After 13 years of marriage, star NFL football player Tom Brady and renowned supermodel Gisele Bündchen announced their divorce.
“The decision to end a marriage is never easy but we have grown apart and while it is, of course, difficult to go through something like this, I feel blessed for the time we had together and only wish the best for Tom always,” Bündchen shared in a statement on her Instagram.
Brady also spoke out on the social platform: “We are blessed with beautiful and wonderful children who will continue to be the center of our world in every way. We will continue to work together as parents to always ensure they receive the love and attention they deserve,” he wrote.
Most of us are far too familiar with the grim statistics around how many marriages end in divorce, and there are numerous reasons why couples split. Per one study, the most common causes for divorce are lack of commitment, infidelity, conflict and arguing, as well as financial problems.
It’s been reported that Brady and Bündchen’s relationship has been on the rocks for some time: Bündchen told Elle Magazine last month that while she supports her husband’s career, it’s been hard for their family unit. “Obviously, I have my concerns—this is a very violent sport, and I have my children and I would like him to be more present,” she said in the interview. “I have definitely had those conversations with him over and over again. But ultimately, I feel that everybody has to make a decision that works for [them]. He needs to follow his joy, too.”
For many who follow the couple, the divorce came as a shock—in part because the pair lasted for 13 years, and because it shows “what you see on the outside isn’t always what’s happening on the inside,” Barbie Adler, founder and president of Selective Search Matchmaking, tells Fortune.
Divorce research shows that hitting that 10 year mark doesn’t safeguard relationships. So, how common is divorce in various stages of marriage?
- 0-5 years of marriage
Early days of marriage seem to be a high-risk time. One study found that about 10% of marriages fail in the first two years, in part due to the increased likelihood of infidelity during the beginning of marriage and also unmet expectations following the honeymoon phase. An older study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the probability of marriages ending within the first five years is 20%.
- 6-10 years of marriage
Research shows that the average length of a first marriage is about eight years, lending some weight to the concept of the “seven-year itch,” which refers to a decline in marital happiness after around seven years.
- 11-20 years of marriage
Some couples who have children may fare better after those high-risk early years, in part due to trying to “keep the family unit together when the kids are still in the house,” says Adler. However, once children leave home, divorce risk increases again at around 15 to 20 years of marriage.
Age also factors in: In the U.S., the median age for divorce is between 28 and 30. Roughly 43% of people between ages 55 and 64 have been divorced, according to the U.S. Census data from 2016. Divorce rates for those 50 and over, the so-called “gray divorce,” has roughly doubled from 1990 to 2015, according to a Pew survey.
So, how can your marriage beat the mid-life divorce odds?
Everyone evolves, and the key to a successful marriage is being able to evolve together. A large part of that is being each other’s fans, Adler says. Consider gassing each other up from time to time. Genuine compliments go a long way. This also means valuing your partner’s interests, needs and feelings, and articulating your own. It doesn’t mean everything needs to be equal, like perfectly splitting the house duties with personal hobbies.
“It’s not tit for tat. It’s more, we’re taking care of each other and lifting each other up, or we’re carrying each other over our shoulders through the hard times,” Adler says.
Remember that your partner is not just a “mirror” of you, but rather a compliment to you. Your relationship is a team.
It’s like you’re “co-CEOs,” Adler says. “You know your worth but you just merged with another company, and you want to make it work … What are you going to do to make it thrive?”
Articulate your needs
We all know that when we hold in our anger or frustration with someone’s behavior, it only begins to fester and can lead to resentment. So, let’s stop playing games and living in the past. Be an active participant in your relationships, experts say. Take the lead and tell your partner what you need from them. It’s a compliment to the relationship when a person feels comfortable enough to share a potential way it can be strengthened.
First, ask yourself: Why am I so bothered? What do I need to not feel this way? Take a look inward at your own background and relationship history so you can come to the conversation with self-awareness, something renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel emphasizes in her MasterClass on relational intelligence. Come from a place of kindness and say that you’ve been thinking about how you haven’t shared something you need.
Some of Adler’s clients experience relational difficulties when faced with something unexpected. Enjoying your partner in the “best of times” doesn’t cut it when life inevitably throws curveballs, which will happen no matter who you end up with, Adler says. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies; we all know that. Instead of expecting everything to go as planned, see challenges as a way to grow together.
“Once you get married and you find your person, that’s when the work begins, and you know who you are going to invest the time in,” she says.
While marriages are two way streets, there may be times where you have to give more for a while, lift them up, or even give them tough love, Adler says. You may never know when your time will come and you’ll be the person who needs the extra support.
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