Love Lessons from McDonnell Trial



In my town of Washington, DC, a media circus has followed the story of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell. McDonell and his wife, Maureen, were indicted by a federal grand jury on 14 counts of corruption, 10 days after Bob McDonnell left office. McDonnell is the first Virginia governor to be tried for a crime.

Recently in the corruption trial the attention has turned to the quality of the McDonnells’ marriage. Married for 38 years, Governor McDonnell’s defense has centered calling out his wife’s problems (this marriage therapist doesn’t recommend you try this at home). In a letter he sent to his wife that was admitted by his defense, he wrote, “I am completely at a loss as to how to handle the fiery anger and hate from you that has become more and more frequent. You told me again yesterday that you would wreck my things and how bad I am. It hurt me to my core.”

Most of the media coverage of the McDonnell trial, like it is in most celebrity marriage catastrophes, has focused on feeding the public a steady diet of juicy gossip. USA Today’s coverage of the McDonnell trial is a great example.

But Jessica Contrera’s article this week in the Washington Post, “Lessons for all of us can be found in the McDonnells’ imploding marriage,” is a breath of fresh air. She took the time to examine one angle of this story that is a lesson to us all: Marriage is hard. It takes work. It takes time.

One therapist Contrera interviewed cautions that we take quality time with our spouse for granted. Another pointed out how it takes two people to build or destroy a marriage. Yet another implored us to think of marriage like a bank account—are you balancing your “withdrawals” with equal or more “deposits?”

For better or worse, we get to see celebrity marriages self-destruct in front of us and read about it sipping our Starbucks. Contrera writes, “We used to learn about love from fairy tales. Now, we have celebrities.”

It’s not just when marriages are ending that we get to eavesdrop on the normally private parts of a love life. In between watching the sparks fly in celebrity marriage, you can watch the sparks of romance trying come to life on the Bachelorette or the Bachelor on ABC.

As Contrera rightly points out, it may not be too late for the McDonnells to get help. If I were choosing a diet for America to be on when it comes to the stories we hear about marriage, I’d proscribe one that’s fortified with this theme. I’ve seen incredibly “off-the-rails” marriages turn around when an effective therapeutic intervention is used. Research supports this. I’d love to see a reality television show where, in every episode, struggling couples get a massive infusion of marriage-building and love-redeeming support.

Imagine how that world would look.