Conscious Uncoupling: Why Celebrity Marriages Fail

Relationship commitment is all about how you think. Learn the real science of why celebrity marriages can’t stand the heat and discover how to make yours last.

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gwyneth chris martin

Another one bites the dust. Today, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced their official separation (or, in Goop-ese, their "conscious uncoupling.") "We have been working hard for well over a year, some of it together, some of it separated, to see what might have been possible between us, and we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate," they explained via a special post on Goop. Say what you will about celebrities and their privilleged lives, but who's to say they have it any easier than anyone else when it comes to breaking up? In fact—is it harder to maintain a marriage when you're a celebrity couple? 

While the average divorce rate for first marriages hovers around 40 percent, celebrity divorce lawyer Raoul Felder estimates that the stars’ divorce rate is well over 50 percent and points out that it’s tough to name more than a handful with long-term, happy marriages. What gives?!

MORE: One Easy Way to Save Your Marriage

Most of us have some version of “the list”—the celebrities we’d sleep with if we ever got the chance, no matter our relationship status—but the whole point is that we’ll never get that chance (someday, Hugh Jackman, wait for me!). Not so for celebrities. The person topping their list could easily be their next co-star or the host of that night’s house party.

But whether our pretty face is splashed on a billboard or propped up on our mother’s mantle, the science of what keeps us committed or leads us to stray is the same for everyone—celebrity marriages just shine a spotlight on a process we all go through. More than the rest of us, celebrities are constantly surrounded by what psychologists call “attractive alternatives,” meaning people who come into our lives that we might take a chance on if we were single. The more we let them in, the more likely we are to stray.

The Allure of the Attractive Alternative

When we’re in a committed relationship, some level of dependence keeps us coming back. “We are motivated to maintain a relationship when we are dependent on that person to meet our needs,” says Tim Loving, associate professor of psychology at University of Texas at Austin and co-founder of ScienceofRelationships.com. “We stay [in our current relationship] when we think that what we’re getting is better than what we perceive to be available elsewhere. If we think someone else can better meet our needs, then we’re going to leave.” (Think of Allie leaving her fiancé for lifelong love Noah in “The Notebook.”)

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