Madonna King: MAFS is my guilty secret. This is why I watch it

Lessons can be learned by watching MAFS with family, writes Madonna King.

Lessons can be learned by watching MAFS with family, writes Madonna King. Photo: Nine

It started as a genuine research project, and has ended as an obsession.

Sunday nights are for staying at home. Mondays and Tuesdays too. And any night that MAFS, or Married at First Sight, delivers its bizarre plot into our lounge room.

My husband is appalled. The children too. My friends don’t know about it. And many of you are shaking your heads, with more than a patronising nod.

But here’s the thing. Perhaps it’s like a wine to an exhausted parent at 6pm. Or like our need to travel after years of Covid lockdowns.

Its pull is real, despite it throwing up the worst of humankind.

Gaslighting underscores relationship after relationship. A toxic masculinity that would have any parent seeking expert advice.

It’s demeaning, a showcase in coercive control, and a sad reflection on the lure of reality television.

And still, with the washing up done, I sneak into the lounge room, shut the door, and pretend I’m doing something else.

So are a million or more others – going on its ratings – despite the widespread condemnation of the characters, the plot, the language and the time slot.

But those factors are the exact reason I started watching MAFS, on the recommendation of a health expert while researching a book on tweens and teens.

Stay with me here, because it might seem counterintuitive. But it makes sense.

Her advice to parents is to watch a show brimming with bad behaviour as much as good. Make it age appropriate, but a showcase of how we shouldn’t behave, along with how we should.

Watch it with your tween or your teen, and use the plot and the language and the characters as teachable moments.

And it’s gold – especially for an adolescent happy to join in the conversation.

When Jack Dunkley, who can’t find a shirt to button up across his chiselled chest, shouts to someone ‘Can you muzzle your woman?’, it’s the opening to talk about how you speak about others, equality in relationships, and respect for a partner.

Indeed Jack, the show’s bad boy, is the biggest teacher this season. “Oh, the whales are in the pool,’’ he exclaims in a fat-shaming episode that has the person giddy with feelings for him appalled. And so she should be.

How would it feel to hear that, you might ask your child? Could you imagine ever saying that to another human being?

This week, we heard Jack announce that he was attracted to “the submissive type’’. Teen girls need to know there are a million better adjectives to be described by someone claiming to be ‘head over heels’ for them. And if it takes MAFS to make that point, so be it.

Jack’s not the only character with the ability to deliver life lessons. Others, through clandestine affairs and put-downs, nasty gossip and secret deals, are living embodiments of how we shouldn’t treat each other.

But interestingly, it was two older women who became the real stars of MAFS in 2024: Andrea Thompson and Lucinda Light, who both split from their on-air husbands and are now firm friends.

(I refuse to believe this week’s gossip that one of them might have since hooked up with the other’s ex, on the outside. Not possible, surely?)

But these two women showcased kindness and respect and vulnerability at every turn.

They turned rejection into a lesson in resilience. They turned others’ nastiness into understanding. Immaturity into self-reflection. Almost double the age of some of the other young married stars, they bared their heart and their soul, and showed the power of raw honesty.

They introduced the term emotional literacy to new audiences, on and off screen.

On air, their role modelling didn’t quite make the plot cut. Producers know bad news makes for better ratings. But off air, we are all cheering them on, hoping they find now what eluded them while we were watching.

In lounge rooms across Australia, despite the end of the MAFS 2024 season, we are still wanting Tori to cut Jack loose, and know her own worth.

We want Eden to know that social anxiety might be a semicolon, never a full stop, and for Ridge to grow up and be the partner and dad Jade and her eight-year-old daughter deserve.

We also want our children to hear those other messages, delivered loud and clear in each episode.

Cheating – in a relationship or at school – never works. Neither does putting a partner down, or treating them with disdain. Kindness costs nothing and coercive control is more than a bad look.

Young women are equal to young men. Young women are equal to young men. Young women are equal to young men. Sometimes we might have to say it more than once.

When you list the lessons it delivers and the conversations it can prompt, perhaps MAFS isn’t half as bad as it’s made out to be.

You still don’t have to tell anyone you watch it, though.

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