The ninth season of Lifetime’s “Married at First Sight” has a couple of major changes. First, the reality TV show was filmed in Charlotte. Second, Dr. Viviana Coles replaced Dr. Jessica Griffin as a relationship expert.
Coles, a Houston-based marriage and family therapist, joined Pastor Calvin Roberson and Dr. Pepper Schwartz in arranging the marriages and counseling the couples through the first few weeks of matrimony.
“The thing that I’ve heard from other people so far when I tell them I’m on the show, is that they’re excited to kind of get a fresh perspective,” Coles said. “I’m excited to bring my take to it. I hope that people are willing to listen to me, as someone who’s new to the show, and maybe like the perspective that I give.”
Iris Caldwell was among the eight Charlotte singles Coles matched on the show. Caldwell valued her advice particularly when it came to intimacy issues. After all, Caldwell was a virgin prior to marriage.
“Dr. Viviana is absolutely amazing, she brings a whole new perspective,” Iris said. “Her being a kind of marriage counselor that goes into the sexual side of marriages definitely was something that I was excited to embark on. I absolutely loved every bit of advice she had.”
Coles took time to answer questions leading up to the new season. The conversation has been edited for brevity.
How did you land on the radar for the show?
Coles: Well, I’m very persistent. I was actually the one that reached out to them.
It was about two years ago. I reached out to the casting assistant online. I said, ‘Hey, I see that y’all make these amazing reality TV shows at Kinetic (Content), and I want to be a part of it, and if there’s ever a spot for me, I want you to know that I’m interested.
I sent over my curriculum vitae and a few videos from YouTube, and it was kind of history from there. Once they finally needed someone to step in and step up, I was thrilled that they contacted me.
What was it about the show that really intrigued you?
Coles: I love love. This show is all about making sure that people are finding love and lasting love. And I love that it’s not super sensational and it doesn’t seem tawdry.
It really does, at least from what I knew as a viewer, feel real and the concept is something that isn’t all that new.
You know, arranged marriages are something that have been going on for the history of the world. And to have this modern take, I thought I could totally be on board with this. The way that they honor and respect the experts, I thought OK, if I’m ever going to be a part of something, I want it to be this.
How involved are you on the show?
Coles: I am involved as much as I possibly can be. Especially from the very beginning, I was thrown into the trenches. I had no idea just how much the experts were involved in the decision-making process.
It’s a lot of pressure. My head was reeling but with [Pastor Cal] and Dr. Pepper at the helm, I felt really, really at ease and secure.
We are the final word when it comes to the matches. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t, so we have to work that out among ourselves.
Throughout the process, we are getting very detailed reports on everything that’s going on between a couple on a daily basis. Then as the couples request to meet with us outside of the planned and scheduled meetings with them, we make that happen whenever possible via Skype or phone, in any way that we can.
So I love being a part of it. I love that they’re really relying on our expertise. I found that I felt really secure with that, just because of the type of work that I do on a daily basis.
So even though it’s for the show, I feel like I’m just working with my couples.
Did you take it to heart if they faltered on a particular week? Were you so invested that you were just freaking out?
Coles: Every time I got that summary, my stomach would do a couple flip-flops. That’s for sure. Because as is the case with all couples, especially new couples, it’s a roller coaster.
You know with couples who are under the microscope, who we truly believe in from the get-go, having any sort of negative interactions between them or having any sort of disconnection or triumphs too, when they’re just cruising along, all of that does really impact the way that I feel, because it is a reflection of the match that was chosen.
So, yes, I am definitely invested. I try not to be so personally invested that I can’t sleep, but I have definitely lost some sleep over the last season. Too much.
How would you describe your voice when it comes to this television space?
Coles: Because the stakes are so high for our “Married at First Sight” couples, my voice is much more clear and direct than it would be with couples back at home.
The reason for that is we’re on a time constraint and the pressure is very high. They don’t have months and years to figure this out and to figure out who they want to be for their partner, which is something I’m able to do with my couples in private practice.
Here, it’s a lot of cutting to the chase. It’s a lot of hand-holding. It’s a lot of “do this is if you want to be successful” whereas when I’m working in psychotherapy, it’s much more of a collaborative practice.
The guidance that I give on the show is going to be much more direct.
I have really enjoyed that my voice has been received really well and not feeling I have to change anything about that except just being more succinct.
You specialize in emotional and physical intimacy issues. When people feel as empowered enough to live their lives on camera, are they susceptible to those type of issues?
Coles: We are all susceptible to emotional and physical disconnects with our partner.
In fact, we can go through periods of your relationship for years that feel like y’all are fine-tuned, well-oiled machines. You are just rocking it, and then something blindsides you, external factors, internal factors.
We all at some point could benefit, I believe, from getting the help from a professional when it comes to emotional and physical intimacy issues. These couples are no different.
What is the key to a rewarding, evolving marriage?
Coles: The key to a rewarding and successful marriage is having a positive outlook toward your partner and expressing that outlook through healthy communication.
I did develop my own private premarital counseling program. One of the things that we highlight with every couple is the ability to be a positive person in your partner’s life. It’s hard to be committed to someone who is a “negative Nelly” and who isn’t willing to pull themselves up when they’re struggling or ask for help when they’re struggling.
So while a lot of relationship experts don’t really highlight that, I tend to, because in this day and age, if you are bringing someone down, there are a million other people out there who are willing to pull them up.
It causes a lot of issues for couples, and it makes their eyes wander. It makes them look for maybe success at work, an achievement at work. It makes them turn inward. It makes them turn toward hobbies. Anything that is pulling you away from your loving committed relationship should be treated as a threat.
So if you want to avoid and prevent those threats, it’s really important that you are a positive force in your partner’s life. θ