For 44 years, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy have been one of Hollywood’s most enduring couples. Their romance started all the way back in the first season of The Muppet Show in an episode guest-starring Juliet Prowse. “In that episode, Piggy refers to Kermit as ‘her love,’” explains Joshua Gillespie, curator of Muppet History on Instagram and Twitter.
However, the abuse started almost right away. In another Season One episode of The Muppet Show — this one guest starring Connie Stevens — Kermit receives a violent punch via Miss Piggy after she saw another pig plant a few kisses on him onstage.
In the years since, things have only become more complex. There have been a handful of mock-weddings in various Muppet movies and TV shows, and just as many breakups, both onscreen and off. While Piggy’s abuse has never relented and Kermit never fully commits to their relationship, there does seem to be some sort of animal magnetism between them, as they always seem to come back for more.
Given the complexities of the Kermit and Miss Piggy dynamic (and yesterday’s Valentine’s Day holiday), we felt that no one could better determine the healthiness of their relationship than some experts on the psychology of relationships.
Here’s what they had to say…
On the Abuse
Trina Leckie, relationship coach and host of the breakup BOOST podcast: Growing up, I always watched the Muppets, but because it’s the Muppets, we don’t think that deep about it. It really is, though, an abusive relationship. In a relationship, what you put up with, you end up with, and Kermit is allowing this to happen, so it continues.
Farrah Hauke, clinical psychologist: They do seem to have a conflictual relationship marked by what I’d call inappropriate physical behavior on behalf of Miss Piggy. Domestic violence is clearly at play here, as she tries to solve their difficulties by hitting him. While the audience seems to find it funny, obviously, in a real relationship, that’s not funny at all.
Regarding Kermit, he certainly seems to have his share of difficulties. It doesn’t seem like he wants to walk away from the relationship and he seems really unhappy, yet he stays as the long-complaining partner, as opposed to making himself a priority by setting boundaries and expectations with Miss Piggy.
Suzanne Degges-White, professor and chair of the Department of Counseling and Higher Education at Northern Illinois University: It’s clear that Miss Piggy has anger management issues and uses acting-out behaviors to express herself, rather than mature discussions of her feelings. Kermit’s tolerance of the physical abuse also could be a mirror of the experience of males who are abused by females, but don’t retaliate nor share with others the violent aspects of their relationship. Our cultural expectation still continues to be a misplaced belief that women are victims and men are the batterers. Humiliation at being attacked by a woman can leave many men unwilling to seek support or counseling for this issue.
On Kermit’s Inability to Commit
Degges-White: Kermit never really seemed to be super committed to Miss Piggy. He might have been coming from a place of empathy for her, perhaps because she may have endured a harsh upbringing.
Hauke: I don’t know much about his past, or past relationships that would suggest why Kermit wouldn’t want to commit, but if we’re just looking at his present situation, that would certainly be a reason to not want to commit to a relationship. Outside of that, whether he wants to be with other Muppets or pigs, I couldn’t comment. I truly don’t know enough about Kermit.
Leckie: In this situation, I’d say that, in the back of his head, Kermit knows this isn’t a good situation for him and that’s why he’s got one foot — or flipper — out the door.
On the Regular Breakups
Degges-White: Unfortunately, there are human relationships that mirror the Muppet duo’s on-again/off-again dynamic. The fireworks in the Piggy-Kermit relationship can be exciting for a time, but in real life, satisfying long-term relationships are usually less volatile, and the partners enjoy more peaceful companionship over time.
However, individuals that grew up in trauma-infused homes — addiction, violence, mental illness, etc. — may actually seek out relationships in which these same dynamics will be found. There are some people who will intentionally bring in drama to an otherwise peaceful relationship if only because that’s what’s most familiar to them. In the case of Miss Piggy, her background suggests that she may be this type of creature, in that she resorts to fever pitch displays of dissatisfaction or adoration for Kermit.
Hauke: If there’s that level of conflict, they need professional help. They’d need to work with a couples counselor and do their individual work to identify their role in the conflict, as well as their partner’s role in the conflict. Then they’d work on communication and conflict-management strategies.
Leckie: If you’re going to get back together with someone, you both have to sit down and put a plan in place and say, “These are the problems on both sides and how are we going to fix them?” Because otherwise they’ll just keep rearing their ugly heads. They’ll just go in circles repeating the same cycle. So often when I counsel people who have broken up, they say, “That person was so perfect for me.” They focus on the good and sweep the bad stuff under the rug, but those things don’t just go away.
On Why Kermit Keeps Coming Back
Hauke: I’d imagine that they’re really attracted to each other. If you’re really attracted to somebody — you’re very much “in love” or “in lust” with them — that infatuation will keep you coming back to them, but it seems to be that after 44 years, there’s much more than that.
It sounds like they have an unhealthy pattern to their relationship. There’s a cycle where it’s kind of a push/pull, cat/mouse dynamic where they each respond to the other one pulling away — she gets mad and he goes to her, and then he gets mad and she goes to him. Then they’re sweet to each other. Then they fight again. Then the cycle repeats. They play this kind of hot-and-cold game with each other, and that may be based on past relationships or it may be related to self-esteem or self-confidence issues. There’s myriad psychological issues that I’d need to interview Miss Piggy and Kermit about before I could definitively opine on this.
Leckie: This is something that no one really understands until someone’s been in that situation. Everyone always thinks, “Oh my God, I’d never do that, I’d never go back to that abuser,” and they start judging the person for going back. The thing is, the abuser has usually isolated them from people in most cases, so they get very reliant on the abuser. People are lonely and they think, “They’re all I have,” and that’s what the abuser wants.
The abuser will also emotionally manipulate the other person. They’ll cry, and they’ll get the other person to feel sorry for them and say things like, “You’re all I have,” and “It’s because this happened to me and that happened to me.” They often turn it around so that the person who’s abused is sitting there feeling sorry for the abuser.
There’s a sense of loyalty to it, almost. It’s hard for someone to understand they’re being manipulated until they get away from it. People want to believe that this is love, but it isn’t. It’s just that their self-image is so tarnished that abuse becomes their new normal, and they think they don’t even deserve a healthy relationship.
On What Kermit Should Do
Hauke: He would need to set a boundary that he’s not going to tolerate any further domestic violence, and he should press charges should it continue. If he truly wants to end the relationship, he should end the relationship and not send mixed messages. He should no longer contact her or spend time with her.
Now, of course, this is made more complicated because they share a professional relationship, too. So I’d recommend for Kermit that he set specific boundaries in terms of what contact they’ll have in a professional setting, then not take their relationship out of that context. Discussing their job, having work-related conversations and being cordial to each other in the workplace environment is good, but they can’t engage in a relationship outside of the workplace.
If Kermit is her boss — which he seems to be — that complicates things further. I’d recommend that Kermit speak to an attorney, especially if he’s considering firing her, as that might result in a wrongful termination lawsuit. Even if he doesn’t plan to fire her, it makes sense for Kermit to have legal consultation because there are some ethical and possible HR issues when it comes to dating a subordinate.
It’s important to note here, while no one deserves abuse, as her boss, Kermit was engaging in inappropriate behavior by dating her at all, which could have legal implications.
Leckie: For anything to get better, there would have to be a separation between these two so that Piggy could work on herself and figure out why she reacts this way. Only after she does that could they see if anything is salvageable between them. The sad truth, though, is in most cases, people don’t change. She may think she’s changed, but in the heat of the moment, people usually go by habit. So, ultimately, no matter how many years they’ve spent together, they probably should just split, because the chances are that nothing is going to ever change.