If you haven’t heard of relationship expert and author Tracy McMillan by now, just know her name will soon be rolling off everyone’s tongue thanks to her new OWN show Family Or Fiancé.
Tracy first made a name for herself after her Huffington Post article “Why You’re Not Married Yet”, went viral. Now, she’s been tapped by Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network to help eight couples hash out major family problems before making their way to the altar.
FamilyorFiancéfollowsthedynamicbetweeneightengagedcoupleswhobringtheir doubtful familiestogether in one house for three days. It gets tense y’all – some of them meet for firsttime and let’s just say it isn’t always pretty. At the end, they’re faced with the decision to go through with the marriage or call the whole thing off.
We spoke to Tracy exclusively about the show, what couples can take from it to improve their own relationships and why the three-time divorcée thinks her relationship mistakes is her secret weapon.
How did Family or Fiancé come about? Was it a concept you pitched, or did OWN Network come to you?Tracy McMillan: So OWN came to me and I was immediately taken with the concept. People around you always have an opinion about your relationship, and sometimes they see things you don’t see. And then sometimes, their issues are getting in the way of seeing your relationship clearly. So I just felt like this was an idea everyone can relate to.
What’s most interesting to me are some of the exercises you have the couples doing, because they really lift up the hood on the relationship and get to the root of their issues. How did you develop these exercises, and what are they designed to do?Tracy: You kind of have an idea of what the issues are with the family. So a lot of the exercises were designed with letting the family see the fiance or the family in another way. In a way that will allow the families to get on board, or reveal where there’s a problem that needs to get address. The idea is to bring out the issues. Sometimes it”s the family that needs to see something, and sometimes it’s the couple that needed to see something. That’s what we were going for.
There are moments during the show when things between the families get physical. What was it like being on set in those scenarios?
Tracy: Times when that would happen, I wasn’t always there. But things did go off. I look at it just like I would parenting. You have to be that calming force. You can’t escalate things and you hold a space for people to come back to their center.
ESSENCE: What can couples gain from watching Family or Fiancé?Tracy: Well, I think there’s nothing more powerful than watching people go through the same issues that you’re going through. These couples are going through real problems that real people have. Sometimes, it’s what you’re not able to see when you’re at home looking in the mirror, but you’re able to see what [episode one couple] Ashaki and Chris are having that same problem. It’s easier to see a problem on somebody else. It’s also a great beginning of a discussion. So if you watch this show with your partner, there’s no way you’re not going to [turn to your partner] and go, ‘That’s what you do!” The show is like looking into a mirror for the members of the couple and the families.
Two red flags that families often are concerned about are age difference and getting engaged too soon. Do you think those are automatic deal breakers in relationships?Tracy: No, not necessarily. But the issue is that sometimes when you’re young, you don’t really know what you want out of life or out of a partner yet, because you don’t know yourself quite yet. The other issue is that sometimes, you have one partner who wants a younger partner because they’re a little less wise to the ways of the world. So there are times where it can be to a partner’s advantage. If there’s a guy and he wants to be out there doing some stuff, a young woman doesn’t have as much pattern recognition. She doesn’t trust herself as much as a 30-year-old woman would. Even if you’re a very mature 22 year old, as Ashaki is, would the 30-year-old version of her date Chris? That’s the question.
So let’s say someone watching this is dating someone their family doesn’t approve of . What advice would you give them?Tracy: Well I think in some ways, the families can really help someone come out of denial. The fact of the matter is when you’re in love (especially newly in love), there are brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and epinephrin that actually make you feel really good. Now, your family isn’t on brain chemicals. So what you have to figure out is, am I in denial because I’m in that early stage of love? And I think alot of that comes back to your family’s credibility. If they’re reasonable and trustworthy in every other way, I don’t think its that they’re delusional about your relationship but rational in every other area. It might be that you’re the delusional one. Every relationship has a built-in fantasy element, and getting married immediately brings you out of that mindset.
It’s interesting because typically when people get engaged, they only care about the wedding, the dress, the cake, etc. Do you feel reconciling family issues is a step that often gets missed before couples get married?Tracy: I think there’s two pieces: a wedding and a marriage. A wedding is one day. A marriage is a lifetime. So, you can’t let the wedding be the only thing you’re thinking about. Part of personal experience that I bring as a relationship expert is that I’ve made so many mistakes in my own relationships. I’ve been married and divorced three times – which you might think to yourself, ‘what does she know?’ I know all about the mistakes! The first time I got married, I was 19. I remember saying goodbye to my guests and said, “well, its all over.” She says to me, “no sweetheart, its just beginning.” A light bulb went off. You can’t know what it’s like to be in that long term committed relationship, but what you can know is its not going to be in the honey moon. If this guy can’t handle you being upset with him now, he won’t do the work to resolve issues in the relationship.