Why do some couples flourish and others flop?

In the microcosm that is "Married at First Sight," we saw it play out on our television sets as Amani and Woody clicked but Olivia and Brett didn't. And what about Amelia and Bennett, Christina and Henry, and Baton Rouge native Karen and her groom, Miles?

In the Lifetime reality series, five sets of strangers meet each other at their respective weddings and spend the next eight weeks deciding if they want to stay married or go their separate ways. Their plans are revealed on "Decision Day."

As has been everything this year, this season of "Married," filmed in New Orleans, was different. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the marriage experiment stretched from the normal two months to four months, a first in the show's history.  

"Timing really can suck sometimes," 30-year-old bride Karen (the show only uses first names) says during one of the show's "pandemic episodes." Karen, who moved from Baton Rouge to the Crescent City to attend the University of New Orleans, works as a healthcare management consultant, while husband Miles, a 26-year-old from Spartanburg, South Carolina, is an educator.

With an unprecedented 11th season of "Married" having recently wrapped, Dr. Viviana Coles assessed the hits and misses, and offered advice for others looking for love in this crazy 2020 and beyond. Coles is a Houston marriage and relationship counselor, and one of a trio of experts who matched and coached the five Louisiana couples.

Walk us through the process of matching the couples.

After months of receiving applications in the city we will be filming in, our casting department narrows down the several thousands of applicants and invites over 100 eligible hopeful singles to meet with us. Then, the three of us experts invite our top 75 or so, where we each get to meet separately with potential participants, and usually we meet with one of their closest friends or relatives to get to know them better. They also go through psychological evaluations, employment verifications and background checks. We also scour their social media, as well as their applications and in-depth questionnaires. We take all of this data we have acquired during our meetings, as well as all information gathered by casting and production crews, and for the next month or so, we have VERY long discussions about proposed matches and why they should or should not be considered for our experiment. It is an exhaustive and rewarding process of which I am thrilled to be a part.

In the end, do you think the pandemic was helpful or harmful to the couples leading up to Decision Day?

Overall, I would say the pandemic shutdown allowed for our couples to have even more focused attention to each other and their marriages, which is always a good thing. It didn’t hurt that they couldn’t do much else but focus on the (relationship) exercises we assigned to them.

What were the biggest surprises for you among the couples this season?

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Amani and Woody’s immediate attraction to one another and commitment to each other and the process took me by surprise for sure. I would have bet that Woody would have had a more difficult time adjusting to married life than he did. Way to go, Woody! (Amani, 29, works in the nonprofit sector; Woody, 30, is a teacher and coach)

In a sentence or two, explain why you feel each of the couples’ relationships succeeded or didn’t.

Amani and Woody: Stayed married — Quickly committed to each other and the process

Olivia and Brett: Divorced — Fixated on disconnection and weren’t able to agree on possible solutions. (Olivia, 30, is a nurse; 35-year-old Brett works in IT)

Karen and Miles: Stayed married — Communicated their needs and gave each other enough to build on.

Amelia and Bennett: Stayed married — Consistently nurtured their connection and accepted each other as is. (Amelia, 27, is a doctor in residency; Bennett, 28, is the artistic director for a theater company)

Christina and Henry: Divorced — Failed to openly communicate and create a connection. (Christina, 30, is a flight attendant; 35-year-old Henry is a clinical recruiter)

What advice would you give couples in general as to how to get through this pandemic with their marriages intact?

Discuss daily schedules and keep date nights on the calendar, even if they are at home and modified. Don’t forget to give each other alone time and work on joint projects around the house. Get on the same page about how to reduce exposure to the coronavirus.

Any advice for those looking for love in this present climate of uncertainty?

Take advantage of virtual chat platforms and spend time together even while apart. Get to know one another by asking revealing questions like, “What have been the easiest and hardest parts of living during this pandemic for you?” Much like STI and STD prevention, you should discuss how to decrease risk of exposure through self-isolating prior to any in-person contact as well as proper COVID testing.

Email Judy Bergeron at jbergeron@theadvocate.com.