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The Marriage Ref is an Idea Gone Terribly Wrong

The Marriage Ref is an Idea Gone Terribly Wrong

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Remember the television show, Seinfeld? Like you, we laughed ourselves silly over the antics of the show. It was funny and full of uproarious one-liners. When Jerry Seinfeld decided to promote the idea of a new show called The Marriage Ref, he and everyone else surely imagined that it would be a hit. Why would anyone expect anything different?

But now, reality is up against the truth. And the simple truth is this – marital problems aren’t funny to the couples going through the trials and tribulations of the various marital challenges all marriages go through. Poking fun at married couples in a public way it seems is not very funny, and not very helpful in either the short or long term.

Frankly, we were bewildered when NBC decided to air The Marriage Ref. Picking six-minute segments of marital discourse and having the featured couple judged by celebrity panelists as to who was right or wrong is, shall we say, an abomination when it comes to best practices for resolving marital conflicts. Moreover, such a tactic is not very useful for growing and strengthening a marriage.

The first arrow-in-the-heart of the show is this – you do not learn about successful marriage by highlighting marital failure. We have studied marriage on six continents of the world for some 27 years and we know this – if you want to understand success, study success. If you want to understand failure, study failure. Oh, if the producers and directors of The Marriage Ref had only known these evident and researchable truths.

Let’s start with the failure notion. This notion says that if a divorced person shares with you why their marriage failed or if they think they have suddenly become an expert on successful marriage just because they know what a failed marriage looks like is the anathema of the best research on marriage of which we are aware. So having Madonna (how many times has she been divorced??) or others who have failed at marriage act as a referee in a marriage dispute is analogous in our mind to trying to learn about how to have a successful marriage from studying failed marriages.

The second point we’d like to make is this – there are many credible researchers, effective marriage and relationship scholars, and great marriage counselors out there. Many books have been written on the subject of building great marriages based on years and years of research on successful marriage. Our new book, Building a Love that Lasts: The Seven Surprising Secrets of Successful Marriage (Josses-Bass/Wiley, 2010) is but one of them. We are quite fond of the writings of John Gottman, Scott Stanley, and Harville Hendrix to name a few. Their work is well researched and we have found their writings to be well worth recommending to couples in marital distress or in need of marital strengthening. Any of these experts could do an amazing job of diagnosing and assisting these couples with resolving their issues.

Our point here is that couples having to deal with the stress and challenges that confront all marriages need help from credible experts who have studied successful marriage and from well-trained, successful, and experienced marriage counselors. Going on a television show where you are exposing very private issues about your marriage while being judged by others who are not necessarily competent, or who may or may not have your best interests in mind (i.e., they use your marriage for a laugh line!), is not the best way to fix or grow your marriage.

The scathing critical reviews of The Marriage Rep have used words like painfully bad, terrible, unfunny, patronizing, ugly, and heinous. Is it any wonder given the premise of the show? Let’s hope the public has not been misled into thinking that the model they bring to the airways has any credibility or usefulness. And the truth is, the show isn’t even funny!

Simple Things Matter in love and marriage. Love well!

By Dr. Charles D. Schmitz and Dr. Elizabeth A. Schmitz

Authors of the best-selling book and multiple-award winning book Building a Love that Lasts: The Seven Surprising Secrets of Successful Marriage (Jossey-Bass/Wiley 2010) Available wherever books are sold.

Winner of the INDIE Book Awards GOLD Medal for Best Relationship Book

Winner of the 2009 Mom’s Choice Awards GOLD Medal for Most Outstanding Relationships and Marriage Book

2009 Nautilus Book Awards Winner for Relationships

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