Let’s face it, long time relationships sometimes end. And the simple truth is there isn’t always a compelling reason or reasons why. The separation of Al and Tipper Gore after 40 years of marriage is a good illustration of the “why” question – why did their love affair end after all these years?
Here is what we know to be true – 40-year marriages rarely ever end in divorce! The Gores are now officially separated. Whether they ultimately end up getting a divorce is anybody’s guess, even theirs! But getting a divorce after 40 years defies the odds – it rarely happens – it is an anomaly. It almost never happens!
So the question of the day is, “Why are Al and Tipper separating?” The second most important question is, “Did anybody see it coming?”
After studying successfully married couples on six of the world’s seven continents over the past three decades, we have learned a lot about why marriages succeed. While we do not know the Gores personally, we bet we could have predicted their separation by simply interviewing them on our time-tested interview protocol.
You see, understanding what makes marriage successful is not really all that mysterious. It is actually pretty simple if you want to know the truth. And given the rarity of divorce after 40 years of marriage, we believe there is more to this story than meets the eye.
The most important notion we have learned about over the past three decades, and now understand completely because of our years of research on successful marriage, is the notion we have come to call, “a pervasive characteristic.”
In the simplest of terms, a pervasive characteristic is “a recurring pattern of thought and behavior.” It’s kind of like this old saying, “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it is probably a duck!”
In a nutshell, it is a way of saying that a person can learn to hide who they are, but in the end, they are who they are. The recurring pattern of thought and behavior that they exhibit tells you who they really are! You can cover up who you are for awhile, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but in the end, the real truth about you will prevail.
Relationships between two people exhibit pretty much the same blueprint. All relationships exhibit recurring patterns of thought and behavior. If you pay close attention, the patterns will emerge and you will learn a lot about the relationship between the two people you are observing.
So where does all this prelude lead? The truth is, the demise of the relationship between Al and Tipper Gore should not have come as a surprise to the thoughtful and detached observer. Their marriage, irrespective of its length, would have revealed to the world their real relationship through the pervasive characteristics their marriage exhibited over the years. Pervasive characteristics are powerful. They tell you all you need to know about a loving relationship between two human beings.
In the end, we would conclude the following regarding why long-term marriages like the Gore’s 40-year marriage fail:
1. If their long-term marriage was truly a successful marriage (long-term does NOT equal successful!), they would not be separating from each other. The warning signs had to be there for a long time – perhaps, from the beginning. The “pervasive characteristics” of their marriage probably told the truth about their relationship, but due to a variety of reasons (politics, children, well-known parents, etc.), they were probably ignored. In the end, the truth about their relationship will prevail.
2. One of the absolutely essential ingredients of a successful marriage is this – when you get married, you “turn two into one without losing individual identities.” Over the years, the Gores had increasingly lead two separate lives – he the environmentalist and she the author and photographer. They went their separate ways. They no longer shared much “common ground” in their marriage. Instead of a marriage in which they were defined together, they became a marriage defined by their individual identities. Sharing common ground is an essential ingredient of a successful marriage.
3. We bet the Gores no longer talk about anything and everything. They had developed in their relationship with each other, “sacred cows” – those issues and items they no longer talked about in their marriage. The best marriages we have studied over the years have no “sacred cows.” They talk about anything and everything. Our guess – the Gores left too many important issues left un-discussed and un-addressed. One of the tale-tail signs of a failing relationship is this – the couple finds things to NOT talk about. Bad idea and never a hallmark of a successful marriage.
4. The most successful marriages always report to us during our interviews that the one they love the most – their spouse – is their best friend. It is never enough to be in love! A successful marriage requires being in love and being best friends! Our guess, Al and Tipper have been in love, but have probably never been best friends. Being “best friends” is the defining characteristic of most successful marriages.
5. And finally, Al and Tipper didn’t make their relationship with each other come first. They had too many diversions. Al was traveling around the world without Tipper spreading his environmental message. Tipper was in to her photographer and writing. We are not saying that people in love should not maintain their interests and passions, but to do so at the expense of your spouse is to invite disaster in your marriage.
We suspect that the “pervasive characteristics” of Al and Tipper’s marriage have been obvious for a long time. A failed marriage, irrespective of its length, is not immune from the characteristics that define the marriage. In the end, any marriage is what it is – for good or for bad.
Heed the tale tail signs. Simple Things Matter in love and marriage. Love well!
By Dr. Charles D. Schmitz and Dr. Elizabeth A. Schmitz
For more tips to enhance your relationship get the Doctor’s best-selling and multiple-award winning book Building a Love that Lasts: The Seven Surprising Secrets of Successful Marriage (Jossey-Bass/Wiley 2010) Available wherever books are sold.
Winner of the INDIE Book Awards GOLD Medal for Best Relationship Book
Winner of the 2009 Mom’s Choice Awards GOLD Medal for Most Outstanding Relationships and Marriage Book
2009 Nautilus Book Awards Winner for Relationships
As America’s #1 Love and Marriage Experts and award-winning authors, Drs. Charles and Elizabeth Schmitz help international audiences answer questions about love, marriage and relationships. With 27 years of research on love and successful marriage across six continents of the world and their own 43-year marriage, the Doctors know what makes relationships work.
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