Bill and Melinda Gates are calling it quits. So?
Bill and Melinda Gates pose for a photo in Kirkland, Washingston, USA. (Photo: AP)

Bill and Melinda Gates, after 27 years as a married couple, with three children, 18 to 25 years, have decided to end their marriage. In a Twitter post they wrote: “After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage.” That statement was cryptic, but it said a great deal. For those experienced in family psychotherapy, it is loaded with a lot of the behind-the-scenes problems that developed over time in the relationship, that had to be worked on, but which culminated in the decision to call it quits.

When that decision came, the Rubicon of a fulfilling relationship had long been crossed. The creeping alienation that had set in, coupled with the periodic rumblings of discontent, finally erupted in a volcanic explosion or a terrible earthquake that shook the foundations of the marriage.

Having not been in a counselling relationship with the couple, I can only take them at their word that after great thought and a lot of work — which in couple's therapy can be a lot if genuinely pursued — they decided that the best thing to do was to end the relationship.

The decision came as a shock to many, perhaps even to those who pay just a cursory attention to these matters. For one, the Gateses have always exuded a public persona that all is well. As co-chairpersons of their Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they often appear alongside each other at public events. It was difficult to see that the couple was unhappy, even though privately they were doing “a lot of work” on their relationship. One thing a couple knows, if things are not well at home, you have to be a great actor to give curious crowds the impression that all is well when you appear publicly together. Bill and Melinda seemed to have been able to do so.

I suppose one of the reasons that people were surprised is that they believed that they had it all together; that, with their immense wealth, what could come between them. You see, Bill, for a good while, was the richest man in the world, and still is among the world's richest. This is a myth that many people entertain. The truth is that wealth is never a guarantor or index of a happy, problem-free social relationship — certainly not for a marital relationship.

Bill and Melinda are not the first rich couple to go their separate ways. The most recent to them was Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the richest man in the world. His marriage with his wife split asunder and accounted for one of, if not the biggest divorce settlements to date.

You can run a financial organisation flawlessly. Human relationships are not so ordered. They are subject to negotiation, compromise, and an ability to yield. Intransigence is the bane of any relationship, and this is especially true of marriages. There is a real sense in which love can grow cold. If you do not find time to rejuvenate or rekindle the dying embers of a relationship they will burn out. Sometimes it is infidelity that pours the water on the fire, but often it is the silent suffering of one of the partners from emotional neglect that does it. The power of privacy is that one does not get to be the fly on the wall to see the moments of irritation and gnawing frustrations which attend couples as they struggle to keep a relationship from hitting the rocks.

I will not judge Bill or Melinda Gates. My attitude is more one of empathy. It is not as easy as it appears for one to end a relationship to which you gave 27 years of your life and not suffer some inner, emotional pain. In my practice as a family psychotherapist, I have seen this pain in many relationships and know that pulling apart causes serious disruptions and, for some, emotional impairments that may very well follow one throughout life. Again, it is not as easy as it may appear.

Some free advice: I have encouraged couples to seek to define their love for each other at every stage of their relationship. What love looked like at 20-35 is not the same at 45-55 or 60-75. Life changes, as do personal interests. At every stage, be open to the needs of the other person; be less judgemental and be willing to cut the person some slack. As people grow older in their relationship they crave a little bit more space and do not want to be crowded in by an obsessive partner. Allow for that space.

Bill and Melinda Gates made the decision to move on rather than live on in hypocrisy to impress the world. There comes a time when you may have to give a relationship the final rites. But be reasonably sure that that time has come.

There are too many relationships that exist in hypocrisy. If anything, the Gateses should be commended for making a hard decision which, in their heart of hearts, they are the only competent ones to make.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books: Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

Raulston Nembhard

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