun than single dating ever was.
4) Wanting to be romanced
Lastly, “reality” TV usually includes grand gestures of affection. There are roses, chocolates, hotel stays, love letters etc. At least for me, I know deep down this is a big reason I watch reality TV. I love the cheese. And who doesn’t want to feel adored and cherished through someone else’s actions?
Even if these grand gestures are out of our price range (they certainly are for me), we can still learn a valuable lesson here. It’s about effort. Romance does not need to cost a lot of money, but it does entail effort. So spend some time learning about your spouse. What is it that really touches them? What new ways can you come up with to romance your spouse and show them they are worth the effort. If you need some help coming up with manageable ways to bring the romance, here are 11 mini date ideas!
There is nothing wrong with watching a reality show, and we can actually learn a few things about ourselves from these shows. However, at the end of the day a reality dating show is built to entertain. These shows are not actually about “true love” but they are about getting more views. Unfortunately, stability doesn’t sell. Seeing a couple fall in love slowly, take on everyday tasks together, and work through mundane issues would make for a pretty boring TV show (or so the thinking goes). It is dangerous to believe that what these shows portray is reality. Here are a few reminders of the toxic parts of reality TV that are fake and can create unhealthy expectations:.
1) Expensive Dates
First of all, almost every dating show I have seen includes amazingly extravagant dates and experiences. The couple, or group, will get whisked off to Eupore or go skydiving or rent out a whole football stadium for a romantic picnic. These crazy adventures are pitched to the viewer as what bonds a couple together. The participants in the show will say, “in this romantic atmosphere I can finally see the deeper side of you.”
Not only do most couples not have enough money to rent out an entire football stadium, but it perpetuates the lie that you need grand experiences to learn about someone. In fact, just the opposite is true! As fun as big experiences are, we learn more about a person in the day to day habits they practice. Having experiences like cleaning the house, playing with the kids, making dinner together, etc, will, in the end, define a person and your relationship much more accurately than a trip to the Bahamas (although a vacation can be a nice break together!).
Don’t get swept up in the idea that if your spouse hasn’t whisked you off to Europe they must not love you. Seek to notice the everyday ways in which your spouse shows their love. This could look like taking out the trash, leaving a note, letting you sleep in, or thousands of other small gestures of love, respect, and care that will be unique to each couple. These are the moments that will build a marriage.
2) Celebrity Looks
Another big trap of reality TV is the perfect physical appearance or “celebrity looks” of the participants. Everyone on these shows are dressed up and made up to seem young and hot. From the moment they wake up to putting on their pj’s at night, they are looking good. What is hard to remember is that there are teams of people behind the camera in charge of making these contestants appear perfect.
As fun as it is to watch these shows, we cannot fall into the trap of comparing our bodies to theirs. If these shows are causing you to doubt your own worth, I would recommend cutting them out. Turn inward and practice mindfulness. This means examining your thoughts and experience without judgment. Accept that bodies come in many different shapes and sizes. Your body can do so much for you. Don’t let producers, make-up teams, celebrities, or anyone or anything else make you doubt your worth. As a spouse, seek to show your spouse how much you appreciate them and their body just as they are.
3) Quick Timeline
Another issue of reality tv is the timing. These shows are built for the audience, and the audience wants an ending. Therefore, most reality dating shows take place over just a few months. The actors/contestants will eventually proclaim that although it was fast, they know they have found the one. However, they usually end up breaking up later.
A real relationship is built over time. Once we are married, the “game” is not over. In fact, a happy marriage is going to take a lifetime of effort. We should continually be getting to know our spouse and diving deeper into intimacy.
4) Entertainment and drama over stability and commitment
Lastly, as exciting as it can be to watch, these “reality relationships” are highly unstable. They are not built to last, but to provide drama to the audience. So if you choose to watch reality tv, learn how to take the good and leave the bad. You can learn a bit about what you want in your own life from the shows you gravitate towards, but please keep in mind the parts that are fake and toxic.
If your spouse loves reality tv, I hope you have learned a bit about why. Maybe you will not be so quick to make fun the next time they sit down to watch the Bachelor. However, also keep in mind that a real relationship will be so different from what we see on the screen.
And in the end, the real thing is so much better.
Written by Amanda Severson with Get Your Marriage On!