‘We’re just normal, nice people who just, you know, want to be the best parents and coworkers that we can be,” Christina El Moussa told “Good Morning America” last week. Christina and her husband, Tarek, the stars of HGTV’s home-improvement show “Flip or Flop,” have been going through a very public divorce, but the two have announced that they will continue to work together both professionally as real-estate flippers and personally for the sake of their two children, aged 6 and 1.
Which is great news. A few months ago, Gwyneth Paltrow talked about how close she still is with her ex-husband, Chris Martin. The two still spend many holidays with each other and even vacation together. Paltrow posted a photo on her Instagram page the day before Thanksgiving of Martin and 10-year-old son Moses hugging, “Here is to reunions, togetherness, family, and love love love.” Some found her loved-up message odd, but her philosophy is generally the best approach to divorce.
While some children of divorced couples do have difficulty understanding why two people who get along well couldn’t simply have remained married, the alternative is much worse. Robert E. Emery, the director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia, notes that while Paltrow’s term “conscious uncoupling” is “awkward . . . I think of her and her ex as setting a positive example for other parents. I have great respect for anyone who puts their kids first in divorce.”
Still, if the El Moussas really wanted to put their kids first, they would prioritize family over fame. A reality-television series creates even more pressures on a couple than a typical work relationship. Whether it’s the cameras rolling during your most private conversations or the paparazzi never leaving you alone, it’s hard to see the upside for any partnership of putting it on television.
Inevitably, a TV show that focuses on one’s professional life exposes the personal. Just look at CNBC’s “The Profit,” in which financier Marcus Lemonis tries to help save family businesses. Usually, the result is that he finds husbands and wives have not just business problems but marriage problems. In one episode, the husband was actually sleeping with one of his employees.
Reality TV not only exposes your personal rifts. It creates new ones. The list of couples whose marriages have ended after a stint on television is long and growing. The tale begins with Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey whose show — “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica” — ended in 2005, a year before their divorce. There’s Kris and Caitlyn Jenner, who admittedly might have had other issues. Indeed, some may say that the Kardashian “curse” has more to do with the Kardashians than their role on television.
But what about the Real Housewives? Last year, some enterprising reporters at E! News calculated that the divorce rate for the franchise is 33.3 percent.
“Ladies who were divorced prior to joining the show were not counted, but any marriages and divorces (or divorce filings) that came during their time on ‘The Real Housewives’ or after they left the franchise were included.” Given that the first “Real Housewives” show aired only 12 years ago, this number is shockingly high. In the US, the average divorce rate for couples who married in the 2000s is around 15 percent. The divorce rate for “The Real Housewives of New York City” was 44.4 percent; for Atlanta it was 60 percent and for DC it was 100 percent.
It is easy to mock these women and suggest that the kind of people who participate in such ridiculous shows are the type who don’t have what it takes to make marriage last. Perhaps, but let’s just say the cameras are not helping matters. In all of these shows, you can see how one member of the couple wants to be more open about their issues. Others go into separate rooms and close the doors.
You might have thought that Jon and Kate Gosselin had enough on their plates with eight children that they didn’t need to also be filming every minute of their lives. Maybe it seemed like fun or an easy way to make money off of what you’re already doing.
Presumably that was the thinking behind the El Moussas’ decision. But the truth is that worrying about how you look to millions of people at home makes whatever you’re doing more difficult and stressful.
It turns out Christina El Moussa was involved with Gary Anderson (the contractor on the show) while she was married to Tarek. Christina says she was already separated at the time, but it’s hard to imagine there wasn’t some flirtation and tension that preceded the split. Meanwhile, the El Moussas’ two kids — instead of being protected from the spotlight — are being used to sell the couple’s return to TV, appearing alongside Christina in a recent photo spread for People magazine.
“Me and Christina are professional,” Tarek recently told the “Today” show. “We know we have a job to do. We love what we do, and we want to deliver a good product to our fans.”
But, under the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine their show offering a chance to heal. Quite the opposite, in fact. Perhaps the El Moussas should be a bit more conscious about their uncoupling and take a break from reality TV. The fans — they’ll get over it. It’s the kids who count.