How to Avoid Becoming a 'Starter Wife'
New TLC show follows the first spouses to famous men
Despite the ever-widening sea of reality TV, it's become evident that the stories of "Real Housewives," "Basketball Wives," "Hollywood Exes," and the relationships of "Love & Hip-Hop" resonate most (just look at how many variations there are). But it's TLC's latest show that's truly putting many women's still-unexplored circumstances front and center, unapologetically and directly in its title: "Starter Wives Confidential."
The starter wife: defined as one half of a marriage that lasts five years or less. Or, more harshly -- but perhaps more truthfully -- "a man's first wife that usually marries out of love and helps him achieve wealth, power, etc., but is then promptly discarded upon reaching said goal for a younger more attractive woman." In reviewing the stories of the women featured in "Starter Wives," that definition isn't far from the truth.
"Starter Wives Confidential" follows the ex-wives, ex-fiancées, ex-girlfriends, and mothers to the children of seven celebrities -- rappers 50 Cent, DMX and Maino, basketball star Lamar Odom, boxer Floyd Mayweather, DJ Funkmaster Flex, and mobster Philip Caruso -- whose once-solid relationships suddenly failed under the pressure of fame, mistresses, death, domestic abuse and crime.
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The women, as seen in the premiere episode, describe their status as "someone who was there from the beginning," "someone who raised the kids" and, in the words of Tashera Simmons -- DMX's ex-wife and mother to four of his children -- the "ride-or-die" chick.
Although Monica Joseph-Taylor, who has two kids with her soon-to-be ex-husband, Funk Flex, isn't sold on that final concept.
"'Ride or die' is something some guy made up one day and never thought women would go for, and we were dumb enough to believe it," she says. "A ride-or-die chick thought that if she did what he said and made him comfortable, that she would get [what she wanted], but in the end, she's void of hope, she's wasted five years, she's got two babies, and now what?"
Her advice? "I'd say if ride-or-die is required, run."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 10 percent of all women are divorced by age 30; 20 percent of all marriages fail within five years; and, of those, 1 in 4 ends within two years. So how can you avoid becoming the starter wife?
Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, points to a number of factors.
"Marrying later has lowered the risk somewhat for quick divorces," he tells Women's Health. "But on the other hand, people are doing a lot of things during that waiting period that are not helping" and that increase the risk of becoming a starter wife, he says, like having more sexual partners, conceiving kids out of wedlock, and living together before engagement.
However, a heavily nicked and notched bedpost isn't likely the case for some of TLC's "starter wives." Liza Morales met Odom at the age of 14 and, on the show, is poked fun at by her friends for being a "Lamar Virgin" (and for not having had sex with anyone else since). Additionally, both Simmons and Taylor met their exes at the age of 11; Josie Harris, who has three children with her ex-fiancé, Mayweather, met him at the age of 16 (and she credits herself for creating the ego that's helped drive his championship career: "I built him up mentally, I helped him to be very cocky and confident, I was the backbone.")
"Many of these women get involved in these relationships when they are young and haven't carved out their own identities," says Lesli M. Doares, a marriage and family therapist. "They then put the needs and demands of their partners ahead of their own. Instead of being complementary partners, they become an extension of the man's life. They haven't learned how to set the appropriate boundaries that a successful marriage requires. You can't be taken for granted if you are a full and equal partner. It's a matter of how a woman views herself and how she honors her own requirements in a relationship. Find your premise."
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Zakia Baum admits to making too many sacrifices in her relationship with rapper Maino. "We've all been there," she says.
Morales adds, "Love makes you do stupid things, and hindsight is always 20/20. When you love somebody and know them to the core, you wanna stick it out."
But it's that determination that Joseph-Taylor says can also be women's downfall.
"As women, we're raised to stick it out," she says. "And if you don't, you're a failure. If you don't keep your family together, [people think] 'What kind of woman, are you?' So, anyone who asks [us], 'Why did you stay?' Trust me, it's something we're taught; it's not necessarily a conscious thought."
But psychiatrist Carole Lieberman isn't accepting excuses.
"Starter wives become too complacent and think that even though their man is becoming more famous, he'll accept them as they are," she says. "The wives need to grow, too, and to take it up a notch. Otherwise, the husband, now full of himself, will look at his wife wearing her flannel pajamas instead of lingerie and no makeup, with no new interests, and will say to himself, 'I can do better than this now.'"
Though some may believe the phrase "starter wives" bears a negative connotation, Simmons rejects that idea because the status "made them who we are." Still, she's learned a lesson or two.
"When I look back, I'd do it all over again, but you have to know your self-worth first."
"Starter Wives Confidential" premieres January 29 at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST on TLC.