There are no two ways around it: this eighth season of Married At First Sight has been filled with some glaringly obvious red flags. Not even erring on the side of “oh this could be problematic behaviour”, but actively showing the kind of language – both body language and verbal language – that perpetuates and demonstrates emotional and psychological abuse.
In the current season, the behaviour of a couple of key individuals (namely Bryce Ruthven and James Susler) has once again shown us just how deeply embedded manipulation and gaslighting is in our society and the way people treat each other in intimate relationships.
When James exited the show, the MAFS experts explicitly called out his behaviour as textbook gaslighting and emotional abuse. That alone caused a massive uptick in Google searches for ‘gaslighting’, with Aussie trends seeing a 1450% surge in people looking it up while watching the show.
One week later, we experienced the exact same manipulative behaviour from Bryce, who literally said the words “I knew I could potentially hurt her” when he pulled his bullshit ‘leave’ fake-out stunt at the commitment ceremony. This baffling nonsense had Bryce tacking on yet another week of behaviour that was so utterly infuriating the man may as well fashion his clothes entirely out of a red flag.
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But what has this season of MAFS taught us about identifying, and acting on, red flags and the people waving them? It’s reminded me of the most important test of someone’s character and whether it’s the kind of behaviour you’d accept – the waiter test.
Quite simply, it’s observing how someone treats wait staff at a cafe or restaurant, and whether the behaviour that they exhibit to someone who is being paid to serve them is something that you’d want to align yourself with.
How do they speak to the person serving you food and drinks? Are they accommodating that this person is probably also working multiple other tables while also making sure things are being communicated to the kitchen, taking orders, and everything else in a high-stress work environment?
Or are they treating this person like a temporary personal servant, finding the smallest things to fuss over, demanding alterations, and generally just being a shit to someone who’s probably been awake since the butt-crack of dawn?
Because the behaviour we’re happy to sit with at the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table is the behaviour we accept, publicly.
This doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships, or people we’re dating/fucking casually, either. This can – and should – be applied to every relationship we have in our lives. Friends, parents, workmates; every interpersonal dynamic we play a part in.
Because that’s where we can have really important and vulnerable conversations with the people we love, especially if little alarm bells are going off in your head over a sent-back bowl of pasta with a side of abuse of a power dynamic. If the people closest to those who are displaying obviously shithouse behaviour can’t pull them up on it, then there’s little being done to dismantle, and not perpetuate, it.
If there’s anything we can learn from this recent season of MAFS it’s that this behaviour is still very much alive and kicking, and being splashed up on primetime TV, so there’s still so much work to be done at an intimate level.
That or you’ve got yourself a Bryce in your life, as in someone who’s as red and stubborn as a brick wall.
If this story has brought anything up for you, and you’d like to speak to someone about emotional abuse or gaslighting, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online.
Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.