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.”