An Exploration Into the Dynamics of Celebrity Marriages and Divorces
As Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony pack up their metaphoric and literal luggage to begin their recently announced separation, several thoughts come to our collective consciousness including: “big surprise”, “wonder why they broke up” and “is EVERY celebrity marriage doomed to break up eventually?”
Let’s start with the first. Big Surprise. I mean, seriously, big surprise. Or, as we used to say in the 80’s, “no duh”. Because, really, don’t most celebrities seem to break up? This year the casualties are mounting: Ashlee Simpson/Pete Wentz, Eva Longoria/Tony Parker, Maria Shriver/Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hugh Heffner/Crystal Harris (not sure if that one counts for so many reasons), Scarlett Johansen/Ryan Reynolds, Sandra Bullock/Jesse James and many others. So it’s literally no surprise. It’s, in fact, a trend. It is not shocking, not frowned upon, not really considered more than a good headline for a day or two. Maybe a week if you are Arnold and Maria...
But, these days, it’s just no big deal. Does that blasé dynamic contribute to the actual quantity of divorces? There’s no shame attached, no negative consequence to the career, in fact, some decent PR may come from it. Is this part of why so many celebrity divorces happen? Because it’s so easy?
It’s certainly one hypothesis. There is a general attitude that marriage, in the context of celebrity, is just not something that is taken that seriously. It is almost effortless to marry and equally effortless to divorce. Both processes require money and coordinated logistics. Celebrities have access to both. Access to money is a given and that very money provides them access to pay people who handle the logistics of planning a wedding and the details of coordinating a divorce. Nannies and housekeepers and assistants also make both states of being (marriage and divorce) a bit easier. So maybe entering into it and bailing on it just don’t feel like significant events. Perhaps this line of thought represents one argument for the notion that celebrities divorce more often than the layperson.
The second collective thought that tends to emerge in the wake of yet another break up announcement centers around curiosity about the split. “Why did they break up?” Well, why DID they break up? Of course, we don’t REALLY know, because we are not there. We can only speculate based on “insider reports”. Or deduce based upon observed circumstances and behaviors. But it seems like there may be some common themes worth understanding and exploring:
This seems to be a big one in the celebrity world. Schedules are conflicting due to different projects; movies, shoots etc. and the celebrity couple simply don’t have enough time to spend with each other. They are committed to their crafts and to the promotional work required for their projects and often prioritize it over their relationship. This can be a dynamic that creates resentment and distance over time. The couple begins to feel like they are living separate lives. And one or both may feel slighted or angry that the other chooses not to prioritize them over their careers. Yet they themselves exhibit the same behavior. It is an intersection of a lot of complicated dynamics.
Look, there is a lot to do as a celebrity. The schedule can be packed with travel and appearances, long shoot days, etc. And celebrity is fleeting. One must take advantage of it while there is momentum so saying “no” is difficult when one’s star is rising. Or even semi-rising. And then there may be some narcissism in the mix. When one hears the term “narcissist”, the image of a selfish, self absorbed, arrogant person comes to mind. And don’t get me wrong, this is true. But there’s more. Behind every narcissist is an insecure, wounded person. An individual who feels less than, not tended to, in danger of losing a sense of themselves. Becoming a celebrity can generate delicious feelings on the opposite side of the spectrum. En masse. The attention and adoration one receives as a celebrity can create a feeling of well being, self esteem, self worth and import that is very consuming and heady. And serves to mask those unwanted feelings of insecurity. So, in a sense, the celebrity stuff becomes addictive. For some, it can serve to cover up painful, negative, unwanted feelings.
So for that subset of celebrities, choosing to engage in all behaviors that can generate those feelings of well being is hard to pass up. So in these circumstances, given the choice: movie premieres vs. wife’s 30th birthday---movie premiere wins out. Too often. Maybe even every time. This dynamic can spread the seeds of disconnection.
Celebrities have access to a lot of people, places, and things that regular folks don’t. In many ways, this is a wonderful thing; fun, exciting, adventurous. In other ways, this access can distill the feelings and connection one may have to their marriage and partner. Access to people means access to a lot of beautiful, interesting people in beautiful, interesting settings. Movie sets, music tours, sound stages, production studios are intimate places at which celebrities spend hours working, creating, and being. This provides time for intimacy to build outside of one’s marriage. The very nature of the work sanctions, even encourages, this kind of intimate interaction. After all, it makes for better chemistry, a better film. This may cause temptation, infidelity, or at minimum, a sense of distance in a relationship. This dynamic may ultimately be a significant and contributing factor to the end of a celebrity marriage.
Access to places and things potentially play a similar role. There is much abundance in the world of celebrity. A celebrity can travel wherever they’d like to go and buy whatever they’d like to have. Much stimulation comes from these kinds of experiences. Travel and shopping and activities can take one’s attention away from the core of their intimate relationship as they are distracted by the heady fun that comes from all that is available to celebrities due to their money and status. This may be yet another part of the celebrity phenomenon that enhances the odds of a break up.
The aftermath of a celebrity divorce may be easier than a non-celebrity divorce. The money, of course, makes the financials a non-issue, or at minimum less complicated than the average. Sure, dividing up all that money, possibly losing some of it due to divorce settlement is sure to provoke much anxiety and stress—but far less difficult than those who have to survey if they can even survive at all financially in the wake of a divorce. Rebounding, as a celebrity seems, well, easier. I mean, there is always a premiere to attend, a project to start, and interview to complete. And meeting someone else…seems easier as well. Celebrities seem to be able to quickly come into contact with another available, attractive, desirable colleague. So the alone period, the mourning period seems less daunting. Perhaps another reason celebrity divorces appear to be so rampant.
But, alas, these are speculations. The truth lies somewhere in between. I mean, after all, celebrities are just people too. With hearts and wounds and fears and insecurities just like us. And breaking up hurts. The sense of failure, the loss of a dream, the trauma on the children, the letting go of someone you once loved and dreamed of forever with. No matter how much money or fame—this hurts. There just may be a few factors that make it more possible. More palatable. Which seemed worth exploring given the frequency.
Let’s also remember that the divorce rate is over 50% in this country-- which underscores the difficulty of staying together—celebrity or non-celebrity. Marriage is hard and requires a lot of work. It reminds us all of the importance of working at it.
Dr. Hillary Goldsher, Psy.D, MBA is a licensed clinical psychologist who has a private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. Please contact her for more insight into couples, marriage and all things celebrity.