I always look for a silver lining with these types of news stories: ‘Brad and Angelina: It’s Over.’ In this latest case of a celeb marriage turned sour, I turned to our Chief Scientist Steve Carter, who has been studying relationships at eHarmony for 15+ years, for his take on why so many unions just don’t make it. What can the rest of us learn?
On the surface, it did look like Brangelina were a pretty solid pair, both passionate philanthropists with a love of family. They both shared the unusual experience of fame. They seemed like a good fit, didn’t they?
According to Dr. Carter, those similarities can only take you so far. “Brad and Angelina both seem like really mature people. They obviously made this last a long time. And yet it still didn’t work out. It seems like a perfect example of the basic foundations of compatibility not really being there. It comes down to this — over time if you have a weak foundation, the relationship will eventually be undermined and run down if there is a lack of core compatibility. It kind of seems like that’s the situation here. These two people, seemingly individually great people who appear to have it all together, just got to the point where it was too much work to overcome the core issues that make them different.”
Dr. Carter agrees that every relationship is bound to have conflict, even the most compatible ones. What it all boils down to is how you deal with this, regardless of what type of issue (family, financial, etc.) it is. If you get negative or nasty, it will be game over. “It’s really how you deal with conflict. Yes, there’s a lot of benefit to being compatible, as life is easier and you’ve got the materials to help you mitigate tough times. However, if you come into a situation with a hyper reactive or pessimistic attitude, you are going to undermine that relationship. The most important thing to remember is to be careful what you say to each other. Be nice. Play nice. You can’t take things back, no matter how much you apologize. If you say really negative things to your partner, it is going to corrode the marriage.” Of course, we don’t know the actual cause of Brad and Angelina’s split but this holds true more often than not.
“The lesson here is that the biggest predictor of happiness in your life is YOU, and how you behave and your ability to approach things in a positive, calm,’glass half-full’ way. If you enter into conflict with a very reactionary, pessimistic perspective, the situation is very likely to get worse instead of better. I’ve seen very compelling research that those behavior choices then absolutely create a corrosive effect on the quality of a relationship.”
As for navigating the next unfortunate chapter, a divorce, Dr. Carter agrees that taking the high road is the only way to go for everyone involved. “You need to put the children’s needs first, regardless of what you think of your spouse. It’s about the children. You look at divorces where this didn’t happen, like with Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin, it sure looked like the two of them let their personal grievances overwhelm the children’s needs and it was a disaster. But then you look at Bruce and Demi, where they appeared to have put their children first. Bottom line is if you focus on being the best possible parent you can be and put aside your negative feelings about the situation, in the long run you are going to be a lot happier. You won’t have to suffer any enormous public embarrassment.”