AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH JIM BOB DUGGAR
As most marriages on TV fail, the Duggars reveal how they work to keep their marriage strong
By Lucas Roebuck
Not being a fan of television in general, I am perplexed at how much my wife and her friends enjoy the super-sized family shows like “Jon and Kate Plus Eight” and “18 Kids and Counting.” She takes care of our two kids all day long, so why would she want to watch more on childcare? Shows what I know.
The big news in TV land is that after 10 years of marriage, Jon and Kate are calling it quits — and had a special show just to tell the world. More than 10 million people tuned in to see the announcement, the highest viewership for the show. Although they never used the D-word, soon the gossip Web sites were reporting divorce papers had been filed.
Jon explained he had to do what was “best for me” and the kids. Millions got the signal from the Gossilens that when the going gets tough in your marriage, its okay to break your vows to God and spouse. The message: Love is about what you get, not about giving everything up for something else.
Showing a positive message on marriage is one of the reasons Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, of Springdale, agreed to the show “18 Kids and Counting,” Jim Bob told me during a phone interview Wednesday. Jim Bob said he and Michelle were praying for the Gossilens.
Jim Bob and Michelle will celebrate 25 years of marriage this year — he was 19 and she was 17 when they hitched. In a nation where over half of marriages end up in divorce, being married for 25 years is almost as remarkable as having 18 kids.
Jim Bob is quick to point out that his family is not perfect, and that his quarter century love affair with Michelle is not always magic. Instead, the couple have sought out advice and learned from others on how to make their marriage last — and stay strong. Kids are just one of the many things that put strain on a marriage. But 18 kids? How do you survive that?
Jim Bob said early on he and Michelle took the advice of Dr. Ed Wheat, Jim Bob’s doctor — who has written some books on healthy marriage. During the first year of marriage, Jim Bob explained, Dr. Wheat said no TV.
Instead of focusing on these outside distractions, Jim Bob said, he and Michelle were able to learn about each other. After the first year of marriage, the Duggars did get a TV with cable. That only lasted three weeks.
“With both realized we were addicted to TV,” said Duggar. The cable got snipped and the rabbit ears put away. “A lot of people spend so much time watching TV, they don’t get to know each other.”
“We spend less time making television than most people spend watching it,” he said.
Besides cutting down on tube time, the Duggars work hard to settle disagreements quickly.
“There are going to be conflicts and disagreements, but when they come don’t let the sun go down on your wrath,” he said “Make sure that you resolve conflict as quick as possible.” Jim Bob said that unresolved conflict tends to build on other conflicts, compounding issues and making it harder to find peace in a marriage.
Another critical rule Jim Bob and Michelle live by is never to cut each other down verbally.
“We agreed never to put each other down,” Jim Bob said. He admits that sometimes they fail in that area, but when it happens, apologies are always forthcoming. “There have been times that I’ve had to ask for forgiveness,” Jim Bob said meekly.
Conversely, Jim Bob said what makes a relationship stronger is a concerted effort to compliment your spouse every day. “Not just something about their beauty,” he said, “but about their character.” This affirmation makes resolving future differences easier.
As committed Christians, like most things in life, “18 Kids and Counting” is an opportunity for the Duggars to share God’s love in their life. I remember when Jim Bob was running for U.S. Senate — an unlikely victory from the onset — he was always convinced that God would use his campaign, win or lose, for higher purposes.
An AP photographer took a photo of his family voting in that election, which started chain of events, eventually attracting the interest of TLC — and the rest is TV history.
Now the Duggars hope they can show how living in a family built on Biblical principles can help marriages survive.
Jim Bob believes in the triangle principle, which puts a husband and wife at the base points and God at the top. As the two spouses draw closer to God, they grow closer to each other as well. Duggar said he and Michelle are living proof of this.
“We’ve seen it in our marriage relationship,” he said.
The faith of the Duggars makes them prayerful and hopeful for God to work even in challenging situations.
“I know God could restore the Gossilens’ marriage and make it better than ever,” Jim Bob said.
“18 Kids and Counting” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on TLC.
Note: All my columns also appear in print in the Northwest Arkansas Times.