If you’ve seen any episode of We’s totally addictive Bridezillas, then no doubt you’ve thought, as I have many a time, “Yikes, how is THAT marriage going to last?” Well, surprise, surprise, many of the couples on the show find themselves a year in and suffering some problems. Enter Marriage Boot Camp: Bridezillas, which airs on Fridays at 9/8 P.M. The show puts five Bridezillas and their husbands in a house together for an extreme boot camp to work out their marriage issues with husband-and-wife counseling team Jim and Elizabeth Carroll.
Though I doubt any of you are Bridezilla-level cray, I thought Jim and Elizabeth could share some of their relationship wisdom. Behold:
Tell me a little bit about the show.
Elizabeth: The marriage boot camp is an organization that has been in place for 20 years. They came to us and said, “We have some people we’d like you to work with: Bridezillas.” They go through all of this drama, they get married, they have the big party, the big dress, and then they’re married, and they start having problems. Duh!
Are they the toughest clients you’ve had?
Jim: We have tougher one every now and then, but at least four of the five couples really came in working hard. But, yeah, they’re crazy and they’re hard to work with…
Elizabeth: Well, we see hundreds of couples. So in every regular boot camp we host we have has at least a couple bridezillas. They weren’t all that much different than our normal experience, but they were a lot more fun.
Did they play up the drama because they were on TV?
Elizabeth: I think they started out that way.
Jim: And we surprised them.
Elizabeth: Yeah, we surprised them. Because frankly, we’re not TV people. We said, “Do you want to work on your marriage?” We had one of those meetings with them right off the bat. Your marriage is at risk. You guys have to take it seriously—and all of them did. They had moments where they were not in it, but were playing it. We called them on it every single time.
What are some of the problems that the couples came in with?
Elizabeth: All the common ones—the top things that every marriage in America deals with: money, sex, kids, time…
Elizabeth: Oh, yeah. Cheating, household chores. It’s amazing. If you do searches nationally, chores is huge in terms of what people fight about. All of these are pretty common issues. Do you feel like you could boil them down to one common problem? Is it, say, miscommunication, or are they more separated issues?
Jim: Well, I think the common theme is that we’re all messed up a little bit. We all carry baggage from our parents, teachers, coaches, or past relationships. If we can fix ourselves, then we can fix our marriages. Most people want to look and point at the other person and think he or she is at fault or the marriage is bad, but then if they just take a look at themselves and change what’s inside of here, most of the time, it will change their marriages.
So what kind of exercises did you do with the women?
Jim: The one exercise where I think they really learned a lot was when the wife was talking, the husband had to shut up, and when the husband was talking, the wife had to shut up. And with the bridezillas, they just tried to keep getting in words edgewise. No, you have to listen to him. And vice versa. We had Rob, who couldn’t keep his mouth shut, ever, to listen.
Elizabeth: Unless one of us intervened. And I think that’s a really good point: If you can get couples to communicate in a healthy way, they can pretty much figure out anything. They really can. We trained them like this: Tell your mate everything that’s going on in your mind. Now listen very carefully. Now the mate has to say, “What I heard you say is…” so they have to pay attention to what they’re saying, and then they have to be able to accurately mirror it back. Then the person says “Yeah, you got that,” or “No, you got most of it, but there’s a piece that you missed.” If we can get them to go back-and-forth and back-and-forth like that, so much can be resolved with that simple tool.
How do you know when to just call it quits on the relationship? When it’s just done?
Jim: Well, really, that’s not our determination to make. But we play enough games and exercises that by the time we finish our boot camp, most couples either fell back in love and let go of their anger and bitterness and want to work it out or know they’re not going to make it.
So do you have advice for the first year of marriage? What are some key things to work on and keep in mind?
Jim: Work on your marriage now. You’ve got all the endorphins and all the love—you’re willing to give and take a little bit more when you’ve got all this wild and crazy love going on. So if you can get into some kind of counseling or care group or boot camp in the early years…
Elizabeth: When you’re crazy in love and you don’t feel like you need it, it’s the best time.
Jim: Right, because then when you work through the issues, those issues stay worked through for the rest of your life.
What kind of exercises do you do with couples that are about to be married to start building that foundation?
Elizabeth: Well, we do games and drills that ask the questions, “What do you want, and what’s your five-year plan?” We have them match that up and go “Oh, wait a second: I don’t want children, and you want children.” You know, so we ask the questions that moms should be asking or parents should be saying. Do you guys have the same value system? Are you going to practice the same religion? Do you believe in the same type of parenting?
What happens when one person doesn’t want kids and the other person really wants them? How do you find a middle ground on that?
Jim: Well, you should’ve found a middle ground before you got married. But you have to find out, why does this one person not want kids, and why does the other person want kids, and do you love each other to talk about this enough to find a middle ground?
Elizabeth: Then you ask the question: How is it going to be for you if you never have children? Is it worth it? And we, from our experience, are able to say, that’s kind of a deal-breaker. That’s not one that couples get over quickly.
What are the top deal-breakers that you see?
Jim: Infidelity, especially if the person won’t change. Physical abuse is a deal-breaker, and being married to a crazy is probably a deal-breaker. Is there a better way to say that? I mean, if a person’s just got all their screws loose, what are you going to do with that?
Elizabeth: Well, I kind of looked at it from a different perspective. You looked at it as the problems that come up that are deal-breakers. I was thinking about character issues that would probably be a deal-breaker. I think those things are your attitudes about money, your attitudes about faith, your attitudes about sex, children…if you can’t land on the same page with money, children, faith, and sex, you’re going to struggle.
How do you suggest couples who are dating or engaged bring up those issues?
Jim: Well there’s all kind of workbooks out there and premarital seminars that they can go to. I think that’s a good starting place because these courses they put you through ask how many kids do you want, how are you going to divide the money, are you going to have two separate bank accounts, how are you going to do the chores. That’s a great starting place.
Elizabeth: It’s interesting because we have lots of young couples in our lives, and we’ll sit them down at dinner and start asking them deep questions. Like, for example, what was it that made you fall in love with this person? They look at us like, well no one’s ever asked us that question.
Any other tips or things off the show?
Elizabeth: Gosh, there’s so much! I hope that you get the chance to watch the show, and even more, I hope that people come to the marriage boot camp that we have. But I think, you know, number one: Do the work. Don’t think that it’s just going to be easy breezy because you love each other. No, get in there and do the work.
Jim: My top tip would be to forgive. When your mate offends you, don’t harbor the bitterness and anger. Figure out how to forgive so that doesn’t put up a wall between you and them.
Elizabeth: Forgiveness is a skill that people need to learn. It’s huge. First of all, when you forgive someone, it doesn’t mean they’re off the hook for what they did. It simply means that you personally are going to let the chips fall where they may. You’re not going to hold a debt against them or feel like it’s your job to punish them. Forgive, let it be.
Love their advice! Be sure to tune in to the show on Fridays at 8/9 P.M.