Hollywood’s own Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones announced their separation this week. Since then, rumors have been swirling over whether or not it is true, and how far they might take it. So far, neither has filed for divorce or even legal separation but they are reported to be living apart after 13 years of marriage. The couple made headlines in 2000 when they exchanged rings, despite a 25-year age difference, in a lavish ceremony at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel. They went on to have two children together.
Marriage is hard under the best of circumstances. The constant push and pull of each partner’s needs demands work on a daily basis in an effort to make sure nobody feels they are getting the short end of the stick. Couples find themselves trying to accept each other’s differences and figuring out how to navigate them in order to find compatibility and compromise without becoming angry or resentful. All of that takes an inordinate amount of energy. Throw in a big gap in your ages, or a difference of religion or economic status as other couples might encounter, and there are even more challenges. But Michael and Catherine seemed determined to not be dragged down by it.
The past few years have brought even bigger hurdles and hardship to the couple. Michael, now 68, received six months of grueling medical treatment for throat cancer between August 2010 and January 2011. Soon after, Catherine, now 43, went public with her diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder. In addition, Michael’s oldest son from his previous marriage to Diandra Luker battled substance abuse and was arrested and jailed for selling drugs in April 2010. He is now in prison and is scheduled to be released in 2018.
It is because Michael and Catherine have endured all these obstacles that they may have just the stamina, coupled with the coping skills, to soldier through yet another tough time. The love they share propelled them to steer their way beyond the troubles they have already faced. Both have experienced illnesses, his physical fight with a potentially deadly cancer, and her emotional fight with Bipolar disorder. When you are dealing with illness of this magnitude, the uncertainly and precariousness is like being under a Damocles sword and you never know when it’s going to drop.
This anxiety can totally drain you. Additionally, your ordinary roles get challenged. The sick partner is not him or herself, and the healthy partner must become the caretaker, not sure when or if their loved one will come back to them. This can place a tremendous burden on the individual and the marriage as a unit. When the ill person isn’t available the way he or she usually is, the other person might feel unsupported, angry, overwhelmed, frightened, and even alone. It is easy to reach a point where one or both partners feels so overwhelmed that it seems the only avenue to relief is an exit.
Perhaps all Michael and Catherine need now is to take a break and regroup. It might be that they have each reached a point where they have run out of not love, just gas. Time apart might allow them the opportunity they need to refuel their tanks in order to carry on their commitment to each other and move forward. What enabled them to make it this far in the face of all they have dealt with may help them get through these difficult times.
Michael and Catherine are clearly fighters. The fact that they have been together this long, and dealt with so much, illustrates how resilient they are as a couple. Hopefully the love they have will allow them to continue to fight the fight for their marriage. Sometimes taking a breather enables you to reboot. Stress may have taken its toll, but if anyone’s got what it takes to surmount it, it is Michael and Catherine.
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