To say that I enjoy watching Lifetime’s reality docudrama True Tori, about the marriage of actress Tori Spelling to actor Dean McDermott, is like calling a tornado “interesting.” Having a front row seat to what happens to a relationship after infidelity is a rare opportunity though, and it takes a lot of guts on the couple’s part to let us have such a unobstructed view, even if there are elements that may be scripted or edited; this is still television after all. In old-style sensationalist journalism, the scandal of Dean cheating on Tori would have lasted for a few weeks — long enough for the public to pass judgement — until a new cautionary tale took its place; it’s not often that we see the real and long-term corrosive impact of cheating. That’s why — though I understand Dean’s announcement this week that he would no longer take part in the “show” — it’s a loss.
In True Tori, we’re able to see how complicated relationships are, how hard it is to make a marriage work even when there is love to spare, and how two people’s pasts combine to make new, messy, complicated challenges. As a therapist colleague remarked, “When you marry, you marry a set of issues.” And boy, does this couple have issues. But it would be a mistake to relegate them to the status of a train-wreck, casting ourselves as the overly-curious, slightly creepy onlookers that hover on the outskirts of tragedy. The value in True Tori is in seeing what Tori, Dean, their family, and friends, have gone through and applying the wisdom and insight to our own lives.
Here are some other important take-aways from Tori and Dean’s story, regardless of whether you believe this is the “whole truth” or not:
1) Finances and financial issues are the source of a lot of marital tension. They always say that the number one thing that couples argue about is money and Tori and Dean aren’t much different. Dean’s work seems less plentiful than his wife’s and sometimes it seems that his drive to work is weak. Tori is an anxious over-achiever with a lot of creative energy and her many work projects leave her spread too thin, especially after serving as project manager for the family and primary caretaker of the children. With two totally different approaches to work and money, there’s fertile ground for resentment.
2) Therapy can help. Hats off to Tori and Dean’s couples therapist, Dr. Wexler, whose work with the couple is something awesome to watch. She manages to make the couple sit with uncomfortable truths and face them, rather than shoving them under the rug.
3) Atonement is important. In a recent episode, Tori makes an effort to reach out to her ex-husband, Charlie (off-camera; kudos to him for insisting on privacy) and to apologize for the abrupt and hurtful way she left the marriage. While yes, she waited 8 years to do it, it’s clear that she has spent a lot of time feeling guilty over behavior, guilt that has eaten away at her self-esteem. Now that she has faced her actions and apologized for them, one hopes that she will begin to accept herself more, flaws and all.
4) Childhood demons very much impact how we relate in a marriage. Both Tori and Dean had difficult experiences in childhood that crop up, influencing how they handle conflict, how they parent, and how they handle money.
5) Money and fame aren’t fast passes to happiness. All the notoriety in the world can’t make up for personal demons. The Spelling/McDermotts live a nice life in a beautiful place with a lot of love in their home but they are also really struggling on a personal level.
6) Addiction is tough stuff. Dean will be battling his need for the next adrenaline rush his whole life.
7) Family-of-origin issues can fester. Much has been said about the prickly relationship between Tori and her mother, Candy Spelling. Feeling disconnected from and abandoned by your mother can definitely contribute to lifelong issues with self-esteem. Tori also seems to put an enormous amount of pressure on herself to be the perfect mother by contrast.
8) Perfectionism is a disease. Perfection is an impossible standard; when Tori feels she falls short of perfection, she experiences a lot of anxiety and often seems to get physically ill. If she could combat her feeling that she has to be perfect, she may be a lot happier and more able to enjoy the abundance in her life.
9) Children (even very beloved children, as these are) place stress on a marriage. Having four young children is tough, even when everything else in your life is going smoothly. With Tori managing the kids and their activities, it seems like Dean feels less important to her now, a feeling which has to have fueled his acting out behavior and infidelity.
10) A healthy sense of one’s own worth is one of the most valuable things we can give our kids. Self-esteem is more important than all the money in Beverly Hills.
Do you watch True Tori? What life lessons did I miss? Send me a message and set me straight.