I’m So Mad at Joel on Parenthood I Could Scream: When a Marriage Partner Quits

“I’m so mad at Joel on Parenthood,” my husband said to me out of the blue. And I couldn’t agree more.

The Parenthood television program on NBC has been a hard-hitting family drama for several years. Last year they tackled breast cancer and its impact. This year, they’re approaching how a marriage breaks down.

Joel & Julia on Parenthood – Photo Credit

Julia and Joe have been running through a rough patch. Julia, who used to be a high-powered attorney, is now a stay at home mom. Joel, who used to be in that role, is ramping up his construction business. These two characters are obviously moving in different directions, and it’s showing in how they are separating from each other. Joel is putting his energy into his work. Julia finds a friend with a fellow male parent who is also floundering as a stay-at-home dad.

As Joel continues to shut out Julia, Julia finds herself attracted to her male friend and the two end up sharing a kiss. She immediately realizes her mistake and tries to cut off communication with the parent. But when Joel finds out about the kiss, he tells her there’s something wrong with her. Julia suggests the two of them go talk to someone, but Joel accuses Julia of having something wrong with her and that she’s the one who needs to go talk to someone. (Serious red flag here, folks!) In the end, Joel announces that he is simply done and wants to move out.

And this is when my husband Scott told me he was seriously mad at Joel.

As a wife, I do wonder if my point of view is skewed toward the female characters on this show. I can often sympathize (and sometimes empathize) with how they must experience life. So it’s always interesting to hear the male point of view from my husband.

What left both of us steaming mad is the thought that one of us might actually behave as Joel is acting. Scott and I have been through some tough times, just as any marriage does, and it never occurred to either of us to just hightail it when the going got rough. As Scott said, he felt Joel was just copping out of the situation rather than dealing with the real issues at hand…. the two characters are growing apart through faults on both of their parts.

It takes two to tango, and rarely is someone clearly to blame. Often, both parties have a hand in how the marriage has broken apart whether they see it or not.

A good friend of mine once told me he knew his marriage was over when his wife announced she was unhappy so he needed to go to counseling to fix himself. She had had an affair and wanted him to fix whatever she blamed as the reasons she cheated. Talk about being disconnected from reality. But the simple fact is, despite her obviously unrealistic expectations and misguided puffed-up image of herself, my friend readily admitted that he played a part in the destruction of the marriage.

He said he saw the signs that she was self-centric and couldn’t see past how life specifically affected her. But he was young and madly in love. He just didn’t think about that stuff and what it meant trying to build a full life with someone. After they got married, as an old-fashion Southern boy, he expected her to be a traditional house wife. She cooked. She cleaned. She stayed home to take care of their daughter. He worked and traveled for work at that. I have to believe there was a growing resentment on her part the more he was absent and the less involved he was with their daughter. He was a loving father but not an active dad.

By his own admission, when the two of them got divorced he didn’t even know how to properly brush his daughter’s hair. He had to admit to himself that he wasn’t as involved as he had convinced himself he was. He also admitted that he had overlooked serious red flags before he got married because he was in love. That’s what love does, right? But picking a life partner should be taken with more seriousness. Be in love but make sure they’re the right person to build a life with.

So as the Parenthood character Joel continue down this destructive path, we’ll have to watch to see if he pulls his head out of his butt and puts in the work to help resurrect and save the marriage. If he puts in the good fight and the marriage can’t be saved, that’s one thing. But to just walk away without even trying… well, that’s just beyond sad and pathetic.

If you haven’t seen Parenthood, I can’t tell you how much my husband and I love love love this show. Check it out on iTunes: Parenthood Season 1

Read some of my other posts on marriage:


  1. Hi Jenny, I just stumbled across your blog and consider me your new follower.

    I just wanted to say I couldn’t agree more. Quitting a marriage without really trying to fix the existing issues is a cowardly way out. You took vows to stick together through thick and thin, those should mean something. It doesn’t mean you get to bail on the first sign of trouble, no matter who is really at fault. And, in most cases, there are two sides to every coin, it cannot exclusively be one person’s fault, except in extreme situations like domestic violence for example.

    1. Ana — I absolutely agree. There are certainly extreme situations like domestic violence. A person should just walk out the door on that one (although many are trapped in the violent cycle for many reasons). Otherwise, it’s up to *both* partners to make the effort to see if they can make it work.

    2. Oh. And of course I’m thrilled to have you as a new follower 🙂 Ha!

  2. I don’t watch the show, so I don’t really have any deep knowledge about the situations. But, I have to wonder…if he had been the one to kiss another woman, and she got upset and wanted to leave, would you be angry at her and not him? I just find it difficult to blame only him when she is the one who took steps outside their marriage.

    I agree that there are issues on both sides if a marriage starts to break down. And maybe the show does a better job of showing that it somehow was his fault that she needed to stray outside their marriage. But at the end of the day, she is the one who made that choice, and he has a right to be hurt over it.

    You can’t just blame one person.

    1. You can’t blame a person for being hurt. You can blame a person for just walking out without actually trying to address what created this type of culture in your marriage in the first place. And yes, if it had been the man who kissed another woman and Julia had walked out, I would have felt the exact same way. It’s up to both people to work on their marriage.

    2. Sandra Dunkin says:

      My issue is that in earlier seasons Joel got kissed by another Mom and was forgiven. But when Julia gets kissed by another Dad she is not forgiven — this is so sexist…..

      1. Absolutely — but I also feel like Joel is using this as an excuse rather than dealing with the issues at hand.

        1. You have a point there — I did not think of it that way, you can certainly tell that he does not want to talk about it, just leave.

      2. I know this is 4 years old but my issue with it is when he got kissed, he also hid it from her, had her at their house almost every day, and guilt tripped the hell out of Julia when she told him she didn’t want her in their lives and he said “okay then Sydney won’t have a best friend anymore”… AND then he even said “it wasn’t a big deal!”


  3. Great post! Marriage is definitely work and both need to give 110% to the relationship.

    1. Absolutely, Rebekah. People always talked about marriage being so much work and I never truly understood until I was married myself. There are short periods of time when both my husband or I haven’t put in the 110% effort and we both feel it.

  4. Oh man, I love that show so much, but I find this whole storyline hard to watch because it’s so upsetting to see them unable to come to the table and work on their problems together. I hope it has a happy ending (because TV shows CAN do that!) 😉

    1. 🙂 Carolyn, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a happy ending too. My stomach is seriously in knots watching it, but I just can’t stop!

  5. This is my favorite show on TV! But I too am SO bugged at this story line. I understand both of their frustrations, but am SUPER confused as to why Joel is just giving up! He never really says WHY other than saying it’s all Julia’s fault. I just feel like there is more to the story than we know and I hope we find out soon, because it is driving me crazy. I wish Julia would call him out more, though. How can he just walk away and she isn’t really fighting? I get she tried therapy and asked him to stay, but I feel like she isn’t calling him out in his crap or holding him accountable. AH! Like I said, it’s driving me crazy.

    Great post!

    Put A Bird On It

    1. Daniela, It’s driving me crazy, too! But I think we saw how Joel deals with hard situations with Victor where he didn’t want to see the struggles his son was having. I have a feeling that’s probably how he’s always handled conflict. Some people find it easier to walk away than face what’s actually going on. At least that’s what I’ve noticed with people in my own life. If they can’t directly address things, it becomes passive aggressive and avoidance!

  6. I totally agree! I can’t believe how he is behaving in this situation – to just walk away without even trying at all. I keep thinking he has something (someone) to walk away for but they haven’t shown us anything regarding him liking anyone else or being involved with anyone else. I really do think it’s a selfish way to handle a situation and I am interested to see how it all plays out. In real life, I think everything has to be done in an attempt to save the marriage, especially when children are involved whether that be counseling, working on issues, better communication, etc.

    1. Alecia, I couldn’t agree more with you. I do believe that both parties have a responsibility to do everything to try to save a marriage. If it doesn’t work, at least you know that you’ve done right by yourself, your partner and your family. As for the character Joel, I have known people who don’t manage conflict at all but rather deny and deflect. We saw it with how he reacted to Victor’s struggles. He just didn’t want to acknowledge the truth. Perhaps this is just another way to show how he deals with things when they get rough.

  7. This is a great post! My husband and I are coming up on our 2 year anniversary soon, so we are definitely new at this, but it is scary all the people out there who just give up! Did your vows, “in sickness and health, in good times and bad, until death do us part,” simply mean, I’ll do it until it gets hard and then give up? If we all gave up when it got hard, the world would be a very different place! It’s so sad that marriage is thrown into the expendable category for so many people!

    1. Maria, We’re on the exact same page. I am surprised at how easily people walk away. (Then again, I’m always shocked at the level of deception that happens in some marriages, too.) Enjoy your 2nd anniversary! We just celebrated our 10-year anniversary. The key we’ve learned is that we have to actively choose each other as partners every single day. You might want to read my advice here…. https://mommyevolution.com/10-years-of-marriage-just-another-day/

  8. I know it’s just a show but I was about to yell at the tv I was so mad at Joel! Helped me remember that marriage takes work and walking away ends up being the hard way…not the easy way. Can’t wait for the next episode! I’ve yet to make it through an episode without crying 🙂

    1. Oh, Elie. I am literally on pins and needles every time I watch this show. And there are always multiple times my husband and I both find ourselves groaning in agony during the show. They just torture you but it’s SO real, you can’t help but love it.

    2. BTW — Last year was the absolute killer year for me when one of the characters had breast cancer and we had a close friend with Stage 3 breast cancer going through Chemo. She’s kicking butt now but we would watch that show and talk about things later in the week. Really brought her daily struggle at home closer to our hearts.

  9. I don’t watch the show, but I agree with you that it always takes two and that marriage is worth fighting for–and that you should be aware of that fact before you get married. To not just be in love with love.

  10. I totally agree (and love Parenthood right along with you)!

  11. Your headline grabbed my attention immediately because while I think Joel is being a little extreme, I’m not that mad at him. At all. To be clear, I’m a girl’s girl all day long but I also recognize betrayal immediately.

    Julia betrayed their contract by abruptly quitting her job. No discussion, no warning–boom. She upset the apple cart that had been their agreement and arrangement for years. I know why she did it, what mother wouldn’t want to be with their kids more especially when faced with a very demanding job where either home or work is going to suffer irreparably when you’re focused on the other. I get it.

    But, she made a unilateral decision that affected all of their lives. THEN, she went out of her way to try to manage Joel and his career, hounding him about what he needed to do in order to be successful in his negotiation with his new partner–emphasizing that his future income was so vital to their family. While I understand her angst, there wouldn’t be so much pressure on that deal had Julia not quit her job.

    Then she turned to the other parent because she was confused and lonely and out of her element as a stay-at-home mom instead of turning to her husband. It’s true that Joel wasn’t around as much but how many times did we see Julia rushing off to work when Joel needed something from her. When he was struggling with the slights of a being the stay-at-home dad.

    And finally, the coup de grace, when he asked her had anything happened with that guy, she flat out LIED to his face. At that moment I KNEW he wouldn’t forgive her when the truth came out. I firmly believe that had she come clean in that moment when he was desperate to know the truth from her, he could have handled it better. He would have been hurt and upset but he wouldn’t now look upon his wife as a cheater AND a liar.

    So again, while I think he is being extreme with checking out and then moving out, I totally get it. I’m willing to cut him lots of slack with this one.

    And thanks for providing a space for me to talk about this. None of my friends watch the show!! 🙂

    1. I definitely see your points, Patranila. She did mess up. But those are reasons to talk and communicate. Not shut down and shut out. And let’s not forget that Joel has been quick to do that — from ignoring Victor’s school issues to denying how he’s being treated (and losing serious margin) from his business “partner.”

        1. I saw his stance on Victor’s school issues as more of denial about what was actually happening because he didn’t want that outcome for his son rather than him ignoring it. It was the same with making Victor stick out his softball attempt and his reading. Joel is a stay-the-course guy when it comes to Victor, remaining consistent with a child trying to adapt to a new situation.

          Again, I agree he should be staying and talking but I see a man at the end of his rope because she went outside their marriage and then lied about it. I firmly place the onus on Julia because she was the one having a problem adjusting and she chose to delve deeper into a relationship with another man instead of turning to her husband. Major problem with her not staying and talking.

          As for the negotiation, Joel was in the weaker position and frankly didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver. He needed the gig more than she needed him to do it. There are thousands of contractors but only one development. Sometimes you just have to play your position until that position changes. And if she hadn’t quit, the margins wouldn’t be as direly important.

          And I love a good debate!! 🙂

    2. I have to point out that Julia told Joel the truth he didnt just find out about it. If you want to point out lies how about the Raquel storyline. He had her in the house baking cookies while his wife was at work,after she tried to kiss him. He got caught. He was drunk and out to dinner with peete and yet again got caught in a lie.

      For all we know more happened with Raquel then what he said because we never as an audience saw the interaction. For all he knows Julia was kisses by Ed and that was it.

  12. I don’t watch Parenthood, but have heard great things about it. It takes two to tango. Marriage is seriously hard work. Both people have to work at it. So many people think divorce is the only option and give up way too easily. I have been with my husband for 24 years. We are high school sweethearts. So we grew up together and endured all the milestones that come with going to college, graduating, getting real jobs, and even maintaining a long distance relationship. We were together 13 years before we even got married. It will work, if you work at it.

    1. I agree. You have to be willing to do the work. One person can’t do it all by herself.

      BTW — There aren’t many television shows I would say someone really ought to watch — but this is by far one of them! 🙂

  13. What annoys me so much about this is that the same thing DID HAPPEN TO Joel! Remember that super flirtatious mother who was practically obsessed with him? I can’t remember her name, but she totally kissed Joel …. and he (supposedly) pushed away. He took a while to tell Julia about it, and she forgave him. In fact – she let their daughters take a class together after the incident. I love Joel’s character on the show — and I think he and Julia are adorable together … but he is being a total hypocrite. Such a double-standard!! AGHHHHH!

    1. Oh my gosh! I had completely forgotten that. Thanks for the reminder!

    2. THANK YOU!! I literally turned to google, “Joel parenthood is a hypocrite”, because I needed to know other people remembered that when that girl who was WAY more inappropriate than Ed, kissed Joel he didn’t tell Julia until she dragged it out of him. I’m so irritated with his character because of this.

  14. Completely Disagree. Joel has accumulated an insane amount of clout over the seasons. He’s super-dad, super-husband, super son-in-law, super brother-in-law, super-person, and a super man. Joel has also put up with a lot over the years from his overbearing wife and her family. From disregarding his feelings and opinions during the whole Zeek and Camilla affair debacle in season 1 (when she told him outright his opinion on the subject matter was unwanted and wouldn’t even be considered) to season 3 when Julia announced they were trying to have a child without discussing it with her husband first (like he clearly asked) to quitting her job without so much as a word to her husband beforehand in season 4. Joel took it all in stride because he believed that at the end of the day love and mutual respect would sustain them and his wife would rise to the occasion if the roles were reversed. Well, the roles did reverse and Julia fell flat. She refused to supply him with the same amount of support, care, and understanding he provided for 8 years. She was clearly uncomfortable with his professional success, and sabotaged him at every turn. Incessantly calling him during the day because she couldn’t handle her own children, barging into his place of business/causing a scene, and spewing personal information in front of his superior. On top of all this, she kisses another man and discusses her children’s well-being with him (taking his opinion on the matter into far more consideration than her husband’s), doesn’t tell him for weeks, and only divulges her indiscretion after a fight ensues between her husband and this other man at an event. Forget a separation, I would have demanded a divorce.

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