Many of us imagine how wonderful marriages of wealthy high-profile individuals must be. We think extravagant vacations, mansions in the sky, designer clothes, private schools, fancy cars, private jets, the ability to start businesses without the constant worry about profitability, and more. But the recent announcement of the split between Bill and Melinda Gates once again causes us to pause. If they can’t make it, what kind of hope is there for the rest of us?
Think Jeff Bezos and Mackenzie Scott. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt. Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux. Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. Demi Moore and Bruce Willis. Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Al and Tipper Gore. Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. Kelly Clarkson and Brandon Blackstock. The list goes on. Can’t any of us get along anymore?
The fact is that relationships are difficult—even in the best of circumstances. In these high-profile situations, temptations are endless, egos are fragile, and separations are frequent.
I once asked a therapist who specializes in couples therapy when she knew it was truly over for a couple—when all hope of salvation was gone. She replied that once she saw that there was a true lack of respect—almost a disdain for the other person—she knew it was over. At that point, there wasn’t much she could do to repair the damage.
Over the years, I have talked to many friends about relationships. For some, there were showstoppers—something that occurred that was the final straw. These final straws included a constant roving eye, infidelity, an inability to overcome addictions after several years of support, incessant jealousy, financial recklessness, anger management issues, lack of any type of emotional support, absence of intimacy, lack of appreciation, and lack of trust. Some of my gay friends were so happy when they were finally legally able to marry. The celebrations were joyous. The speeches painstakingly crafted to reveal their journeys. Now two of them also are divorcing.
Personally, I’ve always found spouses who are completely devoted and loyal to their spouses to have the best trait ever. There is nothing worse than going to a restaurant and having your best friend’s husband endlessly flirt with the attractive waitstaff.
My Eastern Shore book club recently read Melinda Gates’ book The Moment of Lift. The consensus was that the book was good, and there was much to be admired about Melinda Gate’s mission, her commitment to philanthropy, and her increasing comfort and effectiveness as a public speaker. I agree, although I must say that some of her comments about how difficult it was to be Bill Gates’ wife were a bit hard to swallow. She was aware of how fortunate and privileged she was. Still clearly, nothing is perfect, and it is a slippery slope to complain about your lot in life when so much is given.
In recent days, several articles have been written about the increasing frequency of “graying divorces”—that is divorces in the people over-age-50 category. The reasons these articles cite are that children may have left the nest; couples may realize they no longer have much in common; they may believe they have one more shot at happiness and why not go for it. Also, many of these couples may have the financial wherewithal to split resources and still be OK.
I have also read several articles claiming that the pandemic has taken a toll on many marriages. Being in somewhat forced isolation heightens issues that were festering over time. As a result, many divorce lawyers and therapists predict a rise in divorce proceedings in the coming months.
Articles from so-called relationship experts about what makes relationships work are in no short supply. Theories abound. One expert recommends a minimalist approach to life. Don’t get caught up with materialistic quests. Stick to the basics. Another has a seven-part solution on what to do if you have disagreements. Still another recommends spiritual pilgrimages.
Bottom line, I don’t believe there is any secret sauce to happy marriages. I suspect that respect, acceptance, communication, patience, compassion, listening, fidelity, intimacy, selflessness, loyalty, a sense of humor, and kindness all play into it. And then toss in a bit of luck for good measure.
Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “It is not a lack of love but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” I agree. And true friendship is a beautiful thing indeed.
Maria Grant was principal-in-charge of the Federal human capital practice of an international consulting firm. Since her retirement, she has focused on writing, reading, piano, travel, kayaking, gardening and nature.