Who Can Say If Heidi Klum and Seal Tried Hard Enough? Not Us
How long is long enough to file for divorce in the court of public opinion and not hear that you didn’t try hard enough to save your marriage? That you’re what’s wrong with the culture today: people give up too easily and don’t want to put in the hard work that marriage requires, and presumably, rewards? Or that because you’ve managed to stay married for as long as you have, you might as well just stick it out? If only for the fact that you have kids?
The above numbers, for Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, Heidi Klum and Seal, and Al and Tipper Gore, respectively, have been central to the commentary on their decisions to divorce. How exactly does divorce math work for celebrity marriages? Let’s take a look:
If you’ve been married between 1 day and 9 years and 364 days, with no reports of infidelity, abuse, or drugs and alcohol problems, you may divorce in the court of public opinion once problems arise if you go to counseling 25 times and try to work things out but can’t. If TMZ is involved, you may subtract 24 counseling sessions.
If you’ve been married 10-14 years with no reports of infidelity, abuse, or drugs and alcohol problems, you may divorce in the court of public opinion at the very first sign of one of the aforementioned problems. Congratulations! You’ve earned it.
If you’ve been married 15 or more years with no reports of infidelity, abuse, or drugs and alcohol problems, don’t worry. We’ll be there to support your widow or widower when you pass way.
If your last name is Kardashian…adjust for inflation.
It’s one thing to abhor that divorce and marriage are taken too lightly in our culture, and that people aren’t willing to push up their sleeves, do the work, and stay the course ’til death do them part. It’s one thing to lament that celebrities, and maybe even your cousin Lisa, trivialize marriage and want constant and instant gratification. It’s one thing to have our hearts go out to children whose parents are divorcing and wish things could be better and different for them. But it’s quite another to insist that individual couples have given up too easily when we don’t know the interior of their marriages. And for goodness’ sake, a press release does not reveal the interior of anyone’s marriage. To wit, here’s the statement Heidi Klum and Seal issued:
“While we have enjoyed seven very loving, loyal and happy years of marriage, after much soul-searching we have decided to separate. We have had the deepest respect for one another throughout our relationship and continue to love each other very much, but we have grown apart. This is an amicable process and protecting the well-being of our children remains our top priority, especially during this time of transition.”
Here’s my take on this press release as someone who is not a celebrity, but who is a divorced parent. First, for your children’s sake, you’re not going to make public the ugly details of your marital strife, if you can avoid it. You come up with a vague, public response, and you stick to it. If you choose to share details with your kids, either now or when they are older, that’s preferable to them finding things out via a Google search, or hearing stuff from your drunk auntie with no filter.
Seal and Heidi Klum’s statement reads to me like: 1) responsible parenting and responsible co-parenting, and 2) a pre-emptive media strike against the inevitable reports that will attribute salacious details about the marriage to unnamed “sources close to the couple.” This statement tells me nothing but that Seal and Heidi are trying to keep it classy. And kudos to them. I don’t believe this statement is a window into the heart of their relationship. It takes more than fidelity and love to sustain a marriage.
Further, things other than infidelity and abuse and drugs can unravel a marriage.
Some people have unrealistic, fairytale expectations going into marriage.
Not everyone marries with the intention of staying married until death.
Some people decide they should never have married in the first place, for whatever reason.
We allow for the fact that people marry for all sorts of reasons, so why is it so hard to believe that people would divorce for different reasons? There is no universal divorce standard. People say, “As long as he or she doesn’t _______________________, they should be able to work things out, especially after all these years, especially because they have kids.” But we have no business trying to fill in that blank for anyone’s relationship but our own.
Who gets to decide what the straw that broke the camel’s back should be when it comes to deciding if a marriage is salvageable or not? The people who are in that marriage.
And the rest of us? I say we recognize that we can’t say from the outside looking in who did and did not try hard enough. I say we give people who divorce with kids in the mix the benefit of the doubt: Knowing what a life-changing and traumatic experience divorce is for children, I want to believe that parents do what they can to avoid taking their kids through this wringer. Some don’t, but the “divorce is a selfish act” meme should be far more nuanced (see Lee Block on the subject) than it usually is. The divorced parents I know did not arrive at this decision without a lot of heartache.
We can bring all sorts of baggage and expectations and personality conflicts and compatibility issues and conflicting values and conflicting priorities into marriages. It’s a wonderful thing when marriages thrive despite the challenges. But some marriages don’t survive the ebb and the flow and the ups and downs, for all sorts of reasons. Who is to say how much work and trying is “enough”? I thought about why people conjecture and feel so strongly on this subject as it relates to complete strangers, and without knowing everyone’s motivation, I do wonder this: Do other people’s divorces make us nervous about our own relationships? The ones we’re in or the ones we hope to have in the future?
“OMG. Seal and Heidi renewed their vows every year. If they can’t make it…then what hope is there for me?”
And maybe “We let people divorce too easily in this country!” sometimes means, “I don’t want my partner to give up too easily and treat me and our marriage as disposable.”
These are very real concerns. Loving someone and vowing to spending the rest of your life with them is…complicated. Maybe the root of the “divorce problem” in our culture isn’t failure to wrestle with the decision to divorce long enough. Maybe it’s that we’re not wrestling with the decision to marry long enough.
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