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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

“The Marriage Ref” is Out of Bounds

I quite literally nearly laughed my butt off one night when we were watching The Office.

It was the episode where Jim and Pam had their baby. I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time. On. The. Floor.

Stacey finds that kind of humor embarrassing, so it makes her uncomfortable. She watches with me, but I get the sense she is more amused by my giggling than by the comedy in the show. She is mostly enthralled with the core relationships, so a nice balance to this episode was how spot-on the writing and acting was for the birthing and newborn experience.

As I wiped away tears from my eyes, we remained on our couch to see the launching of a new NBC initiative: “The Marriage Ref.”

The show’s premise: TV crews follow a couple around for a few days, collecting footage of marital discord, usually around a main, recurring disagreement that is most likely off-the-wall. The opener was about a man who is a retired cop but claims to be “metrosexual.” He spends his day getting manicures and pedicures while his wife goes to the kids’ games and does yardwork.

So, footage is shown, the disagreement fleshed out and then they bring in three celebrities to riff on it. Jokes are told, people laugh and the three celebrities give a vote as to who should win the disagreement. The moderator decides and breaks the news to the couple via a live connection, we get their brief reaction and then break for commercial.

We both found it disgusting.

It is obvious that the couples are playing up the disagreement for the cameras, but the things they say reveal deep hurt. Again, we only watched the opening vignette, but the husband compared marriage to leasing a car—good for a while, but there comes time for an upgrade. He also said that there wouldn’t be such a problem if she gave him more sex.

I’m paraphrasing here, but the storylines are not difficult to extrapolate. The wife is hurt because she does all the work around the house and is the only one giving attention to the kids. The husband doesn’t feel like his wife sees him for who he is, not who he should be. Neither one is acknowledging the other in a real way.

It really doesn’t matter what decision the “panel” and moderator make because it is utterly arbitrary and is based on comedic value more than anything.

The real problem here is that the disagreements that the show finds worthy of resolution are much more threatening than your run-of-the-mill marital nuisances. Stacey and I share several of these playful sparring points and they are almost endearing—they are the recurring, diverging points of view on matters of no real consequence. We use these unresolved trivialities as a way to tease one another or to give others a glimpse into our background or personalities.

For example, when it comes to salt and pepper shakers, which has more holes? I won’t get into it here, because it really doesn’t matter, but suffice it to say, we disagree.

We’ve consulted the tables of fine dining establishments, books of etiquette, the opinions of anyone who has ever been to our table for dinner, all to no avail. And neither of us will budge. It makes for interesting conversation, but neither of us loses sleep over it.

This is the type of material that a marriage ref would be good for. The problem is, it is hard to coax laughs out of mundane “problems” such as this. To attract and hold the attention of viewers in a reality-TV era, shows need bigger egos, brighter off-color remarks, odder subjects.

When it comes to marriage in a reality-TV setting like “The Marriage Ref,” this means that better TV means bigger conflict, with more at stake and deeper hurt and more vicious remarks. And all for a laugh.

Call me old-fashioned, but the only disagreements I’m willing to chuckle over are the mundane, spice-of-life, run-of-the-pepper-mill type of disagreements, ones that are essentially playful. Real marital strife is not a laughing matter.

In my book, “The Marriage Ref” strikes out.