Oscars 2011: The Real Truth About The Best Actress Curse

natalie portman holding her best actress oscar trophy
Buzz, Love

Is the Best Actress Oscar curse real? And if so, how can the 2011 Oscar winner avoid splitsville?

Ever heard of the Best Actress Curse? You know, it seems like a woman can't win the Academy Award for Best Actress without subsequently losing her man? It may sound crazy but, according to research, the pattern really exists. With three of the five 2011 Oscar Best Actress nominees in serious relationships, we set out to find out why it happens, how leading ladies can avoid this Hollywood hex and what we non-famous folks can learn from it. 

And So It Began

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when talk of the curse first surfaced, but it seems to have been around nearly as long as Oscar himself. Claudette Colbert may have been the first victim. Her marriage ended in 1935, the same year that she won her Oscar for It Happened One Night. Rumor has it that Colbert's mother so disliked her son-in-law that she prevented him from living in the same house with his wife!

Other cursed Academy favorites include Bette Davis (Dangerous, 1935 and Jezebel, 1938; divorced in '38), Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce, 1946; divorced the same year), Jane Fonda (Klute, 1971; divorced in '73) and Cher (Moonstruck, 1988; waved bye-bye to bagel baker Rob Camilletti about a year later). And, according to a 2010 Los Angeles Times report, "Over the past 12 years, eight of the Best Actress champs busted up with their lovers after winning: Kate Winslet, Reese Witherspoon, Hilary Swank, Charlize Theron, Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow and Helen Hunt." And of course, we can now add Sandra Bullock to that list. Oscars 2011: Will The Best Actress Curse Continue?

Inspired by this baffling breakup trend, researchers at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management and Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study proving that Best Actress Oscar winners are a high-risk group for divorce and breakups: Oscar-winners were 63 percent more likely to get divorced earlier than non-winners. In fact, taking home one of those little gold guys could shave roughly five years off of a relationship.

Blame The Male Ego

There are plenty of explanations for the Best Actress Curse. The most popular one is the good, old-fashioned Bruised Male Ego Theory. Despite feminism's gains, social norms still dictate that men bring home the bacon, so it's possible that the husbands and boyfriends of these mega-stars can't handle their ladies' success.

"If a man is not confident and secure with his personal and professional life, he will be threatened by a bold, triumphant woman," says Dating coach and YourTango Expert Nicole Johnson. It's the same reason many high-powered businesswomen find their romantic success inversely related to their career achievement: it takes a secure man to marry a high-achieving woman. 9 Men Tell Us Straight: Do Successful Women Intimidate Them?

No, Blame The Female Ego

Clinical psychologist and YourTango Expert Dr. Adam Sheck sees it differently, citing what might be termed the Boosted Female Ego Theory. "My perspective is that a woman who is in a less-than-stellar relationship prior to the Oscar win now has a boost to her self-esteem and she's no longer willing to accept a relationship where her needs aren't fully met and where she might be treated poorly," says Sheck.

No argument here. We can all get behind a woman who wants out of a bad relationship. But what if things were perfectly fine before Oscar came along? According to Sheck, it's possible that "winning the Oscar might inflate [the actress' ego] so much, that she's ready to upgrade to a better relationship, more in keeping with her new prestige and power." Call that the Enormous Female Ego Theory. Sheck adds, "The man is not always the bad guy here—sometimes the woman is the one acting out her insecurities."

Blame The Lifestyle

Psychologist, life coach and YourTango Expert Dr. Amy Johnson sees the Hollywood lifestyle itself as the possible culprit: "[The Oscar-winning actress] just spent months shooting a film, often on location away from her husband. During that time, she's completely catered to on set. She's already being lauded for her excellent performance. The Oscar hype starts and everyone is talking about how great she is. Anyone in this situation would have an inflated ego.

"Then, she goes back home to her possibly-jealous-and-feeling-wounded husband. He's not stroking her ego; he's wanting to know when dinner will be ready. This can be a huge adjustment for the woman. It may lead her to wanting an upgrade, or it may lead to her wondering why her husband doesn't appreciate her like the rest of the world does. Either way, it's stressful." Winning an Oscar turns out to be a perfect storm of marriage-threatening elements. 7 Hollywood Husband And Wife Oscar Winners

Blame No One; It's Just A Coincidence

But dating coach and YourTango Expert Evan Marc Katz, is reluctant to place the blame on either the man or woman in these situations. Instead, he suggests that the curse is just a coincidence, created by a public "looking for messages when there is no message." According to Katz, "Hollywood is a weird, toxic environment. These are already weak marriages, so it's not surprising when a famous couple breaks up. When a couple makes it—that's news."

Katz makes a good point: celebrity relationships are not known for their stability. But whether stars break up because of awards or just because the wind blows, they sure could use some advice for making their love last longer.

Is There A Solution?

Dr. Johnson advises the winner to "be aware of the 'curse'" and do whatever it takes to get her relationship back on track the moment she notices it veering off. Given the track record of Best Actress winners before her, this year's winning lady would be well-advised to devote less time to speech-writing and more to shoring up her relationship before the big night. As each Best Actress nominees' situation is different, the experts offered advice specific to the three coupled-up hopefuls:

Natalie Portman – The current front-runner, Black Swan's Portman recently became engaged to dancer Benjamin Millepied, with whom she's also expecting a child. "[Natalie] may be in the spotlight, but her new family needs to be her priority," says online-dating coach and YourTango Expert Julie Spira. At the same time, the couple needs to "remember what attracted them to each other to begin with" when outside pressures start invading. "Natalie and Benjamin should schedule a romantic getaway and regular date nights," Spira suggests.

Nicole Kidman – "As Nicole Kidman already suffered through a divorce [from Tom Cruise], she knows how important it is to keep her relationship a priority," says Spira. "Fortunately, she met Keith [Urban] when she was already a superstar. She should continue to balance her work and career, as her formula seems to be working well."

Annette Bening – Spira believes that "Annette has what it takes to be the lifetime 'it girl' for Warren [Beatty]." She and Beatty have been together for nearly 20 years. Spira adds, "I have high hopes that they'll be together for the long haul, with or without her Oscar win."

Bening may indeed be immune to the Oscar curse. Warren's once-hot career has cooled down and he seems content to let Annette shine, which just may be the secret to their relationship. Katz says: "You can't have two people putting their careers before their relationship, because then there is no relationship." Why Be A Stay-At-Home Mom When You Can Have It ALL?!

What about the rest of us?

Does the Oscar curse translate to "real world" couples? While the Rotman School's study didn't focus on non-famous folks, Casciaro says that there is data to support the link between sudden status changes and ruined relationships. "This type of pattern has been documented before in the general population... our findings were generalizable and consistent with what we know about regular people. Perhaps the only surprising thing is that there is no difference [between famous and non-famous relationships]." 

One such real-world study, published last year in the Journal of Family Issues, found that the greater a married woman's success the more likely that she will end up divorced. Researchers at Western Washington University discovered that "the tipping point came when the wife pulled in at least 60 percent of the family's income. Couples in this position were 38 percent more likely in any given year to get divorced." The Rise Of The Sugar Mama

So, what do we do when a sudden status shift or financial windfall finds us? How can we prevent our good fortune from turning into bad love?

Communicate. It seems so obvious, but so many couples just don't know how to do it. "An elevation in status almost always denotes a financial elevation. The best way to safeguard your relationship against financial jealousy and resentment is through communication," says N. Johnson. "Talk to your partner about your new lifestyle and listen to his concerns. Never undermine or devalue his financial contributions."

Spira adds, "Communication is the key in all relationships. Couples should find the time to talk about how a career change will affect their relationship. Will having more money mean you have the resources to hire help for the menial tasks so you can spend quality time together, or will your new bigger career change mean your man will have less attention from you? You need to make sure you find new and creative ways to balance your love life and work life to keep your relationship healthy and fed."

"Choose a complement, not a clone." Although we can't always choose whom we fall in love with, this suggestion from Katz is a good takeaway for all couples. If you look at some of the most successful Hollywood couples—the aforementioned Bening and Beatty, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward—they all have something of a star/co-star relationship; they're not simultaneously vying for top billing.

Don't ignore tradition. "That men are 'supposed to' be more successful in their careers than women is an old societal belief that won't die easily," says Dr. Johnson. "Although I think most men intellectually know that it's outdated and they want to believe it, it's still part of how they were raised."

"One way we can make it easier moving forward is to be conscious mothers and aunts and grandmothers and encourage our children to try everything, regardless of gender roles," recommends Dr. Johnson.

While we can't know what, exactly, will happen to this year's Best Actress, we hope that, whoever she is, her love life follows her Oscar win to become a resounding success.