Dear Rabbi and Susan,
I enjoy the wisdom that you show us, your happy warriors, through your many avenues of teaching. I’ll keep my question brief. Why is it, that when a celebrity couple decides they no longer wish to honor their matrimonial vows, they always praise the other person for being such a wonderful person and say they have the highest respect for him or her? If they have that respect and stated emotions, why not stay together? I won’t belabor the point. I’ll merely include a link to the story that prompted my thoughts.
I would love to hear your thoughts, even if it is merely to say that many of these marriages are based on “feelings” and not true love.
If you’ll excuse us, before answering your question we would like to explain the phrase you used, ‘happy warriors’. This is how I, (RDL) envision the listeners to my popular podcast. One of those happy warriors, Andrew, started a growing Facebook page where listeners discussed the latest podcast. A short while ago, he agreed to morph that page into a new group, Friends of Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin, in order to broaden the conversation to those who may watch our TV show, read our books and columns or know us in other ways. It is fun to watch the group grow and to see our “friends” meeting each other. In this way the ‘happy warriors’ phrase has expanded beyond its original meaning.
Back to your question. Honestly, we had never heard of the couple featured in the magazine, but we did look at the link you sent. In a post on Instagram, the husband wrote, among other things, “With our hectic work schedules we could not be busier, and over the last few years have grown apart,” and spoke of his soon-to-be-ex-wife as, “one of the most incredible women I have ever met and the best mom to our kids.”
Your question seems to be that if that is how he feels about her, why are they getting divorced, especially as he says that their main focus is their two daughters. For loving parents, the logical solution to “growing apart” might be spending more time together.
Without taking refuge in frivolity, we do want to say that while there is much we do undertake to explain, mostly in the area of ancient Jewish wisdom, the behavior of celebrities truly does lie outside our field of expertise. Nonetheless, under the general heading of how the world REALLY works, we ought, at least to try and explain why someone who speaks so marvelously and admiringly about his wife proceeds to divorce her.
Our answer has two distinct parts, Eric. First, there is a world of difference between Hollywood and real life. Being in the public eye, especially today when everyone has access to everyone via social media, is not easy. We may think that we know what goes on in famous people’s private lives but that is an illusion. There is no reason for thinking that, ‘the public,’ is entitled to know the details about celebrity divorces. Those whose public comments are respectful of their ex-spouses should be commended for refusing to participate in mud-slinging and titillating gossip that might capture more eye-balls but will end up harming their children. Maybe what he writes is the whole story and maybe this husband is saying, “This is none of your business. Go elsewhere for your gossip.”
In the second part of our discussion, however, we want to comment on the pendulum swing that has made divorce not only socially acceptable but very common. We have moved from those times when a woman (usually) who was dealing with physical abuse, serious emotional abuse and/or a philandering husband was often stuck in the marriage partially because of the shame of being divorced. We have now reached a point where the word commitment seems not to be related to marriage at all. Especially when there are children, this is a great tragedy.
We would posit that “true love” is a feeling and while it is wonderful to strive and aim for as much positive feeling as possible, marriage isn’t based on feeling. It is a covenant, or a promise undertaken with God as a third party. Particularly when children are involved, the happiness, fulfillment and growth of parents should get much less weight than it frequently does today. We know that sounds harsh, but so is divorce.
Interestingly, ancient Jewish wisdom discusses the idea of friendship between divorced ex-spouses. While ex-couples need to be respectful of each other and not gossip or bad-mouth one another the idea of staying housemates or socializing together is discouraged. We think this is in line with what you are saying that divorce should be such an extreme act that if you are able to be friends, you should have stayed married and worked within the boundaries of the marriage to find fulfillment and happiness.
We are aware that this is very counter-cultural today and we, like many others, know couples who are very happily remarried. We know people whose children are charming and successful adults even though their parents were divorced. Nonetheless, on a societal level, it would be better for children and the family if the pendulum on the topic of divorce would swing healthily back again. If that was the point you were making, we are on the same page.
Not big readers of Hollywood gossip magazines,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin