By Felicia Lee/Sept. 7, 2021 1:28 pm EDT
As anyone who’s been in the dating scene can tell you, finding your forever person is hard work. And holding on to that person for the long haul is even harder. Nobody knows this better than Pastor Calvin Roberson, part of the team of expert matchmakers on Lifetime’s hit show “Married at First Sight.” As an ordained minister and marriage and relationship counselor, Pastor Cal takes relationships seriously, and in his two decades of helping couples navigate their ups and down, he’s seen it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. And he knows — as the title of his new book attests — that “marriage ain’t for punks.”
But when it comes to the mysteries of love, there’s always more to learn, even for the experts. And Pastor Cal’s work with the newly paired couples on “MAFS” has given him a clearer understanding of the serious emotional work needed to find that special someone and maintain a healthy relationship. In this exclusive interview, Pastor Cal shares some real talk about what you can learn from his favorite “MAFS” couples, the work you need to do to make yourself ready for marriage and to stay happily married — and the mistakes you need to avoid if marital bliss is your goal.
Pastor Cal appreciates that MAFS takes marriage as seriously as he does
First of all, how did you get involved with “Married at First Sight” and what drew you to the show?
Wow. You know what? It was such an interesting encounter. My wife and I have been counseling for a number of years, and doing marriage conferences, as well as individual counseling and couples. And we had a good online presence. And actually, we were contacted by a casting agency that worked with the production company of “Married at First Sight,” asking us to find them a couple who wanted [to be] on the show. Well, the couple constantly talked about the counsel that we had given them. And so, the production company said, “We need to talk to these people who you’ve been talking about.” So, they filmed us in an actual counseling session with that particular couple. And after that, they said, “We want to work with you guys,” so the rest is history after that. So they kind of found us.
And what attracted you to the show?
Well, it’s very interesting because I’d seen the show once or twice, but I was a little nervous about a show where you’re getting married at first sight. I’m like, “This sounds kind of crazy.” But what happened is, as I researched and looked at it and talked to the CEO of the production company or what have you, I found out that they really believe in marriage. This is not about drama. They don’t create drama. They don’t create situations just for TV.
They actually believe in marriage and they try to find people to be happy. And I’ve found that’s been consistent in the 10, 11 seasons that I’ve been on, that they actually believe in marriage, because I believe in marriage. If this was the kind of show that was just very sensational and creating drama for the sake of drama, then I wouldn’t be involved. But they actually believe in marriage, and that’s what drew me to it.
Here are Pastor Cal's favorite couples — and what you can learn from them
Are there any couples from the show over the whole time you’ve been here that particularly stand out to you?
Oh, wow. Yeah, I think the couple that stand out to me right now is probably Greg and Deanna. I think they’re like the model couple because they both have this attitude of, “Whatever I’m going to, I’m going to stick into this thing, and I’m going to be willing to change.” In fact, Deanna said, “Whoever’s standing at that altar, when I walk down that aisle, we’re going to be married forever.” She’d never met him, but she had that attitude. And I think that kind of passion, that kind of desire for marriage and the willingness of them to change — not only to change, but to allow each other to change themselves — that is what makes marriage. And I’m so proud of them. Now they have a baby. They are the first couple that pops into my mind.
And what about this season? What special couple stands out to you now?
Oh, wow. Now what special couple stands out to me? Oh boy, I think that right now there’s so many. It’s very difficult, but I really liked Jose and Rachel. Look, I’ve had about a hundred couples that I’ve seen. Jose and Rachel, I really liked them, because I think that they have the same desire to work through. They have the same desire to be in a relationship that works. And sure, they have their challenges, but I just love the way that they sort of just threw caution to the wind and jumped right into their marriage, and they’re allowing themselves to just grow in love. And the whole passion thing that they’re exhibiting — it’s so exciting.
Pastor Cal reveals what makes someone a good candidate for marriage
What qualities do you look for when you’re playing matchmaker on the show?
You know, the qualities that I look for are people who, first of all, don’t think they know it all. When people come to this show and they feel as though, “Well, you know what? I know how this works. This is what I want. I have all these deal-breakers. If I don’t get this, it’s not going to work.” Those are the people I don’t want.
But for people who realize “I need help, I don’t know it all. I need to listen. I need some things about me to be changing. I’m vulnerable,” that is a prime candidate. And, “I’m willing to be kind enough so that somebody can get to know who I really am.” Those are the primary people that I look for when we’re trying to find … And some people, they have a certain hunger, a certain hunger to be happy and a hunger to find that special one in their life. That’s what I live for.
And related to that, based on your experience, how can you tell if someone’s ready for a long-term relationship?
Wow. I guess I know when someone’s ready for a long-term relationship, first of all, when they’re willing to change. They’re willing to give up their old habits; they stop dating. No one-night stands. It’s like I always ask the single, “When was your last date? Are you online dating or any of that?” But I find that people have said, “You know what? I’m sick of online dating. I’m giving up my single life. I’m not looking for anyone to date. I’m looking for someone to marry.” That’s when I know that your mindset has flipped, your paradigm has shifted, and you’re ready for something long term.
And also, people who have long-term models in their life. When your parents have been married for a long time, or you have something that you can emulate as far as you knowing what a long-term relationship looks like. So, there are a number of factors that come to play in that. But I think that when someone is really ready to turn in their player card, I know that they’re ready for this.
Pastor Cal shares his favorite advice for couples — and mistakes to avoid
Another related question: What is the most important piece of advice that you give to couples both on the show and off the show?
Wow. On the show and off the show, it’s probably the same advice. It’s do not discount professional help. I think a lot of times, people forget that, in every other pursuit in life, we look for help. We look for someone to sort of instruct us. And I think that on the show, we encourage people to reach out if you’re having some issues.
If you’re not on the show, if it’s just someone visiting or someone hearing what I’m saying, I want them to know also that they need to consult professional help. There’s nothing to be ashamed of by saying, “I need help.” That’s why I wrote this book, because there’s so many people that I get who contact me for marriage counseling, and I just cannot handle the load. So I said, “Okay, you know what? I’m going to take all the information that I’ve compiled over the last 20 years, and I’m going to put it into a book,” so these 238 pages basically is like a bound counseling [manual]. So, that’s what I would tell people, is do not discount professional help, get help if you need it. And it’s vital to a successful relationship.
What do you think are the biggest mistakes that people make when they’re looking for a life partner?
Deal-breakers. Biggest mistake people make is that they get locked into this mindset of having deal-breakers. “This is what I want.” They have a list. I tell people, “Look, throw away your list. Whatever you think you want in a relationship, throw it away, and let’s rebuild.” And don’t rebuild with the physicality. Don’t rebuild with any of the surface stuff. Start with the more important values. Like, what are your core values? What is your view of the world? What is your view of how you fit in the world? These are the things that keep people together, whether or not you’re the right height, or the right eye color, the right hair color, or even the right size. That’s all just superficial stuff. But values, true values, making sure that you have not only compatible values, but that even your differences are complementary. These are some of the things that I believe are germane in a relationship.
Very interesting! Back to the show, is there anything that happens on the show that we viewers don’t get to see?
There’s a lot that’s happens in the show that viewers don’t get to see. I mean, you got to think about it. We film roughly about 40 or so hours per week. And you’re looking at 17 episodes. There’s no way that all this footage can end up on TV. It would be a six-month-long show. So, there’s a lot you don’t get to see, but I think that what you do see is pretty real. And as I said earlier, we don’t have to create drama. If I were to take a camera and put it into any married person’s home, there would be the drama, comedy, suspense, horror, you name it. Any type of theatrical genre you can think of would be what exists in that family. So, there’s a lot you don’t see, but I think that what you do see is most of the pertinent stuff, and it’s very real.
MAFS has been a learning experience for Pastor Cal
And what has “Married at First Sight” taught you about relationships? Have you learned anything new about relationships and how they work?
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I’ve learned a lot. This has been an education for me as well, as I can speak for the other experts, also. It’s been an education for them as well. It’s sort of basically that you can have the best intentions, you can have the best preparation, you can prepare people for marriage as much as you want to, or you can be as incisive and as specific and you could just pull [out] all the stops and give them everything you have. Yet, when they actually say “I do,” something changes. Something clicked.
And there’s so many things you cannot account for, I can’t account for. And people can tell you whatever they want to tell you, but you can never account for how they’re going to react under the pressure of marriage. And I mean, the pressures of marriage bring a whole different dynamic to everyone’s personalities. And it’s something that you cannot predict, so I’ve learned you cannot predict how a person will act once they’ve married. You can make all the predictions you want about the kind of husband you’re going to be and the kind of wife you’re going to be. Once that thing actually happens, I think a lot of times you surprise yourself.
And what about relationship challenges? How do the relationship challenges on the show differ from those of the real-life couples that you’ve worked with?
Well, some things are similar, but the differences are this: First of all, it’s a very accelerated process. These people are marrying, of course, someone that they’ve never seen. Now, it always happens that the couple says, “Wow, we have so much in common,” or “We know so much about each other.” Well, that’s because we’ve done all the research, and we put them together. So, as a result, they are supposed to know each other. There are things that are compatible.
So, that’s what happens on the show, the fact that people discover about each other after the commitment. It’s like the commitment is first, and then you have to discover all the reasons you were matched, and that can bring about so many challenges and so many stressors, because if you’re not really in this for the right reason, that discovery process, discovering about one another, it will break you.
But in traditional relationships and traditional marriages, it’s a much more labored, a much longer approach. I mean, you meet each other, you date, you get to know each other, et cetera, et cetera. And then eventually you get to the point where you’re married. Well, when I counsel those couples, there’s a lot of history that I have to deal with. We can go back, we can deal with history. But I talk to these couples on the show, there’s not a lot of history to deal with. So, they actually … For those who succeed who are married at first sight, I give them so much credit. I give them so much credit because they obviously have some great coping skills. They’re doing something that a lot of traditional marriages don’t. You’re married, you’re seeing someone, you’re marrying them, and you’re making it work. I mean, think about it. Just what a phenomenal thing that is to marry someone at first sight, and then just stay together and you have children. I mean, that’s just incredible.
Pastor Cal's new book shares his secrets to love and marriage
This has been a master class in relationships. Thank you so much.
Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my book. It’s interesting because, for the last 20 years or so, my wife and I have been counseling as a couple for about 12 years. All that I’ve learned over those years, I’ve actually compiled in this book. So, this is actually, when I say it’s a manual, it is a step-by-step process on how to communicate better. How do I be more open, more vulnerable? How do I be a better, kinder person? How do I leave a relationship and be civil and leave without losing my mind?
How do I forgive? How do I accept someone after they’ve done something terrible to me, like infidelity — how do I get over that? So, all these things are actually addressed in a very entertaining, yet a very straightforward manner. And it’s funny, because a lot of what we also talk about in the book, Wendy and I have actually used in our marriage and we still do use in our marriage. So, this is not just an academic pursuit. This is an experiential thing where we’ve actually developed these out of our own experience, and we put them in the book, and so many people are being helped by it.
So it’s tested and proven.
Oh, absolutely. It’s tested and proven. These are not theories. This is real stuff. As a matter of fact, at the beginning of each chapter, it’s told in a story form where I outline a couple and some of the challenges that they’ve gone through. And I tell it just like you would be reading a story, and I outline some of the stories, some of the issues that they’ve gone through. Then I show how I’ve helped those couples to resolve or, in some cases, even to not resolve but to separate civilly.
What is the name of your book?
The book is entitled “Marriage Ain’t for Punks.” And even though the book talks about marriage, I tell people, “Look, if you’re single and you’re thinking about marriage, if you’re thinking about the same thing, ‘I just want to get along with people better,’ this book actually fulfills all those desires, whether you’re married, single, or whatever.”
When is it coming out?
The book actually will get the shelves on September 7. … We’re going to have a live signing on September 9. So, there’s a lot going on right now for people who want to break the cycles that have caused them so much misery and live [with] happy marriages and happy relationships. This is a book for them.
Thank you so much. Anything else you’d like to share?
Well, just that, hey, look, follow me on Instagram. I am Calvin Roberson. You can follow me on Instagram if you have any other information. Outside of that, on Facebook also. But I’m out there and the book is going to be wherever books are sold. Wherever books are sold, you can find it.
New episodes of “Married at First Sight” premiere on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Lifetime. “Marriage Ain’t for Punks” is available wherever books are sold.
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