Not long ago, he was jumping on Oprah’s couch like a lovesick teen, and now Tom Cruise faces a bitter divorce with Katie Holmes. Why is it that when a couple seems to have everything: fame, fortune, health, and an adorable child, it doesn’t work? It’s enough to make everyone else hopeless. After all, if celebrities have everything and can’t make it, what are the chances for the rest of us?
Don’t worry. The very fact that they have it all is the very undoing of a good marriage.
Fame is dangerous to relationships for at least a couple of reasons. Most troubling is that it demands swaths of time away from each other, as seen by the divorce petition being served while Cruise is in Iceland on a shoot. My research of over 400 married women showed that the number one indicator of happiness in a marriage was the amount of time spent with one’s spouse. Women who were happily married reported spending a daily average of over 30 minutes of uninterrupted time talking to their man. Unhappy women reported a daily average of less than 30 minutes and 24% of those unhappy reported that they spent less than five minutes a day talking to their husbands.
It should come at no surprise that consistent time is necessary to sustain a happy marriage. All relationships need time and consistency. We need to keep up with each other’s lives, look into each other’s eyes, be in the same physical space to feel the mood and emotions from each other. Without that, we might love each other, but staying “in love” demands much more than occasional get-togethers where we catch up. You would never say to your six-year-old for example, “Hey, can’t wait to catch up but right now I’m finishing a project. I can’t wait to talk about first grade and catch up in a month or two.”
Celebrities seem content with the understanding that their work schedule will take them away from each other for long periods of time. However, it is a simple recipe for disaster.
The next problem of having “everything” is the inability to define what is your “couple culture.” A marriage needs to have a sense of meaning and a way to grow together – there needs to be a purpose to the union. Rarely do couples actually discuss what they want their culture to be. Rather, it generally forms as immense collective energy is thrown into career and/or family building. But when you have it all and it seems to come easy, couples often lose their way and life becomes a quick, steady path of self-indulgence.
The individuals no longer truly “need” the other to live happily. Instead, they just like being together. Yet, a couple needs to feel that life without the other is quite impossible. If a spouse does not feel a need to have the other in his or her life on a daily basis, that is a short step away from separation. After all, once separated, what have you truly lost? If you have been living your goals and dreams largely through your own strength and ability, then being married has become the spice instead of the main course.
The beauty of a Torah marriage is in the need for the other person in order to develop the very soul of both spouses. We cannot survive and grow as Hashem intended unless we work to make our marriage meaningful in and of itself. The marriage must be identified by the action it is taking as a collective force to better our world.
For your couplehood, make sure that you are spending regular consistent time with your spouse. Be sure that you are able to chat about the day and talk about things other than the stresses of life. Remind each other what you are building together and if you don’t know what that is – figure it out immediately.
Rabbi M. Gary Neuman is a New York Times best selling author and psychotherapist. He has appeared on Oprah, The Today Show, Dateline and GMA. For more information about Rabbi Neuman and his work go to www.mgaryneuman.com and follow him on facebook and twitter @mgaryneuman.