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Not every marriage should happen ... and other messages from the Brangelina divorce

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie will divorce after two years of marriage

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Trying to avoid the gory details of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s divorce? It might be wise to pay attention and learn from their mistakes -- because, under all that glitz, they’re human too.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say that celebrities are more narcissistic or self-centered than noncelebs, given that there are a million people trying to become a celebrity for every one celebrity there is,” said marriage and relationship expert Steve Carter, a psychologist who works at eHarmony in Santa Monica.

Celebrities -- because of their resources, lifestyles and adulation -- simply have more opportunities than the rest of us to mess things up, he added. The end result is the same.

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So, whether you’re on the A-list or the Z-list, here are some commonalities to keep in mind when it comes to calling it quits.

Not every marriage should happen

Pitt’s and Jolie’s fans, and reportedly their kids, kept rooting for them to get married after all those years together. It was nine years, to be exact, and then the marriage failed after two. Turns out we might as well have been rooting for them to break up.

“If you start off a relationship as an adult but you haven’t gotten married after five years, there’s probably a reason,” Carter said. Odds are there is a structural problem that’s not going to go away if you eventually say “I do.” The length of time waiting is a “strong indicator” of a flaw in compatibility, he added.

“Then you wind up seeing the couple, after they get married, just flaming out and getting divorced.”

We meet at work -- and then we break up

A workplace -- Hollywood, for example -- can be a fishbowl where one sees the same people over and over again during a workday or even during a career, said John Tarnoff, a psychologist and entertainment management expert at Carnegie Mellon University. His grad students often come to him asking how they can date in that environment without tanking their careers if a relationship goes south.

It’s not the end of a relationship that’s the problem, he says, but rather how a person handles it.

“Don’t burn bridges,” Tarnoff advised. “Stay positive no matter what. Stay humble and stay authentic -- which is to say you have to be human about this and shrug your shoulders and go, ‘These things happen.’ ”

In the workplace, especially, it’s important for a couple that is breaking up to communicate to their group that it does no one any good to take sides, he said.

Blind spots

People tend to create a story for themselves about how hard divorce is, and their identity then turns into that of a victim, said Alicia Bassuk, who specializes in work-life issues for high-profile executives and athletes. What a person can do instead is decide that the hard part is over.

“The hard part is what led to this divorce,” Bassuk said. “ ‘Now that I’m getting divorced, this is a time of independence and growth. It’s a second chance for me to create the life I’ve always wanted for myself.’ ”

Physical, verbal and emotional clues, as well as risks and opportunities, can be missed when people go through personal conversations somewhat blindfolded.

Bassuk’s advice: “Increase your awareness at any given moment by asking yourself -- and this goes on repeat -- ‘Am I fully aware of what’s happening in this moment?’ And then you follow up with, ‘What’s one small way I can improve my conduct in this moment?’ ”

Control the message

Even people who aren’t pursued by paparazzi are wise to keep their dirt out of the headlines, whether it’s among friends, family or co-workers. “One rule to live by is the more people who know the details about the problem, the bigger the problem becomes,” Tarnoff said.

His advice: “Make a commitment from the beginning of the process to share the intimate parts of your experiences with only your most trusted inner circle.”

If your future ex won’t play by those rules, you can still influence the discussion by not making it worse.

In control of destiny

“We have this opportunity to take 100% responsibility for everything that goes on in our lives,” Tarnoff said, although that doesn’t mean that if a meteor falls on your head, you caused the meteor. However, a person is responsible for how he or she deals with life after the meteor hits.

“You can be a victim, or you can decide to be grateful for whatever lessons the universe is throwing your way,” Tarnoff said, “and you’re going to make lemonade no matter what.”

People assume that divorce and other transitions are difficult, but it doesn’t have to be that way, Bassuk said. People have choices in how they conduct ourselves.

“Making your ex wrong about everything actually is forcing you to stay in the relationship when what you’re trying to do is get out of that relationship,” she said.

We all care about the kids

“It’s very rare in a divorce that both parties want any of the same things. They’ll say they do,” said attorney Robert Preston, co-chair of Greenspoon Marder’s matrimonial and family law practice group in New York.

“They’ll both say they want what’s best for the children, but the problem you have is they have very different ideas about what’s best for the children.”

Parents who are divorcing, Preston said, should do everything within their power to set aside their own thoughts and desires so they can focus on the best interests of the kids.

Said Bassuk, “Remember that you are adding ingredients to who your kids are for the rest of their life. Selfish emotional conduct is going to have a permanent effect on the kids, and it will affect their future relationships.”

That, she said, matters more than anything.

cdz@latimes.com

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