A Greater Disease

I’m not usually one to comment on the lives of celebrities (that is a total fabrication, but it makes me sound as pious as I one day hope to be), but the recent unraveling of a marriage has me troubled, and I must explain why.

Jon and Kate Gosselin, of the TLC show “Jon & Kate Plus Eight” are rumored to be divorcing, and last night the premier episode of their fifth season seemed to confirm it.  The question we are all asking is, why?

Based on widespread reporting, Jon had an affair with a 23-year-old school teacher.  That is the most obvious explanation for their breakup.  But an affair is never the cause of a breakup; it is the symptom of a greater disease.

Just 18 months ago I was inundated with pre-marriage counseling, a dozen books on marriage, and countless sentences of advice, so when couples fail the reasons strike me as textbook.  I’m no expert, but I am married.

In this case, Jon’s apathy and lack of leadership appears to have had the direct response of making Kate feel like she has to do it all.  Kate’s survival method of controlling everything (she DOES have eight kids) had the direct response of making Jon withdraw from her.

To a wife, a withdrawing husband is torture.  I have learned that women rarely agree to forgo affection.  If a woman isn’t adored at home even briefly, she’ll seek affirmation elsewhere (I am not defending this, but have noticed it in myself and my married friends).

For Kate, this took many forms: she decided that the quiet face of the camera was more sympathetic than a terse reply from her husband.  The worshipful fans in the Barnes & Nobles across America were more supportive than the rolling eyes of the man she married.

I find it hard to blame her.  I can’t count the number of times I have battled the desire to tell a loyal friend about a fight Mike and I had, and of my innocence in the situation, just so they’ll reassure me that I am in the right.  That is the essence of what Kate is doing: she wants the audience to back her up and agree that Jon is a disinterested oaf.   We agree, but in the process we notice she’s an obsessed, type-A commander.

But that type of affirmation doesn’t solve anything.  Instead, what’s left is the quiet awkwardness that neither of them will admit that they’ve done anything concretely wrong.  Instead, everything is coated in generalities:  “It was wrong place, wrong time,” said Jon.  “I have done my best,” said Kate.

What he didn’t say:  “As a husband, I don’t create boundaries or lead my wife, and I committed adultery.”

What she didn’t say:  “I treat my husband like a child and disrespect him.”

This is why I find their separation so disappointing, so threatening.  This isn’t Brad and Jen breaking up out of boredom or because a hotter star entered the picture.  This is a bland Pennsylvanian Christian couple who look all too similar to me and Mike.

And even though I don’t have stakes that are quite so high (eight children and millions of viewers watching my every move) , I participate in the same equivocation.   “Since you didn’t respond the first time I had to yell at you to get your attention,” said Abby.

What Abby didn’t say:  “I demand that my husband be available to me in ways no human possibly could.”

So as Mike and I watched this spectacle unfold last night, we found ourselves turning inward.  We asked ourselves what we will do when we have children, with Mike at work all day and I in command of our home in his absence.  Will I become Kate?  Will I treat him like a child instead of my leader?  Will I bark orders in the name of efficiency?

I would love to say that the difference between the Gosselins and the Rephs is our endless love and devotion, our radar for problems, and our unfailing optimism — but it is not true.  The Gosselins were probably strong in those areas when they were newly married 10 years ago, as we are now.

Instead, the most I can say is that we hope in a God who is the glue to our marriage, we try to love each other with a servant attitude, and we have grace for each other in times we fail.

I want to avoid telling my friends and family, as Kate did Monday evening, “This is not where we were supposed to be. This is not what I envisioned for us.”


Filed under One WORD (Current Events)

12 responses to “A Greater Disease

  1. Liz

    It is depressing what reality TV has done for the sanctity of marriage…in the name of finding love or fame or both, people allow the world to peer into their most intimate lives and moments, but don’t take the time to reflect inwardly on what it takes to make a relationship work.

    That you Abby, for reminding us of the need for that genuine reflection in our relationships.

  2. amendstats

    I have no idea who these people are, yet I read the whole post. I’m pretty sure that’s a compliment to you. 😛

  3. Peter

    Excellent, Abby. So well put. The question that terrifies me is “what now — is redemption possible.”

    I don’t know Jon and Kate. I haven’t watched the show. What I do know from my own experience is that forgiveness is miraculous.

    Whether they stay together or not, forgiveness will be hard won, given or received. And it makes me heart-burstingly grateful for my own life. Thank you for the reminder.

    • abbyreph

      Well said, Peter. Thanks for looking beyond the “why” and into the more pressing “what now?”

      And you are right — forgiveness is always possible for those willing to work for it.

  4. Erin


    I think this is a deliciously insightful essay on Christian marriage and what it truly means to be living out Ephesians 5. It is not easy – but it is worth it.

  5. Iris

    I hope for Jon and Kate’s sake that they read this. You are FULL of wisdom.

    Oh, and nice job sending my jaw to the floor with your first comment. 🙂

  6. klstrovas

    I’ve never seen the show but sure appreciate your perspective on the situation and on marriage. Your frankly stated remarks are refreshing. Having been through some serious marriage muck and mire in the past 2 years, I echo Peter above. Forgiveness (and the healing it brings) is truly miraculous.

    • abbyreph

      Thank you for sharing and for reinstating the redemptive hope that is possible for the Gosselins and for all of us.

  7. Stan

    I know Im behind in commenting, but I read weekly….

    J&K+8 is well known as my favorite show, and I adore that family…Ive watched since the beginning. This last week they had their 100th episode. Throughout the episode, they showed “favorite moments” from all the seasons. They showed many great, hilarious moments, and it honestly made me just think of those episodes. They were so great then, and it just makes me sad, and pray they come back to that place. They let us into their house every week, sometimes twice, and so you feel, if youve watched like I have, that you know this family personally. They are also a family subconciously bringing God into faithless homes across the nation weekly. I pray its completely possible that the Gosselins reconcile, teaching their children, the media, and America, that marriages can work through the storm, and whatever comes their way

  8. Karen

    I’ve never read your blog before but it’s nice to read something that is adult, mature and even calming. We have these adult discussions in our home, but it’s a relief to think that on very public issues, we might be able to also have a mature discussion.
    I tend to think that their divorce has little to do with the TV show and everything to do with Jon’s ideas of what his role is and should be. Add to that Kate’s reactions to Jon’s failure to step up to the plate, and to pursue public tantrums like his constant pursuit of other women in public bars, and his constant complaining on the show, about not working anymore (it was chosen for me, he asserts). Jon is not a deep thinker. Given a choice (“life is about choices,” he quoted his mother), Jon would choose to live the frat boy life. He spends times with the kids but there’s an edge of a grudge there — it was not his choice. Only a mature adult would realize that the choice has been made and it’s not going to change. Jon wants to play with his toys, his girlfriends, his motorcycle (the only thing I’ve seen him cry over). And Kate, well, nature abhors a vacuum. With Jon mostly absent as a family leader, she stepped in because somebody had to. People who criticize her don’t realize her resistance to Jon’s problems. She doesn’t understand his whining. He can’t forgive her for having 8 children, especially the last 6. Sure he loves the kids, but he can’t quite bring himself to make it up to the top of the ladder. Personally, I think Kate is a bit relieved. One less kid to raise.
    New show title: Kate and eight plus Jon. I sound harsher about Jon than I really am. He’s been good here and there, there’s just no consistency. I don’t ever think he’s been the leader he could be. Think of the father of the 18+ kids on one of the other shows. Now that’s a leader. There’s no doubt who is in charge of that house, and they balance each other very well. I don’t buy into their religious beliefs but I have a lot of respect for them as a family organization/unit. Hopefully, Jon and Katie will make and keep a lot of money for a long time so that when the show stops, as it must at some point, Kate won’t have to worry about where the money is coming from. I can’t believe I wrote this much! Like the talented author of this blog, I can see elements of similarities with my family, except that I really respect my husband, and I feel like I knew him well before we got married since we’d been close friends. Kate might have seen something more in Jon when they were single then engaged, but it didn’t come to fruition, unfortunately. I guess I would say to Jon, hey man, I’m sorry that you had to quit work and helping to take care of 8 kids is a lot of work and all, but TOO BAD. You’re an adult, you need to act like one. All the time. It’s not too late. You can do it whether you are still married to Kate or not. I’m watching the episode with Emeril and Jon just said how interesting it was that Emeril just stepped into Kate’s space (the kitchen) and moved Kate aside. I wanted to say to him, yeah, and did you see how happy Kate was to let him do that?
    I’m glad they’re moving on. The kids will be fine. At least until one of them brings in the girlfriend/boyfriend. Ugh! And the paparazzi won’t let them be, they’ll continue to smear both of them, and that is really, really sad. I hope they ignore it as much as possible. I also hope that Kate finds a good friend that she can trust who is trustworthy. Best wishes to both of them.

    • abbyreph

      Karen, thank you for adding to the conversation after the unfortunate recent developments. You are right in saying that Jon certainly seems to be the one making absolutely no effort to right his family, and that he definitely should have found his backbone long before using it to abandon his wife.

      It’s obvious that the Gosselin breakup has struck a nerve with America, and let’s hope that serves as a wake-up call.

      Hope you’ll keep reading (and writing!),

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