Rachel DeAlto is helping Married at First Sight‘s season 4 couples navigate the mysteries of marriage. Leading up to decision day, the relationship expert is sharing her take on all three duos exclusively with The Knot.
When Heather Seidel met Derek Schwartz on their wedding day, the chemistry was instant, but during their honeymoon in Puerto Rico, they lost their initial spark. Derek’s smoking habit irritated Heather, which led to a series of arguments. After a break from each other upon returning to the States, Heather chose to end the marriage.
“It was disappointing to see how quickly Derek and Heather’s marriage ended,” DeAlto admits to The Knot. “I met with them before they left on their honeymoon, and they were getting along. As you saw, that quickly went downhill.”
DeAlto acknowledges that Heather’s decision to split from Derek was discouraging. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that Heather chose divorce so quickly,” the expert tells us. “I believe that they had potential, and that Derek was willing to adapt to meet her needs. However, I respect Heather as a strong woman who knows what she wants. I believe she was receptive to advice, but not in regards to staying in the marriage. That was her decision, and I respect it – even if I don’t agree with it.”
DeAlto shares how Derek and Heather could have handled their differences differently. “I wish Heather had given Derek a chance to prove himself and change,” she tells The Knot. “I wish Derek had handled the situation differently, not becoming defensive. They remained respectful of one another after the decision, which I think is exemplary.”
After Derek and Heather’s breakdown in communication, Heather seemed to shut down. DeAlto explains that past hurts may have caused her to withdraw. “We all can have emotional shut-off valves from past experiences, and I believe Heather shut down because she recognized traits that she didn’t want in her husband,” the expert tells us. “It’s difficult, but not impossible to move past them.”
DeAlto has some advice for individuals who tend to close themselves off in relationships. “It’s important to understand that every person is different, that just because it was true in your past doesn’t mean that it will be true in this relationship,” she explains. “Stay present, allow each relationship to continue or end on its own merits, not based on the past.”
The expert admits that, despite their differences, she liked Derek and Heather together. “They had a banter that was great in the beginning,” she recalls.
If she were to match either of them again, DeAlto would look for distinctive qualities in potential partners. “I would still want someone witty and funny for each of them,” she explains. “I would want to match Heather with someone zen with an edge… someone who stays cool regardless of the circumstances, but still challenges her in the right areas. I’d match Derek with someone open and accepting, a nurturer, and someone who is truly okay with him smoking.”
Not unlike Derek and Heather, Tom Wilson and Lillian Vilchez felt an immediate connection on their wedding day, but they’re working through their differences and determined to stay together. Tom tends to speak candidly while Lillian is more sensitive to people’s feelings. DeAlto explains that Tom’s willingness to change the way he interacts has helped in the couple’s marriage.
“Bluntness in communication can work depending on the audience, but in most relationships, I’d advise to take the edge off,” the expert warns. “In a marriage like Tom and Lilly’s, being too blunt during conversations can lead to hurt feelings and the urge to be defensive. Empathy is paramount when it comes to communication, and Tom has been very receptive to changing the way he presents information.”
One stumbling block Tom and Lillian have had to overcome is their difference in opinion about career endeavors and finances. Lillian is intent on working long hours and saving for a family, but Tom believes in unplugging after 6 p.m. and living in the moment.
“I believe that Tom and Lilly balance each other out in this respect,” DeAlto expresses. “Even though Tom is a minimalist, he is a hard worker and likes to live a good life. Lilly is definitely more of a planner, and [she] can help Tom achieve his goals with her support.”
The expert shares that having shared goals will help Tom and Lillian. “My main advice is to continue to work together towards mutual goals,” DeAlto tells us. “Find a shared goal (it doesn’t need to be 5 years away), and focus their efforts on achieving that together. Marriage and relationships are all about finding the sweet spot in the middle… No two people are going to be exactly alike.”
DeAlto explains why the Married at First Sight process has gone more smoothly for Tom and Lillian then the other season 4 couples. “They had amazing chemistry… more than we could have even hoped for,” the expert tells The Knot. “From the moment they laid eyes on each other, they were smitten. That physical and innate chemistry can inspire a couple to work through the rough patches.”
Physical attraction and chemistry have been an ongoing issue for Sonia Granados and Nick Pendergrast. Nick initially struck viewers as shy, but a recent outburst showcased a different side of him. During a heated conversation, Nick revealed that he didn’t find Sonia attractive, leading her to move out. Since then, the couple has been slowly rebuilding trust.
“That outburst was unacceptable on so many levels,” DeAlto acknowledges. “I talked to Sonia moments after it happened, and she was devastated.”
The expert explains that Nick and Sonia worked with she and Pastor Calvin Roberson after Nick’s outburst, which helped Sonia to forgive her husband. “I wish more could be shown, but the episode would have been five hours long!” DeAlto admits. “I believe that Nick eventually understood how badly he hurt Sonia, but he had a hard time expressing it. I did not encourage Sonia to move back in right away; she didn’t feel emotionally safe there and needed to see Nick creating a space that would allow her to feel comfortable. We’ll see if we get there.”
Nick held his feelings inside, which was a factor in his outburst. DeAlto shares some tips for couples who are having similar struggles. “Communication with your partner is essential to avoid outbursts,” she tells The Knot. “So often I see people stuffing down their emotions; some numb with food or alcohol, and others allow those emotions to build until they can’t be contained – and the expression is far angrier than the original feelings.”
DeAlto explains that aggravation and frustration can be expected in any relationship. To help navigate those emotions, she’s offering couples two pieces of advice:
1. Determine what really matters. What is going to make an impact on your happiness and the happiness of your marriage?
2. Express yourself in a way that doesn’t put your partner on the defensive. Explain your “why” instead of just the “what.” Why does this bother you? How does it make you feel? When you allow your partner to understand you, and don’t simply blame or accuse, resolution can occur.
As decision day nears, DeAlto hopes Nick and Sonia will choose to stay together. “They have had so many sweet moments in spite of their challenges,” she tells us. “Their quirky and fun natures are so complementary. I have always seen the potential for love with Team Sonic. However, if they choose to divorce, my hope is that they remain friends and continue to grow as individuals.”
The Married at First Sight experts use a scientific process to match the participants. However, there are many factors that make the experiment unpredictable. “We can never predict how people are going to react in such a unique situation,” DeAlto explains. “The experiment is not your normal relationship. Marrying a stranger, being documented every day for six weeks, and being asked to express your feelings and grow exponentially in a short period of time… It’s a lot. Especially if someone has not been particularly introspective or self-aware before this.”
DeAlto acknowledges that it’s impossible to foresee how the participants will react to the experiment. “I believe that many think they can handle it, but then it becomes overwhelming at times, which we saw many times this season with all of the couples,” she shares. “I don’t think we saw any particular situation coming, but we also weren’t shocked by much. Even Nick’s outburst. It was somewhat surprising, but not shocking. He reached a breaking point.”
The expert hopes the Married at First Sight process will have a lasting, positive effect. “Marriage and relationships are our greatest teachers,” DeAlto concludes to The Knot, “and my hope for all participants is personal growth as well as love.”