Magnetic Partners

What pulled you together maybe pulling you apart.

Empathy for Al and Tipper

The Touching End to a Long-Term Marriage.

I didn't know The Beatles John Lennon or George Harrison but I was, like many others, upset by their passing. Likewise, I don't know Al or Tipper Gore but I was saddened by the news of their split—and I certainly wasn't the only one affected. Several of the couples I've been treating expressed shock, and a real concern about their own futures. A 42-year-old married male brought to mind Laurence Olivier's famous line in the movie Marathon Man: "Is it safe?" He was expressing his anxiety over the prospects of his marriage even though it wasn't in any serious danger. "If you can't feel safe after 40 years together," he said, "maybe the whole institution of marriage is a farce."

Yep, the Gores have certainly had an impact—the shot heard 'round the country. But why shock? Is what happened to Al and Tipper as unusual as many are making it out to be? Probably not! Sure, it's extremely difficult to maintain a 40-year relationship—that's a given. But sadly, there's no divine pass to relationship heaven just because we stay with a partner for a minimum number of years. No...this isn't baseball where a player can cruise into the Hall of Fame because he hit 500 home runs or accrued 3,000 hits during his career. (What's in a number anyway? For all we know the Gore's marriage might have been over several years ago.) As my mother used to sarcastically say, "relationships should be so easy." Nevertheless, I can certainly empathize with my clients or anyone else who's been made uncomfortable by this situation. I can even cut myself some slack for feeling touched. But for what it's worth, I've chosen to reserve a sizeable dose of empathy for the Gores. After all, many still speak of them as if they are a batting average. For example, over lunch a female colleague asserted that the Gore marriage should be proclaimed a success because of its longevity. Reaching for his second egg roll, a male colleague wryly commented that marriage wasn't a game of horseshoes. "You don't get points for getting close," he said.

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Okay, so the Gores "almost" went the distance. Whether you want to give them credit or not, I can at least empathize with them for tackling one of the hardest things on the planet to do: stay married until death did them part. Divorce is a dirty word in most parts, and can certainly be the kiss of death for a politician. But I wish the Gores the best. They, like the rest of us, deserve to live out their years in a happy and healthy union even if it is with others. I only hope they've garnished enough insight to aid them on this journey.

Stephen J. Betchen, D.S.W., is the author of the book Magnetic Partners.

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