Is divorce contagious?
Sure feels that way when you see so many long-term couples suddenly uncoupling.
Sam Mendes and Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (who weren’t married but together over 20 years), and now Al and Tipper Gore.
“Yes, it’s contagious, because when you see people breaking up, you start to look at your own marriage,” observes Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil, author of Make Up, Don’t Break Up.
The media also contributes by spreading too many stories on relationships that have become diseased and die. Headlines don’t blare, “Couple Celebrating Their Ten Anniversary”; even Pink didn’t get much ink after getting back with her husband after they split, nor was the press gushing about David Duchovny and Tea Leoni successfully working through a rocky patch. Instead, it’s “Guess Who Broke Up? The Gore-y Details.”
The news that Al and Tipper Gore were separating after 40 years marriage sent shockwaves through the nation, challening firmly held beliefs and desires that some marriages last a lifetime.
Then, while still trying to process what tipped Tipper or Al, their daughter, Karenna Gore Schiff announced her separation after 12 years of marriage, and now we’ve learned that younger sis, Kristen Gore, got divorced last year. The irony wasn’t lost on anyone that Bill and Hillary Clinton are still together while Al and Tipper are not. The Clintons’ bond and commitment to marriage must be deeper than the wounds.
“The more we see celebrities divorcing, the more we see our neighbors divorcing and the more we see normal kids manage to stay normal despite a divorce – the more we all can consider it for ourselves,” says Dr. Mark Banshick, the author of The Intelligent Divorce.
The “inconvenient truth” is that modern marriage has experienced a climate change in how we navigate expectations, passion, the big chill and the winds of change.
I’ll tell you what really upset me about the Gore separation. Many of us feel that if a couple is married for forty years, can’t they just coast? It’s enough that we have work too damn hard at everything else – making a living, doing those extra push-ups at the gym, resisting a piece of cheesecake so we keep healthy. Must we find new thrills in our relationships always?
“In no part of life can you just coast,” observes Banshick. “The forces supporting the important social functions of raising children and using resources efficiently in previous eras aren’t as strong as they once were.” And the Gores’ separation will teach their children that one does not have to live in an unsatisfying marriage and yes, you can create a new life.
The fact is: Kids of divorce are likely to have more divorces in their own lives.
Nicholas H. Wolfinger, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Utah’s Department of Family and Consumer Studies, discovered in his book, Understanding the Divorce Cycle: The Children of Divorce in Their Own Marriages, that a couple may be up to twice as likely to divorce if one spouse grows up with divorced parents. If both spouses are from divorced parents, the couple is three times as likely to divorce than couples who both grew up with intact families.
Maybe divorce has indeed become contagious.