reality tv

OPINION: "We need to stop telling Melissa to leave Bryce."

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This post discusses abusive relationships and might be triggering for some readers. 

I, like many Australians, have spent four out of seven of my nights over the past few months watching the absolute roller coaster of trash TV that is Married at First Sight. I, like many Australians, have been absolutely harrowed by watching the relationship between Bryce and Melissa

There have been nights where I have teared up in frustration watching a man who seemingly has little to no regard for the people around him, particularly females, gaslight his partner, as well as throw a glass of water at another contestant. I have hoped each week that she will finally see the light and write 'Leave'. And I have had to fight the niggling question at the back of my mind: "Why is she staying?"

I, like many Australians, need to do better.

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There have been tweets and articles to the tone of, "oh Melissa, I have no sympathy for you anymore". So, essentially, you deserve what you get. But why are we so obsessed with why she’s staying and not as obsessed with why he is behaving in this way? Why he feels the need to control and manipulate his partner in such a damaging way?

We have seen this rhetoric time and time again in the media and in cases of domestic violence, when a woman is killed at the hands of her partner (which occurs on average once a week in Australia). 

We ask ourselves, why didn’t she leave earlier? When a loved one stays in a bad or even an abusive relationship, we become frustrated and our sympathy wanes and we beg them to just leave.

From my own experience of this, these questions don’t help, because often we don’t know ourselves. And often, we can’t understand how bad the situation is until we've left it and have some perspective. This is because in our world, the behaviour has become normalised.

As I grappled with my situation a friend once said to me: "I can’t talk to you about him anymore because I think it enables you". In short, you have made your bed. Now lie in it. Alone. 

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This was said by a friend who loves and respects me and who thought she was doing what she could to help me. But in reality, it made me feel more isolated, and it made be believe I had to internalise what was happening because no one wanted to hear about it.

Importantly, the more we tell Melissa she has made her choice and condemn her for it, the harder it will be for her to leave should she ever decide to. Should things get worse, how can we expect Melissa to leave him when she knows a large portion of Australia will roll their eyes and say, "we warned you".

To be clear, I am not saying Melissa is in an abusive relationship. We cannot know that, as we've just seen snippets on a highly edited reality television show. What we have seen, is a relationship that seems toxic and dysfunctional. 

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I’m also not a psychologist, or a domestic violence worker or expert. But I am someone who has been in, from what we’ve witnessed play out over the past months, Melissa’s position. We are at a pivotal moment in Australia, where we all agree something needs to change in the way we discuss and address issues that are foundationally caused by gender inequality, and this is one step we need to all consciously take. 

By all means, continue to be outraged and call out Bryce’s behaviour, because it is problematic. But stop asking why she’s staying. Stop asking why every woman stays. Because even if you think it is a joke, even if deep down you have the utmost sympathy for the plight of women trapped in bad relationships, you are normalising putting the onus of blame on the victim.

We owe these women more than our apathy.

We owe them our support.

B. Hennessy is the author of the upcoming book The Ripple Effect, to be released later this year exploring her experience of leaving an abusive relationship and subsequently re-navigating the other relationships in her life. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

Feature image: Instagram/@lissrawson @bryceruthven