If spring is the season for love, is summer the season for divorce? A rash of recently announced celebrity divorces and separations—Tiger and Elin, Al and Tipper, and now the Gores' daughter, Karenna—makes it feel as if everyone is untying the knot these days. Some married couples can't help but wonder, are they all on to something?
"I think divorce could be contagious," says Robi Ludwig a New York City-based psychotherapist who previously hosted the reality TV show, One Week to Save Your Marriage. " If there's a trend where people handle glitches in their relationship by ending them, that could be seen [by others] as a possible solution." Al and Tipper may have been inspired to split after living through both of their daughters' marital woes, she says. Karenna separated from her husband several months ago, according to their statements to various media outlets. And the Gores' younger daughter, Kristin, filed for divorce from her husband in 2009. While it's well established that children from divorced homes are more likely to get divorced themselves, parents may not be immune to their children's divorces, either. "I'm working with a couple whose daughter moved back in with them after her divorce," says Ludwig, "and the marriage is in trouble because the mother is focused on the daughter's troubles and the father feels his emotional needs are being ignored."
Unfortunately, there is no expiration date on any marriage. Couples can be together for 40 years, like Al and Tipper, and still decide to call it quits. "One would think after several decades together, a couple would have a found good ways to iron out all the kinks in a relationship, but no marriage is ever completely safe," says Ludwig. Here are 5 factors that can ruin any relationship:
1. Contempt or mockery. If your partner is making you feeling horrible about yourself or is not supportive of who you are, that's a sign the marriage may dissolve. "I don't think you can love someone who you don't respect," says Ludwig. "If you don't respect your partner, how can you make her your go-to person when you need to be nurtured or taken care of?" Someone who laughs at your dreams, undermines your efforts, or brushes off your concerns as foolish probably isn't worth staying married to, either. Support is crucial for any satisfying marriage, Ludwig adds, but that doesn't mean you have to share the same hopes and dreams. "You partner just has to be willing to share in your joy," she says, or your disappointments.
2. Earning inequities. Despite all the advances women have made in the workforce, many are still uncomfortable earning more than their spouses. And research suggests this earning inequity leads to unhappy marriages. "Higher-earning wives are often inclined to feel angry that they have to take care of their husbands, or they feel less feminine," says Ludwig. Often this leads them to lose respect for their spouses. (See No. 1.) A patient of Ludwig's, a corporate CEO, says she feels ashamed that her stay-at-home husband is the one who handles E-mails from her children's school. Another threatened to divorce her husband if he didn't get a job, but then he divorced her after he was hired because he didn't want the marriage to be so conditional.
3. Sickness. Serious illness can also make or break a marriage. Some partners love to be caregivers because it makes them feel nurtured, needed, or powerful, while others bolt when faced with what they see as an enormous burden. And sometimes, marriages end after health is restored, when the helpful spouse's need-to-be-needed goes unfulfilled. "One patient told me the best time in her marriage was when she had breast cancer," says Ludwig. But when she finished her treatments, her husband treated her terribly and ended up marrying someone else with a chronic illness, says Ludwig.