(You can listen to my interview with BBC World Service on this subject here)
Its probably the most common rebuttal I hear when I mention how married couples tend to do so much better than unmarried couples.
“It’s not marriage, its money.”
There’s an element of truth to this. Money makes it easier for couples to stay together.
More money means not having to negotiate with your loved one every time you buy something and not having a potential argument when you didn’t tell them first. Money cushions families from the harder side of life. If you’re going through an unhappy phase, you just might put up with difficulties a little longer if you’re physically more comfortable. Better off couples have more resources to survive the tough times and come out the other side.
On this basis, celebrities ought to do better than anyone else as couples. Invariably richer by far than the vast majority of us, they should be happier than happy things and hence wonderful role models for the good life and family stability.
Except that they don’t and aren’t.
Last year family barrister Rehna Azim and I undertook the distinctly unglamorous task of counting up 488 A-list couples whose wedding had been covered in one of the main glossy magazines. We then scoured the wikipedia entry for each couple to find out who had divorced and who was still married. It allowed us to calculate a divorce rate for celebrities.
What we found was that celebrities divorce at roughly twice the rate of the rest of us.
- Over the first fourteen years of marriage, 50% of our celebrity couples had divorced compared to 25% for us normal mortals in England and Wales.
- In the early years of their marriages, divorce among celebs is a lot more than twice as commonplace. During the first three years – as with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie – some 7% of celebs had divorced compared to 2% for us.
Why might this be the case?
Drawing on the reams of academic research I’ve read, and the thousands of couples I’ve taught about relationships, as well as my thirty years personal experience of being married – often by the skin of my teeth – I would say the single most important aspect of a successful relationship is being able to put the other person first.
That means sacrificing, compromising, choosing to give up other options and opportunities, being willing to forgive, taking time, prioritising, being intentional, seeing them as number one in your world, all for the person you love.
This is pretty much the exact opposite of the world inhabited by celebrities, where cameras are constantly shoved up their noses, their every utterance is recorded and dissected for newsworthiness, and where everyone spends all day telling them how wonderful they are. And they are wonderful. Their exceptional talent is the reason why they are celebrities in the first place.
But all of that endless kowtow-ing means the centre of their everyday world is themselves.
I’m pretty sure it would go to my head. There’d be a big risk that my ego would inflate to unpleasant proportions. It’s all about me.
Successful relationships depend on putting somebody else first.
I think the other issue is that celebrities are surrounded by extraordinary opportunity and temptation. Who can imagine playing an intimate bedroom scene opposite some gorgeous young actor or actress? It’s the stuff of dreams for us. But it’s reality for them.
No wonder it can easily spill over into real life – as it did for the Jolie-Pitts who met and fell in love on the set of the film Mr & Mrs Smith.
Celebs may be great to watch on film. We admire them because of their talent and look up to them because they seem to have everything.
Except that the reliable love most of us crave more than anything else seems alarmingly out of reach for many celebs.
In public, celebrities seem to have it all. But they won’t unless, in private, they can make their loved one the real celebrity.