Sandra Bullock: Don't Marry an Outlaw with Kids

Sandra Bullock's marriage can teach us more than the standard Hollywood wisdom.

Posted May 19, 2010

Sandra Bullock's Divorce

Sandra Bullock and Jesse James

Sandra Bullock's marital misadventure has more to teach us than the standard Hollywood wisdom that celebrity marriages are fragile. In this case, Bullock made a mistake that some everyday, good-hearted women make: marrying a divorced "bad boy" who loves his kids and says he's now ready to be a good husband. I found at least six lessons in the story.

1. First, the obvious one. History matters: divorce often repeats itself and womanizers usually relapse. About sixty five percent of all remarriages end in divorce, and the odds are even higher for someone with multiple divorces. Jesse James, Bullock's husband, had been divorced twice, and he was a ladies man in the community. Guys like this are terrible candidates for marrying and having kids with. Love may conquer all but it doesn't make a leopard change its spots.

2. Study the previous wives. The more disturbed they are, the more worried you should be. Don't fall for a man who says how different you are; examine his marital track record in the most important decision of adult life. Jesse's last wife was a porn star.

3. Be cautious about the doting-father image if it comes at the expense of the kids' mother. A man who has won a bitter custody battle (even if it was necessary) has bloodied one important woman in his life. Jesse's second wife filed for custody after getting out of prison, and Jesse won. Your child with him may be his next battle.

4. Beware marrying a man whose kids need a mother. If the mother has abandoned her kids or she's so dysfunctional that she has lost access to them, there's s a hole in the kids' hearts that you are not going to fill. They may turn their resentment on you rather than on their real mother because they long for her-and you're the substitute who tells them to pick up after themselves. Your husband will have zero insight into this stepfamily dynamic, and blame you for being too sensitive.

5. No matter how much you love his kids, they are his kids and not yours. You are toast as a stepmother if the marriage ends, unless he lets you stay in their lives. When he moves on to another woman (as he will), she will get a vote on whether you can see these children whom you've come to love.

6. No matter how much you want a baby, be very cautious about having one until you have weathered the risky first several years of a stepfamily. The highest failure rates of remarriages are in the first 4 years. Sandra and Jesse reportedly tried hard early on to have a biological child and then adopted a baby while he was being unfaithful.

Does this mean that you should never marry someone with multiple divorces, serial infidelity, strange ex-spouses, and mother-starved kids? Well, maybe not. I do believe in the possibility of transformation. I'd look for one of two roads the guy has taken: either a lot of therapy (years of hard work) or a spiritual conversion in a community of accountability (as happens in A.A. and some religious settings). Even then, I'd not marry and have children with someone until their new life course has been set for years-different friends, different sense of self, different way to being in the world.

Apparently Jesse James has entered a rehab center specializing in alcohol, drug, and sex addictions. I hope he can begin the long journey to become a responsible man and father. I hope that Sandra Bullock gets help to learn from her mistake in marrying him, rather than chalk it up to a loving heart that was betrayed. In their doomed marriage, there are lessons for us all.

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