Jason Poling: Jon and Kate plus 9 million
The Rev. Jason Poling is the pastor of New Hope Community Church in Pikesville. He's writing today on marriage and the reality show Jon and Kate Plus 8.
In my line of work, I see marriages erode the way bridge inspectors see trusses rust. I have presided over dozens of marriages and, in a different way, a small handful of divorces.
Yet even I was taken aback by Monday night’s episode of Jon and Kate Plus 8. My free-spending habits have led my wife to take over the grocery shopping, but the occasional run for bread and milk has exposed me to the tabloid headlines about the Gosselins’ marital difficulties. Sure enough, the season premiere of the show about their family put this conflict front and center.
I felt physically uncomfortable watching the Gosselins’ marital problems unfold in much the same way I felt watching Steve Carell’s character on The Office take control of a diversity training session necessitated by his misconduct … except that The Office is faux-reality TV, and Jon and Kate Plus 8 is about real people whose real actions will have real consequences for themselves and for their eight children.
It’s not that I was surprised that the Gosselins had problems: every marriage faces its challenges, and the introduction of children can accelerate the deterioration of even healthy relationships. My own experience has borne out what an old squash buddy told me about kids: going from one to two is harder than going from zero to one. I can only imagine what going from two to eight would be like.
What’s more, it doesn’t take much training or experience to see the differences in the Gosselins’ personalities; when my wife and I do premarital counseling, we use a rigorous (and, at 180 questions, tedious) test to surface the areas of difference that are likely to cause problems in a marriage. The problem isn’t that there are differences -- which can, after all, be complementary -- but that these differences make people deal with problems in ways that exacerbate those problems. So, for example, if one spouse is conflict-avoidant and the other is a verbal processor, you get the classic scenario of one person retreating and the other pursuing aggressively, which leads to deeper retreat and more intense pursuit, and so on.
Yet it’s customary for these conflicts to play out at the kitchen table or in a cold bed after the kids are asleep. One hopes that people will come to recognize that they need to bring their marital problems to a pastor’s study, or a counselor’s office, or a trusted friend’s confidence over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer. But unless we share trust (or a thin wall), we seldom have the kind of exposure to our neighbors’ marital difficulties that some 9 million Americans had to the Gosselins’ Monday night, and will continue to have next Monday, and the Monday after that, and the Monday after that, until either they separate or find a way to work through the difficulties in their marriage away from our prying eyes.
Perhaps some good can come of this; perhaps some fraction of that 9 million will join me in praying for the survival and health of this family. Perhaps other couples will recognize in their own marriages the seeds of disharmony that have sprouted in the Gosselins’, and seek help. Should their marriage survive this rough patch, perhaps the Gosselins’ example will inspire other couples to do the difficult work necessary to save their own marriages.
But I can’t imagine it will be easy. It’s hard enough to confess your faults to another person; it’s harder when you have denied or justified those faults to your spouse or counselor or rabbi or friend. Imagine how difficult it would be to take back something you said in front of 9 million people.
So my hope, and indeed my prayer, is that the Gosselins will be able to seek the help they need to work through the challenges they face in their marriage: to own their own failings, to ask and offer forgiveness, to commit together to rebuilding on firm foundations of trust, grace, love, fidelity, acceptance and kindness. Not simply painting over the corroded spots, but doing the hard work of stripping and sanding and patching and priming so that real restoration can take place.
In my line of work, I see that, too.
(Associated Press photo)