Sheila Downs knew marriage wouldn’t be easy, but she had no clue it would be this hard. When the Chicago native signed on to be a season 5 participant for Lifetime’s Married at First Sight, she was ready to settle down with a faithful man who shared the same goals and values.
The school operations director, 31, was matched with Nathan Duhon—a 26-year-old business manager from Chicago who seemed like an ideal fit in terms of values. The spark between the strangers was undeniable on the wedding day, but Downs tells The Knot that those emotions were fleeting. “When I met my husband at the altar, there was no denying our chemistry. In that moment, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be,” she says. “[But] that sense of euphoria was short-lived.”
His side of the family may have contributed to the issue. “Although we were over the moon excited, his family was not. They made their presence and discontent known,” Downs continues. “I was taken aback by my disapproving mother-in-law and the profanity-riddled speech from the father of the groom.”
The couple quickly realized that the experiment would be challenging, but Downs was committed to the process. “I didn’t sign up for easy; I signed up for marriage and vowed for better or worse,” she tells The Knot.
Due to the family feud on her wedding day, Downs was emotionally drained when she and Duhon arrived in St. Croix for their honeymoon. “I was looking forward to a relaxing getaway and an opportunity to recharge and get to know my husband,” she explains. “However, our honeymoon wasn’t exactly relaxing, and the action-packed itinerary only proved to be even more draining.”
Despite Downs’ exhaustion, she and Duhon were intimate on their vacation. “I think sex really deepened the bond between [us],” she says. “The first night that we were intimate was probably my favorite part of the entire honeymoon. We sat up for hours baring our souls and confiding some of our most intimate secrets. We talked about our childhoods, past relationships, and our greatest fears. In that moment, I got a chance to see the tender side of my husband.”
Outside of the bedroom, Downs was unable to match her husband’s high energy level, causing a disconnect by the final days of the couple’s getaway. “Looking back, there was absolutely nothing wrong with Nathan being excited and full of energy,” she admits.
During a heated discussion, Duhon outright said that he no longer wanted to be married. “[It] was devastating,” Downs admits. “Outside of faith, my biggest prerequisite was to be matched with someone who was equally committed. I was all in, so when we got into a dumb fight and Nathan immediately said that he no longer wanted to be married, that sent me into a tailspin. It made me question everything, but more importantly, it made me pull back.”
Downs expected good and bad moments when she said her vows. “If he was already done after a petty argument, however, we didn’t stand a chance,” she shares. “That was a hard pill to swallow, especially on our honeymoon. Words are extremely powerful, and I get that people often say things out of anger, but there should be some things that are off-limits.”
Adding to the tension was the fact that Duhon’s younger brother, Tyrique, would be living with the newlyweds. “[It’s] not an ideal situation for newlyweds, however, it was part of Nathan’s package,” Downs explains. “It undoubtedly added an extra level of difficulty to our marriage because not only were we getting to know each other, we were attempting to guide a 17-year-old into adulthood.”
She adds: “The most difficult part of living with two men was that we were all fundamentally strangers. Nathan and Tyrique didn’t grow up in the same household, so although they are brothers, they were also getting to know each other. There we were, two strangers raising a stranger.”
Downs relied on faith to carry her through the experiment. “God has opened doors and led me to places I would’ve never anticipated,” she says. “Along life’s journey I’ve learned not to lean on my own understanding. My marriage is definitely no exception.”
The newlywed believes she was destined to meet her husband at first sight. “My faith dictated how seriously I took this entire process,” she concludes to The Knot. “For me, marriage isn’t just a commitment to another person. On that altar, I pledged myself to Nathan and to God. The weight of that vow pushed me to fight for my marriage, even when I felt like I had nothing more to give.”
Duhon is equally determined to make the relationship work, though he’s taking a laid-back approach. “I take it all in stride,” the told The Knot earlier this month. “[Sheila] is a great woman.”
Tune in to Married at First Sight on Thursday, May 18, at 9 p.m. ET on Lifetime.