OK, I admit it. Watching Married at First Sight (MAFS) is my guilty pleasure. Even if I kid myself I’m  watching it from a brain-based professional perspective … aherm.

Following the trials and tribulations of 11 young adventurous couples as they attempt to form, deepen, and often fix their relationships in front of the cameras, is strangely addictive for many of us, myself included. Watching flirtation, intimacy, marriage breakdowns and relationship make ups is both wonderfully entertaining but also educational.

The couples within this social experiment have been matched by experts, using a wide range of psychological assessments and tools. What if they’d also included a brain-based approach such as S.A.F.E.T.Y.™ and then encouraged the participants to apply their knowledge of it, to build harmony and psychological safety and manage conflict? What difference would that make?

Let’s take the brain’s need for Autonomy as an example and see how this played out for Season 9‘s couple Tamara and Brent.

Someone whose brain has a High need for Autonomy is often a self-motivated, independent thinker who loves to challenge the status quo and do things in their own way. Being free to make their own decisions is key for them. But the flip side is that when stressed they may become impatient and controlling, fighting back against any form of limitation or restriction.

Taking an educated guess* it may be that both Brent, who successfully set up multiple hospitality businesses in Dubai and Tamara, who is a driven real-estate agent with a firm view of what her ideal partner should be, are both High in the need for Autonomy.

Understanding the unique lens with which your own brain views the world, gives you access to a wider range of more appropriate behavioural responses

We saw a recent clash, probably familiar to many, when Tamara wanted to go to sleep and asked Brent to turn the TV down. Brent saw this as an instruction to go to bed also. His brain with its High need for Autonomy may have interpreted this as control, direction or instruction, triggering an instant fight or flight reaction, immediately losing all sense of balance, reason and emotional control. We witnessed the resulting explosive clash which lasted for over 24 hours. We don’t know if Tamara was controlling bedtimes or simply asking for lower volume. When things cooled down the following day, we heard Tamara agree to give Brent all the freedom he needed to do his own activities during the day so that he didn’t feel ‘hemmed in’ (a worst case scenario for someone High in Autonomy).

Having a common language to describe what’s happening and why, gives you a means to better explain, discuss and then resolve the reaction

So how would a brain-based approach have helped this couple? Well, knowing how your own brain uniquely and typically reacts to Security, Autonomy, Fairness, Esteem and Trust triggers can help you get just a second or two ahead of the reaction or red mist when it’s descending. The self-awareness you get by understanding the unique lens with which your own brain views the world, gives you access to a wider range of more appropriate behavioural responses. But more importantly, having a common language to describe what’s happening and why, gives you a means to better explain, discuss and then resolve the reaction. The act of verbalization, either internally to yourself or externally to another, also helps calm down your reacting Amygdala and re-engage your Prefrontal Cortex, getting your higher or thinking brain back on-line quicker. So you remain more in control of yourself and your reactions.

So when Brent felt the instant explosive reaction (on being given an instruction, as he saw it) with some more brain-based awareness, he could have just paused for a moment, reflected and then explained that his need for Autonomy had just been triggered by an apparent instruction to go to bed. Tamara could have clarified that she wasn’t intending to control bedtimes, only to get some peace and quiet. The matter could then have been settled amicably with a pair of headphones.

The pressure cooker that the participants are in undoubtedly (some might say deliberately) generates daily triggers for the couples, the fall out for which makes for great TV.

But of course, we in our everyday lives, also experience similar triggers and social threat responses, especially in work and home relationships. Learning to recognize and then more appropriately respond to our own and other’s social triggers can be a significant step in personal growth and one way to just make life just a bit smoother.

But harmony and plain sailing isn’t what we watch MAFS for. So, for now, I shall carry on looking forward to the on-going triggers, reactions, and the resulting compelling drama of it all. Thank you MAFS!



Debbie Jeremiah is Chief Thinking Officer at ThinkingSpace.training and delivers support, workshops and webinars on Psychological Safety & Belonging for leaders.

S.A.F.E.T.Y.™ is reproduced with the kind permission of the Academy of Brain-based Leadership at brainleadership.com
To better understand what drives your brain, take the free S.A.F.E.T.Y.™ assessment

*This is the writer’s opinion and does not form part of any professional assessment or evaluation

Return to top