Pastor Cal Of Married At First Sight On How The Show Has Evolved - Exclusive Interview

For many of us, the decision to get married is the biggest and most critical decision we'll ever make. As we all know, it's not an easy decision to get right. While the divorce rate in the U.S. has dropped from a high of 50% in the 1980s to 39% as of 2018 (per Time), this is not because people have gotten any better at choosing potential life partners. Rather, according to Time, young adults are waiting longer to get married and viewing marriage as a choice with serious personal and financial implications rather than the default milestone it had been for their parents and grandparents.

All of this is what makes the Lifetime show "Married at First Sight" so fascinating. In the series, a team of relationship experts acts as matchmakers for hopeful singles, and following a rigorous matchmaking process, a set of couples are introduced. But there's one catch: Their first meeting will be their legally binding wedding ceremonies, after which they will strive to build durable marriages — all while the cameras are rolling.

To some, this may sound lurid and sensational — but for 11 seasons (per UTA Talent), Calvin Roberson, an ordained pastor and marriage counselor, has been a key member of the show's matchmaking and relationship coaching team, and he takes marriage very seriously. In an exclusive interview with The List, Pastor Cal shared what he's learned about successful relationships from the show and how viewers can better navigate their own relationships.

Pastor Cal appreciates that the show takes marriage seriously

Conventional thinking says that building a relationship that could withstand marriage takes luck and time, but "Married at First Sight" turns this on its head. You are a relationship expert, so what attracted you to the concept for the show?

What was attractive to me was the fact that the focus of the show is on creating permanent marriages. That's always been an attraction. It was interesting because when I was first asked about the show, that was one thing that I had told [executive producer] Chris Coelen. We had a very open discussion about it. I asked him, "How do you feel about marriage?"

I give him so much credit because he says, "I really believe in marriage." At that point, he had been married 13 years, and he says, "No, I want to see couples married." I said, "Great, then let's do it. Because if you're doing it for sensationalism, then I don't want to be a part of it. But if your goal is to create solid marriages and to give them tools where they can sustain those marriages, then I'm all for it."

You've been involved with "Married at First Sight" for several seasons now. Have you learned anything new about relationship dynamics from your time on the show?

Oh gosh, yes. I've learned that people ... Sometimes we have to manage our expectations or normalize expectations, because everyone has these great expectations of what they think they want in a marriage. But when the rubber hits the road, they often find that what they need is different, sometimes, from what they want. What we've endeavored to do on the show is to give people mostly what they need, and it's a lot of what they want.

Everybody wants to be attracted to their partners, so we're going to try to do that. It's been a very eye-opening experience because we are matching people based on their values and based on their compatible beliefs and the overall principles that they live their lives by as opposed to just who looks good. It's taught me a lot about what marriage actually takes to survive.

Pastor Cal understands that being filmed adds extra pressure to couples' relationships

Has your thinking about what makes or breaks a relationship changed in any way because of what you've seen on the show?

They're augmented, but still, it's pretty much the same. I believe that what makes a marriage is the ability to adapt, the ability to look at your partner as they evolve and as they grow and you grow with them, not trying to hinder their growth, but accepting it along the way. What kills a marriage is the absolute opposite — being stuck in time.

I often hear couples say, or individuals say, "You've changed. You're not the person I married." I often respond, "Well, duh — of course [they're] not the person you married. No one is the same person they were when [they] were married." That shouldn't be the goal. The goal is to always evolve and be better and grow, and then to enjoy those steps along the way.

Behavioral scientists talk about the observer's paradox, where the act of observing a behavior changes it. Do you think any of the marriages on the show would've gone differently if they weren't being filmed?

That's an interesting question. I believe that the filming actually causes some stress. I'm not going to be naive to say that filming does not have any impact on the marriage when you have millions of people each week viewing everything about you [and] some 40, 50 hours of filming on a weekly basis. Absolutely, it affects how people react.

We try to caution people. We tell them explicitly how much filming is going to happen and how it's going to impact [their] lives, but it's so difficult to understand that until you're in it. But the documentation of the process is the reason for its success. The fact that other people can see them, see each couple go through their challenges and resolve their challenges and then be okay — it's a beautiful part of the whole process. 

The filming does affect [it]. When people are looking at your marriage, yes — it does affect how you respond to your spouse. For those couples who are successful — and we have about 14 of them now — they've managed to overcome that.

The show's relationship-building strategies have evolved over the years

Is there anything different about counseling couples on the show and counseling couples in your own ministry?

Absolutely. On the show, I'm more of an advisor. We're not in a therapeutic setting, per se, but we're advising. We do have our individuals — we offer all of them free counseling after the show is over where they can actually sit in a therapeutic environment. It would be very difficult for us to actually enter into therapy with all 10 persons during the process, so it's a lot different. If I'm doing this individually [and] I'm doing premarital, marital, or post-marital divorce counseling or what have you, I actually enter into a professional relationship with the client. Here, it's definitely more of an advisory role and a coaching role.

How do you think the show and the couples have evolved over the past 16 seasons of the show?

They've evolved incredibly because we've evolved. As a production team and as experts, we've evolved. We've learned so much about what makes a good marriage in this particular setting. Coming from counseling and coaching traditional marriages to this, the learning curve can be somewhat steep. Each season, we've learned new techniques, new ways, new methods of getting people to understand each other and to live with each other in these very unusual circumstances.

There's been a great deal of evolution because each season we are learning and we're adding; we're learning and we're adding for each subsequent season. Going forward, you're even about to see even more changes than you have up to this point.

Even if you marry at first sight, your relationship needs time to develop

Could you share some examples of some of the things that you've learned over your time on the show?

Absolutely. One thing that we've learned is when couples get together, we've learned that their relationship needs time to develop. What happens quite often is that when you're thrown into a marriage like this, even though we've done an incredible amount of vetting — we've done an enormous amount of preparation to get these couples together — often when they get together, they emotionally vomit on each other. It's like they say everything that's on their mind and everything that's on their heart. We have learned that it's important for them not to do that.

It's important for them to simply take their time, enjoy the fantasy of it first, and let love grow. Don't try to fall in love initially — take your time and let it grow. Early on, you can create some very detrimental impressions if you're saying things and you don't know the person as well as you need to know them. You're just saying things. For instance, "Well, I don't know if I'm attracted to you" — it's a death sentence to the relationship. It's hard to recover from that.

In a traditional marriage where you have 6, 8, 12 months to date, you could grow on someone. In this particular environment, you cannot. You have to be careful of your words. You have to be careful of your actions, and you have to be patient. Those are some of the things that we've garnered over the last 16 seasons.

The upcoming season of MAFS in Nashville promises to be exciting

Can you share any hints of what we could expect in the coming season?

This is going to be an incredibly exciting season because Nashville is an awesome city. There's so much life, so much activity, so much fun ... All that you could possibly know about Nashville, you're going to see in these couples. It's going to be really exciting.

One thing is true — it is definitely for certain — you're going to find out that marriage is not for weak-minded people. Marriage ain't for punks, as I say. In fact, we've actually ... Even personally, I've been inspired by the couples and their quests to find love. I've been inspired to even start my own app to help other people find love. It's called Marriage Ain't for Punks. It's a shameless plug,, where people can go and register for the app so they can actually find love also.

You're going to see some excitement — some definite, serious excitement — because Nashville is such an exciting city. These people bring all of that feel and all of that energy and all of that wonder right into the show, so it's going to be quite exciting.

"Married at First Sight" premieres January 4 at 8:00 p.m. on Lifetime. Catch Pastor Cal and Dr. Pepper Schwartz on their new digital series "Relationship Rewind."

This interview has been edited for clarity.