Israeli therapist, reality show star analyzes modern relationships

Dr. Yael Doron: Fifty years from now, intimate relationships will look very different than they do now. Monogamy will no longer be the most common type of romantic relationship.

 ‘I’M PROUD of Nir and Hagar, who were our first couple to get married.’ (photo credit: screenshot)
‘I’M PROUD of Nir and Hagar, who were our first couple to get married.’
(photo credit: screenshot)

“Intimate relationships in the modern era are quite different than they’ve been in the past, and much of this is due to the development of technology,” says Dr. Yael Doron, a rehabilitation psychologist, group analyst, personal and couples therapist – and most recently, reality show star.

“Many issues become exaggerated and very exposed publicly, which creates an atmosphere of comparisons. Comparing oneself to other people has always been problematic, even back to prehistoric times,” she explains.

“In the modern era, these types of situations have been compounded as a result of social media, resulting in greater numbers of people suffering from depression and anxiety, and always wondering why it seems like everyone else has a much more glamorous life,” Doron says. “

People are showing higher rates of lack of confidence and twisted self-image, which do not at all reflect reality.

“Moreover, the number of people suffering from loneliness has skyrocketed – one in five people say they’re experiencing loneliness, which seems counterintuitive, since so many people have thousands of friends and followers on social media. The true epidemic in the Western world is not COVID – it’s loneliness.”

"The true epidemic in the Western world is not COVID – it’s loneliness."

Dr. Yael Doron

 DR. YAEL DORON with ‘Married at First Sight’ co-psychologist Dr. Danny Friedlander. (credit: Sarit Rosenberg) DR. YAEL DORON with ‘Married at First Sight’ co-psychologist Dr. Danny Friedlander. (credit: Sarit Rosenberg)
So what’s the solution?

“A new spontaneous movement has begun, in which people are becoming closer with each other and forming groups. They’re searching to form connections within their closest circles of family and friends but also among new groups, to see where they fit in,” she says. “People are longing for a sense of connection, of belonging to a community of like-minded people. They are slowly changing their patterns of behavior.

“Fifty years from now, intimate relationships will look very different than they do now. Monogamy will no longer be the most common type of romantic relationship. We’ll need to accept new non-monogamous models that are more group-based.”

“Fifty years from now, intimate relationships will look very different than they do now. Monogamy will no longer be the most common type of romantic relationship. We’ll need to accept new non-monogamous models that are more group-based.”

Dr. Yael Doron

In what ways has COVID affected romantic relationships?

“First of all, a lot of people were stuck at home together for long periods of time; when this happens, many secrets are revealed. This led some couples to appreciate each other more; but others were negatively affected, which led to many families experiencing crises. At the same time, I think it’s still too early to determine how COVID has affected us.”

Doron runs the Zugot Institute for the treatment of relationships in Ramat Gan. She also serves as a lecturer at the University of Haifa, Peres Academic College in Rehovot, and the Israel Institute for Group Analysis (IIGA). Her professional life took a turn in 2003 when she worked as a psychologist for Project Y. Then in 2018, she gained a tremendous amount of media exposure when she joined the team for the second season of Married at First Sight, a popular Israeli reality TV show on Keshet Channel 12.

The reality show is based on the original Danish series featuring couples that are paired up by relationship experts, who agree to marry when they first meet. At the end of the show, the couples need to decide if they want to stay together or not. 

“A few years ago, I saw an episode of the American version. Straight away I thought to myself, when this show comes to Israel, I want to be a part of it,” Doron recalls.

“I was fascinated by this concept, and I believed that this was an opportunity for a psychologist to make psychology accessible to the general public. Then, when they were getting ready to film the second season, they approached me and Danny Friedlander, who’s also a clinical psychologist, and I immediately knew I wanted to join their team. I was absolutely thrilled about it.

“Even though I had never met Danny before, we worked together brilliantly on Married at First Sight, and it was so much fun. In recent years, there’s been a rise in the number of people here in Israel who’ve expressed a desire to go to therapy, and I really do believe that this is partly due to them seeing how psychologists interact with patients on the reality TV show. This has been very significant.”

What kind of reactions have you experienced about your participation on the show?

“Considering that this is the first time psychologists were featured on reality TV, I think it’s pretty amazing that people have been so positive. On the other hand, at first many of my colleagues expressed reservations about my participation, and I’ve even heard from second-hand sources that many psychologists have been extremely critical. Slowly, however, psychologists have been seeing with their own eyes how this show is contributing to the public’s better understanding of what therapy is all about and how therapy can improve people’s lives.”

In addition to participating in the reality show, Doron recently gave a lecture titled Secrets in Relationships. “All day long psychologists listen to patients’ secrets. I’ve been in practice for 25 years, so you can imagine how many secrets I’ve listened to in that amount of time. I listen to secrets that people don’t tell their spouses, as well as secrets they don’t even tell themselves. So, like all psychologists, my life is always full of secrets, which is a difficult way to live,” she admits.

“While I’m working on the reality show, I also have to keep all the secrets I’m told, which is not easy. It’s normal for everyone to have secrets, but it’s also natural for people to wonder what secrets their spouse is keeping from them and if there are things their spouse is not sharing with them. It’s not easy for people to know how much they should divulge to their spouse, or when is the right time to tell them,” the reality show psychologist says.

“Keeping or divulging secrets always leads to drama in relationships. Some secrets can help a couple bolster their relationship, whereas others can cause everything to fall apart.”

How can we know if our secret will fall in the former empowering category or the latter destructive one?

“Well, some are obviously easy to know, such as keeping a surprise party secret. On the other hand, there are secrets that can upend a relationship, such as suspecting that your spouse is cheating on you. My clientele is extremely diverse. Single, married, young, old – everyone can benefit from working through their issues with a professional. Should I share with you a secret that I tell in my lecture?”

Sure. Go for it.

“Someone did a study of people who are in a long-term, happy relationship, which showed that 60% of the participants don’t like the way their spouse kisses. Overall, they are extremely happy with their spouse – just not with the way they kiss. And yet, they’ve never admitted this to their spouse. So, tell me: Which category would you put this secret in?”

Are people in the current era more open about their secrets?

“It may seem like in the modern age, people are more open about things in their private life, but they aren’t actually divulging their secrets any more than they used to. People are still keeping just as many secrets to themselves.”

How does knowing that the cameras are filming them affect the relationships that take place on ‘Married at First Sight’?

“I get asked this question all the time. They ask me, ‘How are the participants willing to be so open about everything on camera?’ Most of the people who ask me this question are over the age of 50. And I totally get it, since I’m also over 50. It’s because we grew up in an era in which privacy was extremely important,” Doron says.

“Nowadays, though, privacy is not considered nearly as big a deal. Young people love uploading to social media pictures of everything they eat and everywhere they go. In fact, sharing online is considered much more important than keeping everything private. And that’s why going that extra step and sharing about their private lives and relationships on the TV screen seems normal.

“That’s why it’s difficult for people over 50 to participate in these types of programs. For younger people, participating in a show like Married at First Sight is a normal way to look for a spouse. Many of the participants who didn’t end up in a relationship from this show learned a lot about forming relationships and got married in the following year. Some of them have told me how much they learned and grew from the experience. I even overheard someone say, ‘It’s either Married at First Sight or I’m going to freeze my eggs.’”

When you first joined the show, did you think it was going to be such a huge success?

“No, I had no idea – it was a complete shock. Israel is a very conservative and family-oriented society, and so I figured the show would succeed; but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would become so popular. It’s made me very happy. So many different kinds of people watch the show: singles who are searching for a partner; young couples who are hoping to learn how to improve their relationship; parents and grandparents whose children and grandchildren are looking to get married. There’s something here for everyone.”

Is there a feeling of failure when one of the couples split up?

“Of course. When a relationship comes to an end, I oftentimes do some soul searching of my own. I wonder if maybe the two of them were not compatible or if perhaps I could have helped them more. To tell you the truth, I actually lose sleep over these issues,” she admits. “I am truly invested in their well-being. I’m also stressed out about the couples that do end up succeeding. I think about how they’ll survive all the photo shoots, how they’ll get along afterwards, how they’ll manage throughout the show.

“We had three couples this last season: Katya and Lior; Rafael and Idit; and May and Moshe. All six of these individuals succeeded in keeping their relationship under the radar for almost a year. That wasn’t an easy task, and was a testament to the strong foundations they’d built. I’m extremely proud of them. 

“Of course, I’m also proud of Nir and Hagar, who were our first couple to get married. They offered viewers a lot of hope, since their relationship was not easy, and they went through tumultuous times before they succeeded in becoming a couple. People watching learned a lot about what it takes to make a relationship succeed.”

Do people recognize when you’re out and about?

“Yes, people love to stop me and tell me how much they love the show and how much they’ve learned from the participants’ sessions with me. It’s such a weird experience for me, since psychologists are used to keeping everything that’s said behind closed doors a secret. 

“For 25 years, it’s been just me and my clients, and never has any information ever escaped. And now, all of a sudden, everything I’m working on with these wonderful people is public knowledge. It took me a long time to get used to that. It may seem strange to people, but I’m actually an incredibly shy person by nature, and I feel so embarrassed when people run up to me on the street, wanting to take a selfie with me. But I admit it feels nice that they are so positive about my work on the show.”

How have your private patients reacted to your participation on ‘Married at First Sight’?

“Some of my patients were unhappy seeing me hug other patients who were important to me. They feel like they’re losing in some sort of competition. But most are excited for me and proud of my work. People often develop an extremely close relationship with their therapist – I become kind of a second mother for them. And so, if their ‘mother’ becomes famous, then this says something about her ‘child,’ too. And by the way, my real children were not overly happy about my participation in the show at first, either.”

If you were a young single now, would you have been willing to participate in the show?

“I doubt I would have had the self-confidence to go through what the participants experience. All our participants are incredibly brave and daring. Their ability to dedicate themselves to this program and undergo all these personal experiences in front of the camera is incredibly inspiring, and I am so proud of each and every one of them. They are so much more courageous than I am.” ■

Translated by Hannah Hochner.