THE priest who advised the Channel 4 documentary Married at First Sight, in which couples marry after being selected for each other by a panel of experts, says that he had more hope for the TV couples than many of those he marries in his parish.
The priest, the Revd Nick Devenish, who was involved in the Church of England’s own wedding project, described the four people who went on to get married on the programme as “incredibly brave”.
He said that the programme’s producers and his fellow experts — including psychologists, anthropologists, and a psychosexual counsellor — took their responsibilities “very seriously”.
“It was not a gimmick for the panel,” he said. “We were looking for these relationships to have the opportunity to flourish and have a commitment that would be lifelong . . . It took a year longer than was originally planned because we took it so seriously.”
In Married at First Sight, couples are introduced just hours before a civil marriage ceremony. They are then followed by cameras in their first weeks of marriage to see if the experts’ predictions of their compatibility prove correct. At the end of six weeks, the couples can choose to stay together or divorce.
The programme has been criticised by the Christian charity the Marriage Foundation, which said that it showed a “remarkable lack of understanding of the nature of commitment and marriage”.
More than 1500 people applied to go on the reality TV show, and a selection process narrowed it down to 15 single men and women whom the experts felt were the most likely to find successful matches. This was whittled down to three couples — two of whom went on to marry.
Mr Devenish, who is Team Vicar at St Mary and St Michael, Cartmel, Cumbria, said that he was moved by hearing the stories of the applicants, who “wanted a lifelong partner, but were not finding one. We met people 30 years old who think they have exhausted every avenue to finding someone to marry — it’s a cry for help.
“I do not have any regrets. I do hope that society starts to consider the questions being asked by the hundreds of people we saw. . . Whether we do so consciously or unconsciously, the drive to have a perfect career, which affects how many hours people were working to keep a roof over their heads, means the energy to find someone else is not there.
“It was a privilege to have been in that place, seeking to address the problems that young people are facing. The Church has so much to offer about the importance of relationships, and particularly marriage. The Church does want to be part of people’s lives; we need to move ourselves to where people are.”
But the research director of the Marriage Foundation, Harry Benson, said: “The premise of the programme is that couples do well if they are compatible. A quick glance at the top few most relevant studies in the Journal of Marriage and Family shows that compatibility is not exactly at the top of the list of criteria for a successful relationship.
He said the six-week “get-out clause” to the marriage was the “fundamental flaw” in the programme. “Going in with one eye on the exit is a recipe for disaster.”
But Mr Devenish said that “the experiment was offering nothing new. Divorce is available to everyone. . . I probably have more hope for the two couples than many of the ones I have married.”
The final programme in the three-part series will be screened next week.
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