This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Dr Phil: Midlife Crisis or Excuse? Aired 08 April 2011

This will be a brief series discussing the recent Dr. Phil episode, MLC or Excuse?
In this post I talk about the choice of MLC examples that were guests on the show–my disappointments and then switch to look at the show from a general-audience television show perspective.

    Guests

  • Tony–MLCer, 50 & Jill, 48
    Married 4 years, Jill had children from a previous marriage that lasted 20 years
  • Elaine–MLCer, 50+ & Miles 50ish
    Married 11 years, together 13, 2 children together, grown children from previous relationships (Elaine only or both I cannot recall)

Disappointments
I was disappointed at the choice of MLC example guests. Elaine and Miles fit, though I would have preferred a single-relationship longer-term couple. But Tony and Jill were more disappointing. They were four years into their marriage and Jill referenced having been married for 20 years the first time. She married Tony at 44; it does not sound like there could have been a lot of time between marriages. I’m not trying to imply anything negative about her choices, rather I am skeptical that she came to her second marriage having fully recovered and learned from her first marital mistakes. Second marriages have a higher failure rate than first marriages. What were the circumstances that lead to her relationship with Tony?
I believe people need to be independent and whole to be in a healthy relationship. But I also believe their needs to be a level of need (that is different than needy) and intertwinedness and that is not something that is immediately present; a couple becomes knitted together through intimacy and time. Tony and Jill may both go through emotional pain at their splitting. But, as she said, she is financially independent and can take care of herself. She wants him in her life but not only does she not need him for survival–that’s good–she is at a place where she will accept it if she does not get what she wants; she can take or leave it. That is a lot harder for someone with three school-aged children. It’s a lot harder for someone who has been married for 25 years, even if the children are grown. It is a lot harder if the relationship has been the primary life relationship.
Sweetheart and would not have qualified as long-term married; at Bomb Drop we had been together 10.5 years and married 6.5 years, I was 32 and he was 39, so we were relatively young, had no former spouses and no former major relationships and no children from other relationships. I had no other relationships at all and his were few–only one had lasted more than a few months. I still think we would not have been the best candidates for being on the show during his crisis relative to others. I would like the topic to show the devastation by showing how it harms families; how it harms children and how it harms financial stability. We had no children and had Sweetheart been an MLC spender, we were both young enough that destroying our finances would not have destroyed our retirement stability because there were many years to rebuild what we could have lost–as individuals or a couple.
I was disappointed that neither couple were primary life relationships–both couples had previous marriages in their past. Maybe not all four had been married previously, but both Jill and Elaine had children from their previous relationships or marriages. I would have preferred a clean-slate couple–no previous marriages and no children from previous relationships. I’m not saying that such situations are poor candidates for Standing or should be ignored; I just feel that these examples were not the best to give the general population a feel for midlife crisis and it’s devastation. I know that many of you are have been married before and may have children from those relationships. I know that some of you had brief first marriages and long-term later marriages with children and those later marriages qualify as intimately intertwined couplings. I am not meaning to dismiss your trauma in anyway. But Dr. Phil educates for the general population and I just feel that these examples were not the strongest.

Defenses
The structure of a 60 minute (including commercials) episode leaves little room for in depth examples. This show was not going to tell everything about midlife crisis. The typical structure is a single guest or set of guests for the first half and a second set for the final half. That means out of the submissions received only two could be chosen. That is going to leave a lot out and Dr. Phil is a television program, not a college seminar; his focus is on the individual guests. In a seminar the focus would be on signs and symptoms with an in-depth discussion, maybe a Jungian review of MLC and a panel of several couples of various MLC types at various stages–including couples who came through the crisis. That is not the format of an hour long television program.
Dr. Phil provided a list of signs and symptoms on his website. Sometimes he does that as a backdrop during the show, but he chose to focus the air time on the couples. Why not show a backdrop of signs and symptoms too? I don’t know, but perhaps because people in MLC deny it and thus the supposed MLCers on the show do not believe they are MLCers and it would have thus been invalidating to list these in their presence. I also think that the general signs& symptoms list will be the clichés. That is because they are general! Specifics come through discussion or more in-depth review of such a list. I’ve got a list on my site and then I give a bit more detail about the items. Then I go further and write long articles and even series of articles about some of the items. Dr. Phil merely gave people a starting point; there was not time for anything more.

I know a lot of you were either disappointed because the show did not go in-depth to your satisfaction, or you weren’t disappointed because you kept your expectations low. So what are your thoughts regarding my Defenses? In the final planned post for this series, we get to design the show, so think ahead for that! I set that up for the last post so we can give consideration to any ideas that might come up in discussions.

Series NavigationDr. Phil Midlife Crisis Episode: Questions & Answers

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