FFE Magazine

Top 10 Things We Learned About Marriage

By Susanna Schrobsdorff Time Logo

10. Prenups are on the Rise—But They’re Not Always Airtight


Celebrity Example: The Murdochs


More couples are opting for prenuptial agreements, according to a recent survey of 1,600 members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a professional group based in Chicago. In the survey, conducted from mid-September to mid-October, 63% of the respondents reported an increase in prenups over the past three years.  But even extensively lawyered agreements can’t guarantee a quick resolution.  Media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his wife Wendi Deng had a prenup when they filed for divorce in June after 14 years of marriage, but Deng challenged the agreement.  The pair wrangled for months over additional property and custody questions (they have two young daughters) before reaching a settlement in November.


9. Newlyweds Know In Their Gut If They’ve Made a Poor Choice


Celebrity Example: The Hanks-Wilsons


From left: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson in Paris, on Oct. 12, 2013.

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson defied celebrity marriage expectations when they celebrated 25 years together this year. The pair met in 1980 on the set of Hanks’s sitcom, “Bosom Buddies,” and Hanks has said his reaction to Wilson was immediate:  “Listen, I knew it from the get go. I met Rita Wilson and it was all over.” Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but there’s some new science to support those gut feelings: Researchers recently found that newlyweds know subconsciously whether they’ll have a happy relationship.  Participants in the study, published in the journal Science,  were shown a photo of their spouse for one-third of a second, followed by a word like “awesome,” or “awful.” People who took a little longer to identify negative words or who more quickly identified positive words, were more likely to be happily married at the end of the four-year study than newlyweds whose responses went the other way.  Scientists suspect that it takes the brain a fraction of a second to switch gears after seeing a photo of a spouse positively to identifying something negative–and vice versa.

8. Our In-Laws Have an Evolutionary Reason To Hate Us


Celebrity Example:  Kelly Clarkson and Brandon Blackstock


Finally an answer to a question that has plagued Romeos and Juliets for eons:  Why don’t her (or his) parents like me?  The answer might be in our genes, according to new research in the journal, Evolution & Human Behavior. The theory goes that parents resent spending more resources on one child than another to make up for support that their offspring’s partner can’t give them. Previous research has shown that parents tended to prioritize social class and family background for a son-in-law, because that best ensures the survival of their genes, while daughters placed greater value on physical attractiveness and sense of humor. Of course, if a girl has her own resources to start, it can be different story. When Kelly Clarkson married music manager, Brandon Blackstock in October, not only did the American Idol winner get a public welcome from her new in-law, country star Reba McEntire, who Blackstock’s stepmom, but McEntire even contributed to Clarkson’s new Christmas album.


7. Surviving Cancer and Marriage May Be Linked


Senior couple holding hands

Celebrity Example:  The Douglas-Zeta Joneses


A study published earlier this year in  The Journal of Clinical Oncology showed that married cancer patients live longer–and numerous studies have linked marriage to better health in general.  But once a serious  illness strikes, relationships can suffer.  And so it was for Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The pair separated  earlier this year after the  69-year-old actor, who has been successfully fighting a public battle with cancer,  said in a May interview that he thought his illness had been caused by a sexually transmitted disease (HPV) contracted during oral sex. Douglas, who originally announced he had throat cancer, later revealed that it was tongue cancer and said his comments about oral sex were taken out of context.  Meanwhile,  Zeta-Jones, 44, continues to be treated for bipolar disorder, a condition marked by cycles of depression and mood swings. Zeta-Jones disclosed her illness in 2011, saying it had exacerbated by the stress of her husband’s cancer. Even for couples who aren’t under constant tabloid scrutiny, chronic illness can increase the chance of divorce by as much as 70%, but the pair who have two children together, have said they’re still hoping for a reconciliation.


6. The Divorce Rate Is Unequal


Celebrity Example: The Weiner-Abedins


The divorce rate for first time marriages, after rising to a daunting 50% in the 1980’s, has been falling since 1996 and is now just above 40%.  But even that high percentage can be misleading when you look at certain demographics. Among middle- and upper-middle-income couples with college degrees, fewer than one in three marriages is likely  to end in divorce. So perhaps we shouldn’t have been so shocked when Huma Abedin, the highly accomplished wife of former New York City  mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, stayed with her husband this summer after he revealed that the humiliating extramarital sexting which forced him out of Congress  in 2011, had continued long after his public rehabilitation. Whether the pair, who have a son together, can save their marriage remains to be seen, especially if Abedin returns to her former job as top aide to Hillary Clinton. But her decision to try is no longer shocking.

5. Alimony Faces Extinction


Celebrity Example: The Kutcher-Moores


As TIME’s Belinda Luscombe reported earlier this year, alimony — the permanent kind, which gets paid until one spouse dies or the recipient remarries — is facing extinction, or at least a significant downsizing. Legislatures and courts across the country are taking a long, hard look at the purpose of alimony and the way it’s awarded, replacing court-determined payments that can vary wildly with ones determined by a formula or scrapping them altogether.  New laws probably won’t affect those who have spousal support built into a prenup, but the trend against awards is growing. Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s protracted divorce was reportedly stalled for months over her request for spousal support. But when papers ending the six-year marriage were filed in November, alimony was not part of the deal, according to the New York Daily News.


4. Low Drama Divorce is Possible


Celebrity Example: The Scarborough-Warens


Proving that not all celebrity divorces are conducted in the hot glow of the tabloids, Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and his wife of more than a decade, Susan Waren, kept their divorce under wraps for months before it landed in the papers. The marriage officially ended in January 2013, but the process was handled so discreetly, with the couple continuing to share their Connecticut home and co-parent their two children, that the news didn’t break until this fall.  And while Scarborough hasn’t revealed details of his current living arrangements, the idea that exes could continue to share a home, at least temporarily, in order to provide continuity for the children, isn’t as much of an anomaly as it might sound.  Rather it’s a twist on a relatively new child custody arrangement called “nesting” in which the children remain in the home and the parents switch in and out.   While that set-up has pros and cons for all involved, the focus on providing stability for kids whose parents are divorced or divorcing has been applauded by some experts.


3. A Wife’s Success Makes Her Man Feel Small


Celebrity Examples: The Eastwoods and the Jenners

From left: Clint and Dina Eastwood at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) Art + Film Gala in Los Angeles, on Nov. 5, 2011.


Women like it when their husbands succeed, but when wives do well, male confidence takes a hit, according to new research from the American Psychological Association. Men  automatically interpret a partner’s success as their own failure, even if their wife’s victory is in an area that they’re not interested in, like hosting party… or a family reality show.  TakeMrs. Eastwood & Company,  the E! program that turned Dina Eastwood’s family into tabloid regulars even though her legendary Oscar-winning husband, Clint,  almost never appeared. Certainly, nothing could eclipse Mr. Eastwood’s star, but the show seemed to have eclipsed the marriage when Mr. and  Mrs. Eastwood separated  this fall. Meanwhile, Olympic gold medalist, Bruce Jenner’s 22-year marriage to the ubiquitous and entrepreneurial Kris Jenner, star of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, also faltered this year with Jenner moving out of their home/TV-set where often seemed overshadowed by his wife and her famous daughters, including Kim Kardashian.


2.Same-Sex Marriage Keeps Winning


Celebrity Examples: Modern Family’s Mitchell and Cameron


It was another landmark year for gay rights: In June, the Supreme Court instructed the federal government to provide equal treatment and benefits to same-sex spouses (overturning the Defense of Marriage Act) and the justices voted to allow the resumption of same-sex marriages in California. The victory was almost immediately incorporated into a Hollywood plot when the country’s most famous fictional gay couple, Modern Family’s Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) celebrated the ruling by getting engaged in the hit show’s 5th season premiere. The episode launched a season-long storyline of intense wedding planning that will likely culminate in TV’s most-watched same-sex nuptials, if not the first. The emotional on-screen proposal was echoed off-screen when Ferguson,  whose Tie the Knot foundation promotes marriage equality by selling bow ties, wed his partner Justin Mikita in July.


1. A Person Could Get Dizzy Trying to Pin Down the Definition of Family


Celebrity Example:  The Jolie-Pitts


Marriage rates are at historic lows in the U.S.– there are now 31 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women. In 1920, there were 92.3.  And nearly a quarter (23%) of all current unions are unmarried couples living together, which is more than double what it was 23 years ago. But the institution of marriage might get a publicity bump if the most famously not-married couple on the planet, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, walk down the aisle as Pitt has hinted. But the pair hardly needs more proof of commitment. Not  only are they parenting six children, but they’ve navigated a harrowing health ordeal together. Jolie  revealed in May that she’d had had a preventative double mastectomy after discovering that she carried the BRCA1 gene which can signal a high risk of breast cancer. Pitt praised his “heroic” partner and Jolie said that the two had “managed to find moments to laugh together. We knew this was the right thing to do for our family and that it would bring us closer. And it has.”



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