Why ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Alison Arngrim Divorced Her First Husband

Little House on the Prairie star Alison Arngrim, best known for playing Nellie Oleson, was married to her first husband from 1989 to 1993. Here’s why that marriage didn’t work out according to her.

How Alison Arngrim met her first husband

Alison Arngrim, Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie, stands near a tree in a red blazer with her arms folded.
Alison Arngrim | Serge BENHAMOU/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

In her autobiography Confessions of a Prairie B****, Arngrim says she met her first husband, Don Spencer, through a mutual friend. Spencer was a friend of the late Steve Tracy’s sister. Tracy was Arngrim’s co-star on Little House on the Prairie (he played Nellie’s husband, Percival Dalton). Arngrim says when she and Spencer connected in 1984, he claimed he had never watched an episode of Little House on the Prairie.

Arngrim didn’t know what to look for in a potential mate. At the time, she thought any man who wasn’t physically abusive was “a good catch.” Arngrim says she tended to overlook red flags in the people she dated, such as alcoholism, drug use, and chronic unemployment.  

Arngrim didn’t initially notice any red flags with Spencer. She says he was ready to settle down and asked her to marry him on their third date. Arngrim told him to slow down and take his time. The Little House actor admits she should have realized something was wrong after her gut instincts kicked in, telling her to be careful. Arngrim ignored her instincts and married Spencer in 1989.

Why Alison Arngrim got divorced

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Arngrim and Spencer divorced in 1993. She says she probably would have left the marriage sooner if Tracy had been alive at the time. She often went to him for advice and to vent. Without that outlet, she had no one she could really talk to.

Angrim concluded her marriage wasn’t going to work after realizing they were repeatedly having the same arguments. She describes their relationship as being on an “emotional treadmill” where they were running but not going anywhere. Angrim found the relationship “exhausting.”

One red flag for Arngrim was when she caught her husband lying on multiple occasions. According to Arngrim, her ex-husband would hide food wrappers and then lie about what he ate, and he would lie about where he had been even if it was a simple shopping trip.

Arngrim says she also found out her ex lied about seeing Little House on the Prairie. He was familiar with the show and knew who she was when they met. Arngrim says Spencer had a friend who interviewed her a few years ago, and he obtained a copy of the interview for tips.

Melissa Gilbert offered Alison Arngrim support after her divorce

Arngrim leaned on her close friend and former Little House on the Prairie co-star Melissa Gilbert for support. Gilbert took Arngrim to lunch and tried to help her feel better. Arngrim says she and Gilbert both got married and divorced around the same time.

Arngrim says she and her ex-husband went to therapy, but it didn’t help. She says the therapist knew the relationship was in trouble and even told her ex that she was going to leave him. “[He] would have had to be blind not to see it coming,” says Arngrim.

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