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Celebrity Divorces

Judging by the amount of media space they get, we all want to read about celebrity divorces. How is it that they find a beautiful, highly successful spouse and throw the wedding of their dreams (and ours) but cannot stand each other for even as long as we less famous folk do?

John Tierney and Garth Sundern have been working on this conundrum. In 2006, they published a formula for predicting the odds of a celebrity marriage lasting in the New York Times. Yesterday, they updated the formula.

Of course, marrying quickly factors in. No time for getting to know each other, so they marry the person they invented in their mind and find the real one disappointing. And marrying young is in there, too. No one knows whether marrying younger causes unstable relationships or whether both things stem from a common cause.

A difference in ages reduces their chances. In fact, they square the difference, so ten years has a much bigger impact than five. Their combined number of previous marriages lowers their chances of success. Past performance predicts future performance unless we learn some new skills. Signs of narcissism predict an earlier end, too, because narcissism increases the odds of infidelity.

The formula notes that the woman's infidelity is more likely to end the marriage than a man's and that skimpy or sexually provocative clothing is a strong clue that a woman might be narcissistic. So is frequent appearance in the tabloids, but they have now tempered this by computing a ratio of New York Times appearances to tabloid appearances to account for how well-known a celebrity is in general.

They have had six years to test their predictions from the old formula, and they have done well. Now they have tweaked it and predict that Kate and Prince William, Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, and Beyoncé Knowles and Jay-Z have at least as good as chance as the average Joe and his Jenna do.

You and I might have a better chance. If we married before getting to know the person we chose, we can Assume Love whenever we're surprised. It may protect us from misunderstandings that make us unnecessarily miserable. Even if we're a wee bit narcissistic, we can remember to Expect Love when we feel we're not getting all we deserve, sparing ourselves the nasty pain and self-doubt that follows. If we married young or married someone older than ourselves, we can Find Third Alternatives to resolve the differences in our opinions and desires that arise as we mature.

And we can rest assured that looks, income, and a lavish wedding cannot compete with marriage skills for insuring a great relationship that we can count on.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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