Sunday 17 December 2017

The celebrity wedding curse

This year has been labelled the Summer of Un-love, with celebrity unions breaking down one after the other. So what can we mere mortals learn from the rush of divorces hitting our A-listers? Tanya Sweeney investigates

Grainne Seoige and Stephen Cullinane

Tanya Sweeney

For every lavish, glossy celeb wedding we pored over this summer, there was a happy-ever-after dream that came crashing to the ground. For every dewy, misty-eyed bride such as Amy Huberman or Cecelia Ahern, there seemed to be a fellow celebrity facing the prospect of single life yet again, and suffering the ignominy of a public break-up.

The summer is not over, yet we've seen enough high-profile splits to drive even the most hard-hearted of us to the fainting couch. Perhaps unsurprisingly, celebrity commentators have taken to calling this the Summer of Un-love.

Earlier this year, Sile Seoige blazed a proverbial trail when she announced that her three-year marriage to Glen Mulcahy, a technical director at TG4, was no more. In the months since, Seoige has cut a forlorn figure; a bleak contrast to the glowing, blushing bride that married her long-time love in a Kinnitty Castle ceremony.

Six months later, her sister Grainne followed suit, announcing her separation from TV3 sports journalist Stephen Cullinane after 11 years of marriage. Although the pair were said to have split some months before the announcement, the news still came as a surprise to most.

Only weeks before, one of Ireland's more seemingly solid unions hit the skids as Ronan and Yvonne Keating announced their intention to separate. As of now, the fate of the marriage still hangs in the balance after revelations of Ronan's affair with Francine Cornell.

Elsewhere on Dublin's celebrity circuit, a plethora of models all seemed to return to singlehood almost simultaneously. Andrea Roche was first out of the traps with her split statement in March, calling an end to her marriage with millionaire PJ Mansfield.

In June, Ruth Griffin split from rugby player Alan Quinlan. Conspicuous by her absence at Amy Huberman's wedding to Brian O'Driscoll in July, Griffin and Quinlan were once thought to be the very epitome of love's young -- and highly photogenic -- dream.

The fact that their demise comes a mere two years after their star-studded Tipperary wedding -- and 17 months after the birth of their son AJ -- only compounds the surprise.

In the midst of a blossoming TV career trajectory, Today FM star Mairead Farrell also split from her husband. Likewise, Mark Dunne and Vivienne Connolly called time on their marriage in June after living 'separate lives' for months. More recently again,

former Miss Ireland Yvonne Ellard called off her society wedding to businessman Jamie Rohan after a two-year engagement.

If anything, it's proof positive that being young and beautiful doesn't render you immune from marital heartbreak.

So why, for the love of Huberbod, is there such a rash of celebrity couples heading for the divorce courts? Three of these five marriages lasted five years or less, suggesting that it has become easier for these couples to throw in the towel when problems arise.

Yet in most of these instances, the worries that befall most non-starry couples -- financial woes and job insecurity, for a start -- are simply not there. So what is the common denominator here?

A couple of intriguing theories are starting to hold water. Prior to announcing their splits, quite a number of these women underwent impressive physical transformations, noticeably losing a significant amount of weight. Certainly, the Seoige sisters and Mairead Farrell were transformed from down-home everywomen on the lowly rungs of the media ladder to endlessly glamorous, bona fide heavy-hitters (albeit much lighter ones) during the course of their respective marriages.

And though Andrea Roche and Ruth Griffin barely had the pounds to spare, both have been snapped looking a dress-size smaller than their usual svelte eight to 10 in recent times.

It's worth pointing out that this is a theory that has long been mooted in the UK media to explain away certain marriage demises. Hannah Waterman dropped her EastEnders-star hubby Ricky Groves along with three dress sizes earlier this year -- prompting headlines on how "dieting and deceit tore their marriage apart".

Elsewhere, Kerry Katona took to the gym with her personal trainer Scott Wright, and after losing three stone gave her husband Mark Croft his marching orders. Actress Natalie Cassidy gained notoriety thanks to a fitness DVD (which she released after transforming from a size 16 to a size eight), but lost her fiancé Ben Porter somewhere along the way.

Says personal trainer Karl Henry: "People who come in and lose weight set off this chain of events. They feel better about themselves, and good things start happening to them. This can mean their careers improve and sometimes it means finding a new partner or losing an existing one.

"Often, weight gain means that you're stuck in a rut, generally. Achieving that weight-loss goal has a knock-on effect in other areas of life. Sometimes, partners can be enviable of the person's new shape and want to drag them down. But after the buzz of achieving a big weight-loss goal, you see that a wider life is out there," he continues.

"For celebrities, if they're in good shape, they're photographed more on the red carpet, which can only lead to them feeling much better about themselves."

Yet another, more menacing variable may be at work in the celebrity/holy matrimony equation: plain old-fashioned ego. Very simply, the power balance in a marriage shifts as one person becomes more successful or career oriented. It's a turn of events that seems to befall celebrity couples on a grand scale.

In Hollywood, this is painfully obvious: Reese Witherspoon, Kate Winslet and Hilary Swank all lost their husbands not long after they won their Oscars. "If you have two stars climbing the same rope," Joyce Brothers, a pop psychologist, once put it, "one is bound to be going up while the other is going down." And as everyone knows, there are three people in a celebrity marriage: the man, the wife ... and, well, everyone else.

An industry insider adds: "I think taking on that life -- early hours, commuting back and forth -- people put such pressure on their marriages and have no idea of the impact. Effectively, some people put their career to the fore, while other things like relationships take a back seat."

Adding insult to injury -- and newlyweds, it may be best to stop reading now -- new research hints that those in creative, extrovert or stressful jobs have the odds of a happy marriage perilously stacked against them. A paper that correlates occupations with divorce and separation rates, published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, reveals that those employed in extrovert and stressful jobs are highly likely to divorce.

Says Dai Williams, a chartered occupational psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society: "It won't amaze anyone that relationships frequently break down under the pressure of jobs involving long hours and unpredictable working patterns. Or that if you work in an extrovert environment, you will have more chance to meet other people and develop competing relationships."

Regardless of the above statistic, mere mortals aren't impervious to the slings and arrows of matrimonial strife either.

Nurse Serena Reilly (34) from Castleknock (not her real name) admits that while a new generation of divorcees bounce back with serious aplomb, those early stages of divorce are devastating.

"It does take your confidence from you," she admits. "You end up thinking, 'Where can I go from here? I could walk into a new relationship and make exactly the same mistake'. You're loath to make an emotional commitment because you don't trust your own instincts."

And it would seem that celebs aren't the only ones who have to deal with a public fall-out.

"It's really weird, you have to give people a reason for your break-up, as though it's their business," says Serena. "People feel like they're owed an explanation, and say things like, 'You seemed happy not so long ago'.

After marrying in May 2004, Serena chose the DIY route for her split in 2009. At a cost of €700, no solicitor and six weeks later, their divorce was a done deal.

"I had concerns and worries about the marriage, and then it really hit home on what was meant to be a special weekend," she admits. "He arrived home totally drunk, and it hit me that I wasn't happy. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. I not only felt like a bad person, but a stupid person too. Like, how does a seemingly smart girl get herself into these situations?

"I do think at my age, though, I still felt there was a chance I would meet someone who is The One and I'd go on and have kids," she adds. "I'd imagine it's much harder if you're older."

Lisa O'Hara, relationship counsellor at the Marriage & Relationship Counselling Services (, goes some way towards explaining Ireland's rising divorce rates (around 27.5pc at last count).

"Some people marry to deal with the problems in their relationship," she explains. "The wedding will provide a short-term solution, but the problems never really go away. There can be a real sense of bitter disappointment once this kicks in.

"When you go out for a few years, everything is equal and you reach a point where you think, 'What next?'" she adds. "Weddings and marriage are a natural part of our society, and we're still pretty traditional underneath it all.

Thankfully for anyone hoping to escape becoming a wedding scrapheap statistic, researchers have long been toiling in a bid to uncover the secrets of a lasting marriage.

In a 30-year study on divorce in the United States, E Mavis Hetherington identified five types of marriages. Much of what she learnt about unions revolved around conflict style. Specifically, she identified three styles of marriage -- the pursuer-distancer, the disengaged marriage and the operatic marriage -- that put couples at high risk for divorce.

In pursuer/distancer marriages, Hetherington found that in 80pc of cases the pursuer is a woman. She is eager to confront and discuss problems. The man typically is the one to withdraw, avoid confrontation, and assume the 'distancer' role. In a common pursuer-distancer conflict, the wife will bring up a problem. The cohesive/individuated marriage had the second lowest divorce rate. The partners don't spend every waking moment together, but they nonetheless seem bonded.

"The marriage functions as a refuge the husband and wife return to at the end of the day for renewal, support, affection and companionship," writes Hetherington.

By contrast, disengaged marriages unite two self-sufficient individuals, who don't argue a lot. The problem is that the men and women in these marriages would have pretty much the same lives if they were single, and they lack mutual affection and support.

By contrast, the operatic marriage is emotionally volatile. However, Hetherington said people in these marriages reported the highest level of sexual satisfaction.

At the University of Texas, researchers discovered a simple and obvious predictor for future divorce. Men and women who had thought of divorce in 1980 were nine times more likely to have divorced by the end of the study. Simply thinking about divorce suggests that you're open to the idea, and that makes you vulnerable to it.

Seeing as matrimonial bliss has become something of a lofty goal, it comes as little surprise to find that boffins have researched the science of marriage ad infinitum. Though their collective efforts are far from definitive, a game plan of sorts can be created for any couple still talking to each other.

First off, make sure you live apart from your partner before ringing the wedding planner. A survey of more than 1,000 married men and women in the US found that those who moved in with a lover before engagement or marriage reported significantly lower-quality marriages and a greater potential for splitting up than other couples.

About one-in-five of those who cohabited before getting engaged had since suggested divorce -- compared with only 12pc of those who only moved in together after getting engaged and 10pc who did not cohabit prior to marriage.

Next up, ensure that you're as happy -- or as miserable -- as your betrothed. Using data from tens of thousands of relationships in three different countries, economists at the University of Deakin, Australia, discovered that the bigger the difference in the happiness of husbands and wives the greater the risk of a break-up.

Come January 7, ensure that you're doing something sufficiently amorous (a winter beach break should do the trick). Researchers have established it as 'D-day' -- the day when warring spouses are most likely to instigate divorce proceedings.

And if you're single and searching for that elusive big love, sifting through your would-be suitors according to occupation might just stand you in good stead. Dr Michael Aamodt, an industrial psychologist at Radford University in Virginia, invented a formula to work out the likelihood of success of a marriage based on the occupation of one of the partners.

According to his findings, dancers, choreographers and bartenders have around a 40pc chance of experiencing a relationship breakdown. But also at high risk are nurses, psychiatrists and those who help the elderly and disabled. Conversely, agricultural engineers, optometrists, dentists, clergymen and podiatrists are all in occupations which carry a 2-7pc chance of family breakdown.

And if all of that can't render you untouched by the cruel hand of fate, it's perhaps best to bear in mind that there is life -- and love anew -- after the divorce courts.

"Ultimately, the best way to move forward is to know yourself and know your needs," says Lisa. "And once you get there, you'll find that your next relationship is always a better fit. It's a second chance given to you when you've your stuff worked out."

Irish Independent

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