Jennifer Lopez & Marc Anthony: Was Their Divorce Preventable?


Childhood insecurities tore them apart but that could be the secret to healing their marriage.

Let me start with a disclaimer: I am not personally familiar with Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, or any of Ms. Lopez’s ex-husbands. I also don’t follow the lives of stars. I do follow lives, however. Specifically, I'm concerned about the lives of couples on the brink of divorce. I am particularly concerned with the way emotional abuse can stealthily seep into and corrode marriages.

Nevertheless, marriages like that of Ms. Lopez and Mr. Anthony can be healed.

By the end of Jennifer Lopez’s marriage to Marc Anthony, US Weekly reported a source saying that Ms. Lopez could no longer take the amount of control her husband was having over every detail in her life including her wardrobe, her business projects, and with whom she worked. Yet, it was this very quality—taking control—that the same story reports attracted her to Mr. Anthony in the first place. One source said that in the beginning of the relationship Ms. Lopez was happy to get a “break” from always being in charge; she wanted someone else to take the lead.

The phenomenon of a woman being happy to relinquish control to a man who steps in and makes life “easier” for her by making many decisions is a red flag for emotional abuse. As we will see, it may have duplicated a toxic element in her childhood home.

Ms. Lopez’s previous choices of men were also poor. Her first husband, Ojani Noa, with whom she was married in 1997 for under a year, subsequently tried to sell “racy” videos of the actress from their marriage.

Ms. Lopez’s next relationship was to rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs who was arrested along with Ms. Lopez after fleeing a nightclub in which Combs’s party became involved in a gunfight with another group. This, Ms. Lopez, comments, was the lowest point in her life although the Daily News in 1999 reported that the relationship was already rocky by then. Later on, the rapper confessed that he had cheated on Ms. Lopez.

Two short relationships followed: an eight-month marriage to Cris Judd, and an engagement to Ben Affleck. There were rumors of extra-marital dalliances surrounding both men.

A history like this is astonishing when you consider Ms. Lopez’s keen business sense and huge financial success. How can an otherwise savvy person make such poor choices in partners? US Weekly in August, 2011 quoted a friend as saying that Ms. Lopez is “insecure.” How could such an acclaimed, chart-topping actress-musician-dancer-producer named the most beautiful woman in the world be insecure?

For reasons only lately being uncovered by neuroscientists, what we perceive to be truth as children tends to outweigh evidence to the contrary in adulthood. That is why otherwise-successful people who were put down in childhood might be insecure. But Ms. Lopez surely was not put down in childhood, or was she?

The July 11, 2011 Daily News and Analysis of London quoted Ms. Lopez as attributing to her mother her love of music, clean living, hard work, and vision for the future. In 2006, she said her father was the best man she knew. Elsewhere, Ms. Lopez commented that she grew up with strong family ties and would like to replicate that in a life partner.

In spite of this, Ms. Lopez moved out of her parents’ home at age 18. Generally, eighteen-year-olds leave home either to go to college, to work in a distant city, or because they are experiencing friction with their parents. What’s more, Ms. Lopez confessed that she left home in spite of her fear of being alone. She remarked that this fear must be what led her to rush into inappropriate marriages. Is it possible that in spite of the warmth and love she received at home, there was something toxic there that made her want to leave?

A clue came in a 2005 interview in which she said, in reference to her mother’s opinion of then husband, Mr. Anthony, "My mom's tough. I don't want to get into that because it's a little personal and she gets angry with me when I say things. But, you know, she loves me a lot, so no-one's good enough."

In 2007, Ms. Lopez and her mother were not talking at all, and in 2008, back to being on speaking terms, her mother would call her every day wanting to know if she was expecting yet. When the latest marriage was on the verge of a breakup, her mother contacted her former fiancé, Ben Affleck, for advice. It would seem that besides loving and encouraging her daughter, Ms. Lopez’s mother, Guadeloupe, also was over-reaching. Clearly, her mother wanted help; she had run out of ideas. Her motives were kind and loving, but her actions were a major invasion of privacy and highly disrespectful to her adult daughter. What age should a child be before a parent has no business in that child’s business?

It’s difficult for a parent to find that sweet spot between letting children govern themselves without supervision or guidance—a malady far too prevalent in today’s world—and doing too much thinking for them. Difficult as it is, avoiding both extremes is necessary.

When a parent has too many answers, a child will not have enough of them. When that child reaches adulthood, he or she will make their own decisions—with or without much childhood experience in doing so. In short, that child grows up lacking a tool for living: How to make good decisions. Perhaps this is the key to Ms. Lopez’s poor decisions in men. Perhaps her mother tried to think for her just a bit too much, something that would, indeed, leave her daughter insecure.

Mr. Anthony may have shared more with his now ex-wife than either one of them realized. He, too, has had major artistic success both in music and film. He also had a previous divorce and a child with another woman prior to his first marriage. Like Ms. Lopez, he grew up in a warm Puerto Rican home. His father taught him composition and, years later, they performed together a hit that his father had composed. Clearly, there was love in his childhood home, but there was something else, too, that led to his attempts to control his wife and his bouts of temper, both of which are indications of insecurity.

Couples are drawn to each other not only because opposites attract, but because of the strong similarities in their families of origin—and the coping skills they learned there. Indeed, something from their early relationships caused insecurity in both of them.

The idea that similarities attract sounds like a formula for disaster, but it has the potential to be a recipe for growth. Couples with childhood pain can express that pain by lashing out at one another or they can help each other get past their pasts. When two people deeply understand each other because of these root similarities, they can use that understanding to support each other in a quest to heal from childhood insecurities. Here are three tools that Mr. Anthony and Ms. Lopez could have used to bolster each other’s quest for emotional strength:

Fight negative thinking: Whether that negative thinking takes the form of being jealous, critical, controlling, controlled, or rebellious, it must be constantly—and consciously—countered.

• Search for the good: The negative thinking must not only be erased but replaced with a determination to find the good in your partner’s intentions and behavior.

Develop mind-altering skills: Progressive relaxation, meditation, and deep breathing have all been shown to reduce stress, anger, and depression and improve clarity of thinking.

Is it difficult to train oneself to think differently? Of course. But Mr. Anthony and Ms. Lopez are already masters of learning new and complex skills. This would not be beyond them and it would not be beyond any of us, either. Besides, there is a built-in support system when partners encourage each other. And that is exactly my point.