Fame, Fortune and Marriage
- Joe Beam President, Marriage Helper
- 2011 12 Jul
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? - Mark 8:36
It's no surprise that financial woes can put a strain on a marriage. But acquiring wealth presents a different set of challenges for marriages.
“Our problem,” he said, “is that everyone in my life listens to what I say and does what I tell them. Then I come home and it doesn’t work that way with my wife. I don’t like that.”
She didn’t either.
The comment was neither unexpected nor unusual. In workshops for marriages in crisis, leaders often note that those couples in which one mate is very successful in his or her career or earns quite a bit of money have unique situations that call for unique solutions. Sometimes the successful or high-earner spouse (we will call that one SS for short, and the other one OS or "other spouse") is the husband and sometimes it is the wife. If both are equally high achievers or high-earners, the problems may exist but usually not as intensely.
Of course, the same problems that potentially plague all marriages plague those of the successful or wealthy, and sometimes the problems that plague the moneyed also plague less well-to-do marriages, though often in less concentrated ways.
What types of problems do those who help couples notice in affluent marriages? The following issues are not exhaustive but occur often.
The SS feels unappreciated
One husband stated it, “I feel as if the only thing I’m loved for by my wife is that I bring home enough cash for her to have whatever she wants.” He felt that she did not love him for who he is but only for what he provides. She replied that she very much loved him and would continue to love him whether they had money or not.
He smiled sarcastically. “Why do I hear only complaints when you don’t get what you want, and hear nothing as long as you do? There isn’t even a kind word or acknowledgment of my existence unless you or the kids want something from me.”
Rather than trying to understand his sense of being loved for what he did rather than who he is and working with him to discover how to remedy the problem, she shrugged it off, “He just doesn’t get it.” To her absolute shock, this highly successful rock of a man began to weep. His last comment before walking away was, “Maybe someday someone will love me without my having to earn it.”
In another marriage, a famous, successful wife said of her husband, “He’s lazy. I work hard to be successful and he does nothing. The Nanny takes care of the kids all day; I am working; and he is nowhere to be found. He surely can spend money but seems allergic to making any. I don’t care if he flips burgers, digs ditches, or becomes a CEO. I just want to know that I’m not the only one in this marriage who works for a living.”
He neither thanked her for her hard work nor looked for a job on his own. He seemed quite happy to live off her. She was miserable feeling that her husband loved her primarily because her success allowed him a life without responsibility. Not only did she feel unloved for who she is rather than what she provides, she felt abandoned. “I don’t have a partner. I have a freeloader."
The OS feels the SS acts arrogantly
A husband pointed out that as a trial attorney he made his living by arguing and proving the other side wrong. He particularly liked to keep the other side guessing what he was going to do next and catching them by surprise when he could legally do so. He claimed he had never lost in court.
However, he did lose his wife.
She said, “It’s like I’m opposing counsel or something. It seems that no matter what I say, think, or feel, we go into pitched battle until I say, think, or claim to feel what he says I should. I feel controlled, manipulated, and second-rate. His true love isn’t me; it’s winning.”
He replied, “I make my living figuring things out and convincing people to see it correctly. I only argue with her when she’s wrong. My desire isn’t to upset her, but to help her. I simply want her to understand and do the right things.”
Interestingly, he somehow thought the “right things” included whom her friends were to be, where she should go to church, how she should dress, how she should parent, what emotions she should feel, and more. The last thing she said to him before leaving him was, “I’m no longer under your control, Counselor. I’ll find a man who wishes to be my partner; not my judge.”
Either the SS or OS is tempted
A successful music artist said, “After a concert we face what we call the buffet line. Women wait for us and make it abundantly clear that if we wish to take them back to our hotel rooms, they are willing and ready.” He made the comment with his wife present – his wife of many years – and openly shared how he kept himself from yielding to any such temptation. She smiled and said, “I believe in him. He understands that temptation is one of the curses of fame, and he builds safety nets around him to stay faithful to me and to our family.”
An executive in a major corporation answered a question about his boss, a nationally known CEO, “He’s faithful to his wife as long as he’s in sight of his house. Women are drawn to his reputation, his money, and his power. He doesn’t resist; at least not for long.”
A successful wife sadly told the story of the adultery she committed while climbing the corporate ladder. “I never thought I’d be like one of those guys you hear about who gets so full of themselves as they make the promotions and the money that they begin to think they can do whatever they wish without repercussion. Let me assure you, it can and does happen to women. I’m trying to save my marriage after it happened to me.”
An OS wife defiantly justified her affair, “He isn’t married to me; he’s married to his success. He has ignored me and the kids for years, missing birthday parties, traveling overseas for a ‘quick trip’ that puts him home late for holidays or family gatherings, leaving early every morning and arriving late every evening, working on weekends, and barely noticing anything that I feel or say. I think I could have plastic surgery and he’d plop into bed late at night beside me, give me a kiss, and never notice that I don’t like the woman who was in his bed the night before.” Somewhere along the line another man came into her life that did notice what she looked like, listened to what she felt, cared about being with her, and made sacrifices for her rather than sacrificing her for his interests. She came to care for him much more than she cared for her SS. That led to an affair. That led to a divorce.
Her husband’s evaluation of what happened was, “I finally got everything I wanted in terms of career, notoriety, and wealth. Yep, everything but the thing that really was the most important. I no longer have my family.”
The OS and the SS disagree over priorities
A husband well on his way to becoming an SS bitterly complained, “My wife never understood how important it was for me to succeed. Rather than being my support and my partner, she became an immobilizing anchor and a perpetual pain in the neck. With her help, I could have made it to the top. Through her constant criticism, I lost my drive and feel like a failure.”
An OS wife grumbled, “If I thought it would help, I would play The Cat’s in the Cradle 24 hours a day to make him realize what he’s doing to our children. He won’t hear it; his success is far more important to him than a wife or children. At least I’ll get a lot of money when he finally drops dead and the kids will have a nice inheritance when I go. It feels as if I’ve traded my life for his money. I hope he enjoyed the success; we didn’t.”
Every example above is based on real couples, though modified in specifics so as to protect identities. Nearly all were in crisis. Fortunately, nearly every one of them eventually worked out their problems and salvaged their marriages. Even better, they made good marriages this time around.
The most important factor was getting each person truly to hear the emotions the other shared. Most often it required counseling or great marriage coaching, but when they quit defending themselves and started opening themselves to genuinely understanding the other, things began to change.
The next most important factor was for each couple to become a team rather than to be in opposition. That did not mean that goals, ambitions, or drives were discarded. It did mean that each couple found a way to make it their dreams, not his or her dream. Some figured it out on their own, but most needed wise and competent third parties to find a way to make that happened.
Additionally, each learned to treat the other with utmost respect. Whether a spouse makes millions or earns no outside income, become famous worldwide or is known just within the neighborhood, rises to the top of the ladder or holds it for the other, each is as important, worthy, and needed as the other. Dignity and respect for the needs and desires of each other and egalitarian treatment in everything in life, are essential for any relationship to work.
If either of you in your marriage is rich, poor, famous, unknown, or anything else, making a marriage work requires each of you to support and love the other. If you are not communicating well, have trouble actually hearing each other, argue without solution, or find yourself tempted, get help now.
Being rich, famous, or successful and alone is still just that…alone.