When I found out the news of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin's separation, I had the same reaction as when I heard the news of Heidi Klum and Seal in 2012. I was bummed.
Not because it affects me personally, of course. I was bummed foremost because, for me, any divorce is sad news. Marriage is generally happy news, evoking hope for a new start. Divorce is generally sad news, evoking second thoughts and regret.
But second, I was bummed because these couples were on the longer end of the Hollywood-marriage spectrum; these couples at least appeared on the outside to be holding on to the commitment of marriage over the years, despite its challenges, not just for the kids but to keep their promise to each other.
Gwyneth and Chris always seemed to have a happy marriage. Heidi and Seal yearly celebrated their marriage anniversary renewing their vows. But even good marriages suffer the strains of the world, and theirs were no less impervious. What's sad is when you see a difference between one's express intentions and one's actions.
Certainly every marriage and relationship is unique, and no outsider can say with true certainty what exactly caused the separation of any couple. But we do know what components are essential for couples to keep a healthy relationship, such as quality time on a regular basis, and we know that before the separation of Heidi and Seal, they spent several months apart doing separate projects. Seal was on his world tour, and Heidi was working on her many new projects since Project Runway. According to one source, "they rarely saw each other and it wouldn't be unusual for them to go months without spending any real quality time together. Ships that pass in the night would be an overstatement [sic]."
Heidi and Seal's seven-year marriage might have been longer than the one-year marriage of Katy Perry and Russell Brand, but they nonetheless appear to have the same cause of death: spending long times apart. The relationship suffers a slow and fatal lack of nourishment, much like a plant that's not exposed to water or sun.
The particular risk for celebrities is that long times apart are often coupled with a lot of attention and affection from others, and they risk letting this admiration fill the space that their spouse's attention once filled. It's what average people might encounter if they have a long-distance job assignment alongside an attractive and attentive coworker. For celebrities, the love affair forms with their fans. For average people, a long time apart doesn't always coincide with a mistress waiting in the wings. For celebrities, though, a long time apart always coincides with attention from others; their fans and celebrators never leave.
I would have no basis to discern the causes of Katy Perry's short marriage with Russell Brand if she hadn't closely documented its slow decline in her 2012 autobiographical film Part of Me. One imagines that Katy thought sharing that personal sadness of her declining marriage in the film was an emotionally intimate thing to share with her fans. But for me it made for a very sad movie—watching Katy tossed in the current of her increasing popularity, running from city to city in an epically long tour, breaking records on Billboard lists, pressured to make the show go on by her staff, who are most embarrassingly captured overriding and ignoring her requests for weekly personal days with her groom. Soon Katy got sucked in by all the attention and started prioritizing her work and fame over time with her husband. Not long after, she was dumped by text (also depressingly captured on film). If one's most intimate communication with their husband is squeezed into forty characters or less and one's communication with fans is recorded in high-def, it's fair to say the love affair is dangerously close to ending the marriage.
In Vogue's April cover story, Kim Kardashian reveals the hardest part of her relationship with Kanye West is "trying to keep the outside world from breaking into our bond." Considering her mother's the executive producer of a show meant to keep the outside world involved in their personal lives, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Kim's concerns are legitimate and don't bode well for her second marriage. It turns out being the #worldsmosttalkedaboutcouple might not always equate to being the happiest one.
Other Hollywood couples find it takes not only intention but action to safeguard their marriage. When Glamourinterviewed No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani for the October 2009 cover story, they asked a provocative question about her marriage with rockstar Gavin Rosdale, to which Gwen replied smartly: " I don’t really like talking about Gavin because, why would I do that? It’s the one place you need to really protect yourself: your family and your marriage."
Other stars, like actors Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr, prioritize their marriage over career opportunities. According to IMDb, Sarah "turned down a lead role in [the 2007 film] Stardust because she didn't want to be apart from husband Freddie Prinze Jr. The star married Prinze Jr. in 2002, and the couple made a vow to avoid conflicting work schedules so they could spend more time together."
Sarah says, "I turned it down because it was Freddie's turn in New York. I would have loved to have done it—are you kidding? But it was Freddie's turn."
Do techniques like these make marriages bulletproof? No, but they certainly reveal a wiser, humbler approach, treating with a healthy fear the unique risks that face celebrity marriages.