The Reality of Marriage on TV

'Marriage Boot Camp' Counselor: Unscripted Offers Mostly Negative Portrayals
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Marriage counselors Jim and Elizabeth Carroll have one of the toughest jobs on reality television – examining and ultimately fixing the troubled relationships of married and almost married reality TV stars.

The Carrolls have adapted their signature Marriage Boot Camp counseling seminars to television through WE tv’s successful series "Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars." The show will launch its third season tonight (May 29) and the Carrolls had their hands full counseling such celebrities as Kendra Wilkinson and Hank Baskett from reality series "Kendra On Top" and Jeff Schroeder and Jordan Lloyd from "Big Brother" and "The Amazing Race" fame.

I recently spoke to Elizabeth Carroll about the show’s upcoming season as well as the overall portrayal of marriage on television and what effect the "Marriage Boot Camp" franchise has had on her own marriage in a wide-ranging interview, an edited version of which appears below.

R. Thomas Umstead: Are the current slate of marriage-themed reality shows shining a more positive or negative light on the institution of marriage?

Elizabeth Carroll: It’s more negative than positive, but it’s not just these reality shows. It’s really all over the media – all these negative messages about marriage and how it’s cool to have an affair and it’s OK to do this and that outside of the marriage – we’re getting bombarded with these messages in the media. The very point of Marriage Bootcamp is to counter some of the negativity toward marriages and bring it back to the positive, life-giving institution that it is and should be. Everybody’s heart melts when they see a rock solid couple who is committed to one another, but it’s so rare.

RTU: So why aren’t we seeing more of that positive marriage image on television?

EC: I think it’s reflective of the greater culture. Look at the state of marriage right now – it’s a disaster, and so something has to be done. Jim and I have been waving the banner of showing people the healing and all of the elements that make up the positive side of the marriage process. The problem is that some of it is not very visually interesting – TV is a very hard medium because you have to translate very subtle, quiet things into something visual.

RTU: What should viewers expect from the upcoming season of Marriage Boot Camp?

EC: You can expect some things to be very different because we had to deal with some real time warfare that we hadn’t done before. We had helicopters flying over the house trying to capture what was happening with Hank and Kendra, as well as stuff as marriage counselors we’re not prepared to deal with, but you do what you have to do. There was more toxic drama than in previous seasons, which put a ton of stress on me and Jim.

RTU: As marriage counselors, how does your participation in the television reality series affect your relationship with your husband?

EC: Marriage Bootcamp is a group, and groups learn from each other -- the group dynamic illustrates a lot of their life challenges. So Jim and I become part of the group and we get poked like everyone else and we have our weak places illuminated. During the last season Jim and I found out that there were a couple of things in our relationship that were never challenged in our marriage, and last season challenged us in those areas. We had to grow and we had to learn and we had to modify how we did marriage.

RTU: Given your experience as counselors on the show, what would be the one thing that you believe negatively affects marriages the most?

EC: I would say the one thing that poisons marriages the most is a root of bitterness that comes with unforgiveness. Something happens, it gets put away or shoved under the rug. That starts to fester and the only solution is to take it head on and get to a place of forgiveness where you say I am not going to make you pay for this anymore. If they can’t make that choice then their marriage has very little chance of making it. That said, one of the things that they have to be able to do is communicate well in order to be able to talk about it, and we teach them how to communicate and then how to forgive.

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