As news comes in of another high profile celebrity marital breakdown, the collective response is likely to be one of resigned, yet poignant acceptance – albeit tinged with a sense of melancholy. If the couples that seemed to suit each other and who appeared so incredibly happy are unable to continue in marriage, what hope is there for the rest of us? Couples that only months ago, or a year or two before, revelled in their monogamy and compatibility or exuded an aura of romance and fun in a public setting or event, frequently move on to announce a decision to divorce. (Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr spring to mind.)
And yet the messages in Gwyneth Paltrow’s and Chris Martin’s admission of their split are somewhat conflicting – though such sentiments are becoming ever more common. Statements such as: “While we love each other very much…” and “We… will always be a family”, or “we are closer than we have ever been” contrast harshly alongside words which inform us that “We have decided to separate” and “as we consciously uncouple”.
No matter how it is euphemistically defined, the stark sadness of divorce cannot be masked by redefining it as ‘conscious uncoupling’. In an attempt to downplay the reality of a family severed by broken relationship, this less offensive phrase has been very carefully chosen. Ultimately, the children won’t be concerned by semantics. They will face the reality for what it is: their parents no longer love each other enough to live together anymore; their family unit has been broken. The children won’t enthuse about the plans to ‘co-parent’ either; they’ll simply recognise that their lives have been irrevocably changed. Yes, they will still hopefully have loving and involved parents who care so much, but whatever the arrangements, access to one or other parent will be limited and that sense of unique togetherness will never be truly replicated post divorce.
Although Gwyneth and Chris reveal their attempts at “working hard… to see what might have been possible” between them, at the end of the day they have decided, as countless before them, to choose the route of separation. Whichever way you look at it – and whatever language is chosen, another marriage covenant has been broken due to personal preference. We may never know the full reasons for friends or celebrities deciding to divorce, but it would seem that increased cultural acceptance of divorce, along with ease of access, has devalued this once sacred covenant.
Despite their upbeat confessions about co-parenting and being a family, even this celebrity couple have no other way to describe their parting after 11 years of marriage, other than something of ‘sadness’. (“It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate,” begins the announcement.) In choosing to ‘consciously uncouple’, the celebrity pair have once again followed the cultural trend to consciously not revive, renew and reignite the love, passion and commitment that they once pledged to one another.
And it is not just sad for those immediately involved. Grandparents, friends and the wider community are also affected by a sense of loss, I believe, every time another marriage breaks down. For marriage is not just about us; it’s a reflection of community, co-operation, trust, sacrifice and, most of all, unconditional love. When marriages remain intact, we see evidence of love in action; love that is focused on the other and not on self. In this way, marriage uniquely reflects God’s covenant of love with us. And even when we don’t deserve it, He remains committed to us.
Perhaps ‘commitment’ and ‘covenant’ should once again become buzz words for us to explore. For couples won’t always feel in love; there will always be challenges and difficulties, good times and bad. One of the most invaluable messages I ever learned before getting married, is summed up in the book Love is a Decision by Gary Smalley. For most people (where there are no issues of abuse or risk), marriage can be enjoyable and long term when a couple make a decision to love each other, regardless of their feelings or circumstances. When both commit to that decision – essentially the vows promised at their wedding – relationships are often restored and ultimately come through troublesome phases stronger and happier.