Michelle Elman on the relationship lessons we can take from reality TV

Michelle Elman
By Michelle Elman,
updated on May 25, 2024

Michelle Elman on the relationship lessons we can take from reality TV

With millions of viewers across the globe tuning-in to the constant stream of reality TV, from Married at First Sight to Love is Blind, columnist Michelle Elman reveals four communication lessons we can take from these dating shows, and how relationships play out

Reality TV has a bad reputation as ‘trash telly’ but, as a psychology nerd, my appreciation for it stems from my fascination with human behaviour – especially when it comes to shows that revolve around love. I believe you can learn a lot from them as it is often easier to see your own behaviours in an external way. There might be people you relate to, but also be people who annoy you because their behaviour actually reminds you of your own…

So, here I’m revealing four lessons you can take from reality TV to help foster healthy relationships, and better recognise romantic red flags.

Body language tells you a lot.

The hit Netflix show Love Is Blind features couples getting engaged without ever seeing each other in person, and while the premise is about valuing compatibility over looks, I wonder if there’s a fundamental flaw in that while those on the show can’t be swayed by appearance, they also can’t read each other’s body language and subconscious signals.

In the most recent series’ reunion show, we caught up with a couple (Sarah Ann and Jeramey) who met in the pods, but got together after he proposed to another woman on the show (Laura). What I found particularly interesting was during an old clip of the two women talking, anytime Laura said anything negative about Jeramey, Sarah Ann nodded along. It appeared to be an unconscious response, but when another participant revealed to the audience that every time she has seen Jeramey since filming he and Sarah Ann had been broken up, it all started to make sense.

While Sarah Ann may have stood defiant in the face of criticism of her actions and accusations that she broke up the couple, and was insistent it was worth it, the truth was that she was encountering the same turbulent relationship with Jeramey that Laura experienced.

Similarly, in Married at First Sight, the couples are always sure to be cosy and affectionate when they are in the spotlight and talking to the experts, but the moment they are sitting to the side and another couple is being interviewed, it is amazing to watch how quickly they separate from each other.

As an external viewer, it is much easier to see these small giveaways in body language, but try to pay attention to them on your next date. If a person starts telling you that you should trust them, but are shaking their head no as they say that, take their words with a pinch of salt. It’s easy for them to say what you want to hear.

People will tell you who they are very early on.

A narrative that played out on Love is Blind season six was how Chelsea’s insecurities contributed to the break-down of her relationship with Jimmy, as it appeared that she sought constant reassurance of his feelings, while he became increasingly frustrated that nothing he did felt like enough.

While outsiders can empathise with both sides, and social media went into a frenzy about Chelsea bringing up appearances and celebrity dopplegangers in the pods, another sign I spotted that her self-esteem would come into play was in the first episode, where Chelsea recounted dates where guys watched football on screens behind her. It may have been a passing comment, but it showed that she didn’t see herself as worthy of someone’s full focus and energy. Personally, I would not have sat there and endured it, because as much as it’s bad behaviour on the date’s part, it is also telling that you tolerated it.

Romantic red flags aren’t always in others, sometimes they can be in ourselves, and it’s important to recognise where we have things to work on in order to better thrive in relationships – in this case, building our self-esteem before looking for love, or seeking validation from others that we should be able to provide ourselves.

There is no point noticing a red flag if you don’t act on it.

In the current season of Married At First Sight Australia, we hear a man yell at a different couple, telling the man to “muzzle your woman” – and yet his own wife pays no mind. She doesn’t see his behaviour as an issue, and even defends him by saying that he has a dark sense of humour.

It takes multiple conversations with the experts for her to see why this is a problem, and even then, she doesn’t confront it, because she doesn’t want to rock the boat in her relationship. The fact is, if a man can talk to another woman like that, then he can talk to you like that. But more than that, there is never any reason to talk to a woman like that, and therefore, she should be seeing the warning signs of misogynistic behaviour.

For me, this is a prime example of when we bury our heads in the sand, it is only a temporary solution before we will see more of that pattern of behaviour. We can’t be surprised that ignoring the writing on the wall has only negative consequences.

If you look for a problem, you will find one.

In many of these shows, we see people who do not believe they are deserving of love, and how those insecurities play up within a relationship. Largely, this occurs by picking fights, which are rarely about the underlying issue. Whether it’s someone flirting with another, or saying they want to see if the other person will fight for them, as outsiders we can see what happens when we aren’t self-aware and project our feelings onto others.

So, next time someone judges you for your taste in TV, don’t feel guilty. Reality TV can be relationship research, helping you see the pitfalls of communication crossed wires, and how to untangle them.

Love, Michelle x

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Michelle Elman

By Michelle Elman

Michelle Elman is a five-board accredited life coach, most known for her campaign ‘Scarred Not Scared’. Her new book, ‘The Joy of Being Selfish’, is published by Welbeck in February.

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