Parenthood & The Emotional Affair

Image via NBC Universal


It’s no secret that I love a good TV show.  I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my all-time favorite shows is Parenthood.  Y’all it is so, so good!

Here’s one of the many things I love: they aren’t afraid to show real life.  More than any other show, I feel like they cover so many everyday issues regular people are facing–the empty nesters wrestling with what to do in their final season of life and trying to reconnect with one another; the parents with a special needs child who would do anything to fight on his behalf; the single mother trying to parent and support two teenagers and stand on her own two feet again; a mother’s battle with breast cancer; a couple’s struggle with infertility and eventual adoption…let’s just say in a family of four grown-children, the story lines are endless.

And let’s also say that I somehow manage to cry at every single episode.  They get me every time.

Yes, at the end of the day, it’s just a TV show, but in my opinion, they portray real life unlike any other show.

This season, they’re covering something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen on a TV show: an emotional affair.  (Note: if you’re a Parenthood watcher and aren’t fully caught up, there are spoilers below, so beware!)

Typically, when we see affairs play out on TV it’s usually the man, whose wandering eye leads him into the bed of another woman.

Yet, this season in Parenthood, they’re showing an “emotional affair” play out in the marriage of Julia and Joel.

Here’s the deal: Julia, a powerful lawyer with a booming career is fired from her job, leaving her to stay home with her two kids.  Her husband Joel, who had previously been staying home with the kids takes a big, new job as a fancy contractor for a major housing development project.

For the first time, Joel is the one working late nights and completely consumed with his job.

Julia finds herself lonely, frustrated, and without her confidant readily available to listen and support her.

Enter Ed–another stay-at-home-parent looking for work and frustrated he can’t find a job.  Together, Ed and Julia are assigned co-chairs of the “Sustainability Committee” at their kid’s school.

At first, they bond over their former careers and the difficulty of not being able to find work.

Then, when faced with a difficult, parenting crisis that Joel and Julia do not see eye-to-eye on, Julia runs to Ed to talk through it and get the support and understanding she can’t find from her husband.

Sustainability committee meetings lead to text messages.

Text messaged lead to play dates.

Play dates lead to Ed kissing Julia.

Ed kissing Julia leads to a big, huge mess.

In Julia’s defense, she does pull away however, she had been giving Ed a confusing vibe for several episodes, leading Ed to assume she had feelings for him.

Now that Joel has discovered what happened, their marriage appears to be crumbling…

Okay, sorry for the long background.

As I’ve watched all of this play out, I feel like Parenthood is sending a message to married and single women everywhere: Be Careful.  

Sure, technically it may not be a physical affair, but I think an “emotional affair” is an easy trap for women to find themselves caught in.  What may start out as an innocent friendship with a coworker, an old friend, or even a fellow parent at your child’s school can quickly escalate into a dangerous trap.

I’m sure most wives would agree that there are seasons in your marriage where you don’t feel like your husband is supporting, listening, or understanding you in the way that you’d like.  Let’s be honest, no one’s marriage is perfect!  But when we face times in our lives where we feel like we have nowhere to run with our emotions, we need to be careful we don’t run them straight into the arms of another man, no matter how badly he claims he wants to help or understand. 

So how can we guard against this?  Well, here are a few things I’ve been thinking about:

1.  Resist the urge to run to another man and run to God–no one understands your hurts and your emotions better than God.  He made you and He wired you.  Run to Him when you need love, assurance, and a listening ear.

2.  Guard your emotions and limit what you share with the other men in your life.  Ask yourself this, “would I want another woman pouring her heart out to my husband like this?”  If the answer is, “no,” you may want to pull back what you’re sharing.

3.  Don’t give up–if you’re feeling neglected, unheard, and alone, don’t give up!  The best weapon you can fight with is PRAYER.  Pray for a miracle.  Pray that you and your husband will connect in fresh, new ways.  Pray that your husband will have eyes to see you the way God does.  God is the God of miracles; let Him help you and don’t stop fighting.

3.  Cling to your girlfriends–in college, if I ever had the inkling to call up an old boyfriend to “check in,” I had my best friend Catherine on standby, poised and ready to talk me out of calling him at any hour of the day.  Similarly, if you’re feeling neglected and you find yourself wanting to call or text another man to “check in,” call your best GIRL friend instead.

4.  Support your friends–we might not even know all the details, but girls, let’s be friends who support one another.  If your friend is struggling in her marriage, don’t give her any more reason to run her heart and emotions to another man.  Show up for her–listen to her, love her, pray with her, and encourage her to not give up hope.

What do you think?

Have you been watching Parenthood this season?  Can Joel and Julia’s marriage be saved?

How do you think women can guard against “emotional affairs?”



  • Mary Elizabeth Stone

    I also LOVE this show! My absolute favorite! This story line is breaking my heart because I really hope they can work it out, and I don’t feel like Joel should just give up so easily. So there are my thoughts. And yes, I love how the show tackles real issues in such a real way that you feel you could be sitting there in the room with the characters discussing the issue at hand. We were very moved, of course, by Christina and Adam wanting to start a school for Max and other kids with special needs.

    • Elizabeth Robertson Williams

      Thanks for your comment, Mary Elizabeth! Their storyline is killing me right now and I hate that we have to wait until the end of February to see what’s next for Joel and Julia…

  • Mary Lynne Rote

    When we watch Parenthood, we always seem to remind each other, “This is a television show. These are not real people.” I agree with Mary Elizabeth that it seems that Joel is giving up too easily! Actually, I think that this one of the few times that the writing is not on the mark. Would a couple that worked through infertility issues and adoption screening give up this quickly?
    Also, we know someone whose parents started a school (a number of years ago), and we looked at each other and said, “The Loves did that!”
    Definitely one of our favorite shows.

    • Elizabeth Robertson Williams

      I completely agree! Joel’s response has not been very realistic. It’s almost like he wants out and is looking for a quick escape. Still not giving up hope they’ll work it out!


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