The fairy tale marriage of Katy Perry and Russell Brand is over, fourteen months after it began. Katy and Russell join the ranks of celebrities whose wedding nuptials were . . . temporary. Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries lasted only 72 days. Britney Spears and Jason Alexander lasted two.
We’ve all heard a jumble of less-than-educated guesses as to why many celebrity relationships don’t last: “They spend too much time apart.” “They have intimate scenes with other people.” “They’re too obsessed with themselves.” “They only care about fame.” But what are the real reasons for so many celebrity break-ups?
According to Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Balkeslee, authors of The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts, all good marriages have one thing in common: Both partners feel respected and cherished.
In a study of 50 married couples who described themselves as “happily married,” Wallerstein identified nine building blocks that created a foundation for a good marriage, which we can condense into three major take-home recommendations for a happy relationship: (1) create your own space; (2) fireproof; and (3) go organic.
Create Your Own Space
Happy couples carve out their own little piece of the universe–a place where only they have the final say. They listen to mom-in-law pontificate about the advantages of hardwood floors, but choose carpet if their partner has a penchant for shag.
Happy couples enjoy each other’s company but support independent hobbies. They watch Vampire Diaries together–of which separate viewing constitutes a personal betrayal–but also welcome independent golf trips and weekends at the spa. In essence, they build togetherness, but foster autonomy.
Katy and Russell certainly had autonomy, but they had trouble staking a claim and prospecting together in the gold rush of marriage. Katy’s parents may have been toxic. Russell may have sown his seed in places it didn’t belong. But certainly, as time went on, it became clear that the couple didn’t have a real sense of “place.” They failed to make the transition from “you and me” to “us.”
To prevent a house from burning down, you take certain precautions. You blow out the candles before you leave the room. You don’t leave the dishrag next to the gas stove. And you certainly don’t let your three-year-old play with matches.
Happy couples fireproof a relationship in much the same way. They create a safe place for conflict by avoiding inflammatory communication like name calling, stonewalling, or derogation. They deal with an issue specifically and avoid making blanket statements. Pizza on the wall after Monday Night Fooball? Game on. But it doesn’t snowball into, “You don’t pull your weight in this relationship.” And the pizza on the wall five years ago after a bachelor party? Off-limits.
As Katy and Russell’s marriage progressed, it was clear that they lacked fireproofing skills. According to Rick Mahr, a music executive and friend of Katy, their communication skills needed an overhaul–they fought almost every time they were together. It was clear that their reactions to life’s stresses were creating a wedge (not the hoped-for solidarity happy couples experience) as they spent more and more time apart, even on holidays.
There’s something about growing your own food that makes you appreciate nature’s magic. It’s exciting to see the first tendril break ground, then another, and another. And when those sorry little tomato plants in chipped clay pots are weighed down with ripe, red fruit–well, that’s something to celebrate, especially when you find out how much better homegrown tomatoes taste than their store-bought lookalikes.
Much the same way, happy couples know that a relationship needs constant nurturing–emotional, sexual, and social–to grow. If even one of these areas is neglected, the relationship can become diseased and die. Happy couples rally when they’re really too tired for sex, because their partner is in the mood. They say, “You do not look fat in those jeans” for the thousandth time and still manage to sound sincere. And they laugh at the same old story that their partner has been telling at parties for years, even when everyone else groans.
It is clear that Katy and Russell felt passionately about each other; but their frequent fighting and long stints apart prevented them from cultivating a relationship in which they both felt respected and cherished. (Russell’s tweeting of unflattering pictures of his wife probably didn’t help matters, either.) Their relationship withered because they weren’t able to give it the nutrients it needed to grow.
Now, there’s no doubt that Katy and Russell are exceptional people. They exude talent, personality and charm. Perhaps the time wasn’t right for this couple to make a go of it, or perhaps they still have more to learn about creating happy relationships. But we can learn from their all-too-public divorce. Create a space for your relationship, fireproof it, and cultivate it into something special.
Amy Osmond Cook, Ph.D. is a faculty associate at Arizona State University, where she teaches Communication and English classes. She is the publisher of Sourced Media Books and co-author of Hope After Divorce and Full Bloom: Cultivating Success. Amy and her husband, Jeff, have five children and look forward to welcoming baby #6 in April 2012. For more information about Amy, please visit amyosmondcook.com.