Posted by: chlost | June 6, 2010

A “Successful Marriage”?

The announcement about the Gores’ separation has come and gone.  I have now had a little time to think about it.  I am not sure why this piece of information has been rolling around in my mind, but now I will try to get it out of the brain and on to the blog. 

These people have been married for 40 years.  That means that they have been married twice as long as their ages when they married.  Two-thirds of their lives in a marriage.  Does this meet the definition of a lifetime?  Is this a successful marriage if it ends at this point?

Back when we started the institution of marriage, the lifespan for humans was much shorter than it is now.  The goal, I imagine, was to stay together long enough to have children and raise them to adulthood.  That would encompass the lifespan of most adults.  A few extra years to enjoy seeing some grandchildren, if you were lucky. That would be a success.

Life has changed.  I am not sure everyone would agree that it has changed for the better, but the fact is, we are different now than we were even a generation ago.  My parents were married for nearly 25 years.  They were happily married for perhaps half of those.  I can only guess by my childhood memories.  Kids aren’t paying all that much attention to their parents’ relationship unless it impacts their own lives. Three of their four children were adults by the time they separated.  Was that a successful marriage?  Should they have stayed together until the youngest child was an adult?  Should they have stayed together until the death of my father three years ago? 

Does the vow “till death do us part” mean until the physical death of the parties involved, or the death of the marriage?

I’m with the Gores on this.  Forty years are a long time.  They made it.  They did it.  They stayed together through very difficult times, including the lost election, the vice presidency, and whatever personal issues they have gone through in their private lives.  No one should expect them to continue if the marriage is done.  It is done.  For whatever reason, for any reason, for no reason. 

My husband and I have been married thirty years now.  Are we happy?  I can’t say we are.  Are we unhappy? I can’t say that, either.  We are together.  We care for each other.  We spend a lot of time together.  Our children are adults.  We didn’t go into this life together totally by choice.  We’ve made a go of it.  Our children would be devastated if we ever split up, especially our daughter. 

I deal with a lot of people going through divorces.  It would take a lot for me to put myself through that.  I think most divorce attorneys will tell you that the things we see make it unlikely that we take separation and divorce lightly. I see a lot of people at our age, after many years of marriage get divorced after the children are raised and out of the house. I’d also say that many, if not most, of them do not involve affairs by either party.  The Gores are just more famous than most.  The other thing that any divorce attorney will tell you is that only the two people in the marriage know what that marriage is really like.  No one else has a clue.  Not the children, not the friends, certainly not the media.  Those who maintain a facade of perfection are often those who are the most unhappy.  So don’t think you can tell if they were happy unless your name is Tipper or Al Gore. 

When people vow to stick it out, for better or worse, they have no idea how bad the worse can be.   The lifetime of marriage that we sign up for is longer than anyone ever anticipated.  Things change.  People change.  The world changes.  Forty years of doing any one thing is a success. 

The Gores deserve to be congratulated for their forty years of a successful marriage.  And best wishes to them for the future.



  1. I’m impressed by your balanced, compassionate views. But that is what I am coming to expect as I read more of your posts and begin to get to know you a little!
    I hope that the Gores are being treated kindly by your newspapers. Over here I heard nothing on the radio of their divorce: I rarely get time to read the newspapers.

  2. Another great post! I cherish every year with my wife, hoping and praying that we don’t end up growing apart like the Gore’s. We got one kiddo left in the nest and after he is gone, I don’t know what it will be like since we have not been alone with just the two of us for decades…..

  3. I agree. My grandparents were married for more than fifty years and were deeply unhappy for most of them. Where’s the sense in that? I was married for twenty years and we were happy for most of them, had two great children and continue, now that we are divorced, to be friends, business partners, and (most importantly) cooperative co-parents. I count our marriage as a success and one of the most valuable experiences of my life.

  4. This is a warm, beautifully written piece.

    I suppose many couples stay together after the children are older for financial reasons: probably easier unless things are unbearable emotionally or physically. Having financial resources would probably have made a difference to the Gores’ decision(s).

    Many older still-together couples just lead semi-separate lives with their own hobbies and friends. As far as I can see, it seems to work.

  5. This is a wonderful post ch; and although I think there must be more to the ‘we just grew apart’ reason for their divorce….I respect that they stayed together for what was probably their children’s sake. I much prefer that a marriage end on decent terms than to live unhappily in bitterness and resentment… and pass those feelings on to children and other family members. I’ve always felt everyone deserves to be happy, if it’s not at anyone else’s expense. ~Joy

  6. Much to agree with here. Our parents generation married for life come what may. The result is I see a lot of older couples who are married and I cannot figure out why, for the life of me.. they torment and make each other’s lives miserable. But would they divorce, probably not… they have their roles defined. Who would make my dinner, who would mow the lawn? It’s almost like a form of “Stockholm syndrome” where they have grown attached to their captors.

    I thought of the film “The way we were” when I heard of the Gore divorce. I know it is a fantasy, but still the principle of recognizing that people can grow personally but such can cause them to grow in different directions. I am guessing that, divorce notwithstanding, they still love one another. It’s that it has just changed.

  7. Yes, I agree.

  8. I so appreciate how clear-eyed you are here, neither icing your own marriage nor condemning the Gores for being human. Personally–and my own personal marital happiness notwithstanding–I don’t necessarily believe humans are meant to be monogamous (okay, spelling?). That you congratulate them at the end makes me really happy.

    …and not just because my mom filed for divorce from my dad five months before their 40th anniversary.

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