by Debra Opri – Attorney and Legal Analyst
It has been a banner year for divorce filings. Let’s face it, with the Hollywood breakups and ongoing divorce courts overfilling with angry and disenfranchised ex loves, the first question any of us should ask is, “Why did they ever get married ?” Well, just the thought of asking Kim Kardashian this question, may invite yet another reality show. Asking Bethenny Frankel may incur the wrath of the ‘Skinnygirl’ magnate enough to invite one too many Skinnygirl cocktails just pondering one’s inner need to be happy. And don’t even go down the road to Tom Cruise’s house. Whether it be his one time wives, Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes, seems the only answer we will ever probably get is…. “Confidential settlement doesn’t allow discussions on this topic. Sorry.”
But the questions do remain: what makes a marriage last; and what makes one fail? And why do so many end in divorce. We may argue that we have a divorce epidemic, but before divorce one must also have a marriage, so does that mean that marriages are being entered in record numbers that maybe should not be? I don’t seem to have any other answer except the word that keeps my tongue tied in knots as a family law attorney – ‘commitment.’ It’s not something that should be started lightly. It requires a lot of work. And it’s something that requires both spouses to engage in. At times, I think that maybe the traditional wedding vows of yore really did mean something when it came to the commitment part….’in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, til death do us part.’ But does the meaning of these words really hold true in today’s world. Can it be the meaning of the word, commitment, that may have changed over the years. So let’s start there. Maybe the commitment to ‘commit’ to putting in the time to make the marriage ‘seed and grow’ may in fact be so small, that it can never bear the fruit of an eventual happy and long lasting marriage.
Maybe, in the end, the problem with failed marriages is that in this short attention span culture, there is an inability to build anything or anyone into the fabric of our own everyday lives, such that no matter how many seeds one plants in terms of the number of relationships one may ultimately have, the time a person is willing to commit to nurturing the relationship may be the reason why the seedling of a marriage will be unable to take hold and grow.
In a world where everything continues to happen faster and faster, where time itself, is seemingly moving at a rate of speed perhaps none of us can fully understand, then maybe the ‘commitment’ to a relationship itself will take on the speed by which we live our lives and move from one thing to the next, without taking the time to say “wait, what can I do to make this work,” and “am I willing to put in the time?” If we are unwilling to take the time to commit for the duration, such that we cannot define what that means for the success of our marriage; if each of us, instead, avows to a new expectation that there will be a commitment to take the time to and for each other, rather than “I can get out of this anytime,” then the daily grind of work, obligations, family and yes, relationships will no longer be what is wearing on the marriage. Instead, the marriage will be the ‘safe haven’ from the daily grinds of life. And isn’t that the way it should be?
There is no purpose analyzing what makes someone say ‘I don’t want this anymore.’ What may matter to someone else, may not matter to you. The ‘analysis’ really is different for each and every one of us, as to our particular individual lives. In the end, the reason why a Kim Kardashian or a Bethenny Frankel may no longer want the person they’re with, is of little relevance to your own relationship. Their ‘litmus’ tests for what makes their relationship work or fail, may not be your litmus test. More importantly, why waste the energy of focusing on why someone’s relationship failed, instead of looking at those people whose marriages do last. Why not analyze why these couple’s marriages have succeeded? Isn’t that a better use of your time? As a divorce attorney, I would say, ‘absolutely.’
So, first question is, of course, are there any good examples out there of a solid long lasting marital relationship? Of course. So whether it’s those couples in your own circle of friends, or those ‘public’ celebrity long term marriages that provide examples of solidity and commitment, the point is, if you’re looking you won’t have to look far. Just look around your own world. And if you need to explore long term ‘celebrity’ marriages, just look at a few of these : Will and Jada Smith [16 years], Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw [22 years], Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson [25 years], and the list goes on, until you generally should get the point. That there are marriages out there that do work.
Let’s also consider why the celebrity reporters out there can’t do stories on those long married couples that will provide us with strong, sensible answers of enduring time and commitment given to each other over the years, and why the relationship was strong or just lagging out of boredom. In other words, wouldn’t it help to know why the long lasting relationships like Spielberg and Capshaw, Hanks and Wilson, and the Smith’s still work? As a family law attorney who advises couples before marriage, I would.
In the end, whether it be a dissection or analysis of another’s marital life or strife, is it enough to give any of us the roadmap as to what may work for us personally? Will it help any of us to take the long, hard look inside our own marriage, and can there be any purpose served knowing the ‘inside’ story of those marriages that are not our own, that do break up? In the end, is it the successful marriage or the failed marriage that will provide any of us a direction on what we need in our own marriages to make them work?
I only know this. What works for some relationships will never work for others. I’ll say it again and again. Some spouses don’t want the same things other spouses want. And celebrity marriages are not usually the reality most of us have. But I also know this [for sure, as Oprah Winfrey would say]: in lieu of commitment, there is nothing else that can seed and sustain a long term marriage.
And so let’s end with Commitment with a Capital “C”. What if on every Valentine’s Day, there could be a running dialogue on what this word means, how long it should endure, what qualifies it and what quantifies it. Is it a momentary life choice, or a way of life. Will it work for you, or can it never work for someone like you. Those are the questions we should ask each Valentine’s Day….and each question must be to secure an understanding of this word and the world of ‘commitment,’ and how each of us defines it . As a divorce attorney, I’ve had my share of spouses who have wanted to file and serve their exes on Valentine’s Day. “Their way,” they say, “of letting their one time better half know they’re done with this commitment.” How telling. Makes one ask, “could this person ever really have been a ‘true’ Valentine?”