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Griffith, Banderas and the collapse of lifetime marriage

By Pepper Schwartz
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
Neil Young had more than a wife in Pegi Young (left); he also had a musical collaborator, and a muse for some of his most classic love songs. But according to Rolling Stone, Young filed for divorce from his wife of 36 years in July 2014. Neil Young had more than a wife in Pegi Young (left); he also had a musical collaborator, and a muse for some of his most classic love songs. But according to Rolling Stone, Young filed for divorce from his wife of 36 years in July 2014.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas are divorcing after 18 years of marriage
  • Pepper Schwartz: Hollywood marriages are tough to maintain, but so are normal ones
  • She says lifetime marriage is turning into a crapshoot, especially for Baby Boomers
  • Schwartz: We have to aim high, have lots of fun, work hard at being loving to our spouse

Editor's note: Pepper Schwartz is professor of sociology at the University of Washington and the author or co-author of 19 books, the latest of which is "The Normal Bar." She is the love and relationship ambassador for AARP and writes the Naked Truth column for AARP.org. The opinions in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- When I heard that Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas are divorcing I was surprised at my own reaction, which was, honestly, sadness. I always thought they were an exciting couple -- both are passionate people who conquered a risky business, and each had a past that was just a little messy. Griffith had three marriages before meeting Banderas, two of which were to Don Johnson. Banderas had one previous marriage, but was certainly the epitome of the "Latin lover" in looks if not swagger.

And yet they seemed deeply in love and stalwartly committed to each other over the years. I know -- they are a Hollywood marriage, which can be a minefield for marital stability. But for better or worse, these are also real people marrying with hopes of being together forever.

Because they are famous, we follow their lives through the tabloid or lifestyle magazines. They become part of our daily landscape and in a strange way as we become invested in their welfare. I realized as a read the story of their breakup that I wanted them to stay together -- forever. I wanted their private lives to have the "happily ever after" of their movies.

Pepper Schwartz
Pepper Schwartz

I thought this pair had deeper roots and a deep enough connection to last for the long run. So, I think my sadness came from the recognition about how unrealistic I was.

Hollywood marriages face special pressures that hurt their odds of lasting forever. But even if they were an average couple, the truth is that having made it to 18 or 20 years as they did, does not, in the slightest, guarantee you a sealed forever deal.

Marriages these days can fall apart at any stage of the relationship. The famously enduring marriage of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward turns out to be more of an anomaly than a model. Really, when you think of it, Newman and Woodward were cast from a mold that was formed by a different generation and that mold appears to be broken.

Now, long marriages have no guarantees of continuance, even if they have lasted decades. Just ask Robert Redford and Lola Van Wagenen (27 years) or Jerry Lewis and Patti Palmer (36 years).

In fact, the statistics tell us that the biggest percentage increase in divorces is among people over 50. So if you thought that getting older formed a protective bubble over your relationship, think again.

Lifetime marriage is turning into a crapshoot for many people, especially Baby Boomers. Maybe holding on till "death do them part" is least likely for Hollywood stars whose work takes a hard toll on their relationships and whose exit from marriages is not generally impeded by financial concerns. But really, no marriage is immune against what seems to be an epidemic of marital unraveling.

Well, so be it. But we can do things that give us better odds of staying with our spouse. To me, that means we have to be intentional about our relationship every day, year, and decade we are together. We have to aim high, have a lot of fun, work hard at being each other's lover and friend and always do everything we can to repair problems along the way. If it ends, it ends -- but it shouldn't die without having been given every chance to live.

So, lets be realistic. You can't predict the future. I thought about this as I was looking at a photo of Melanie Griffith and saw a huge tattoo on her arm that said "Antonio."

Uh-oh -- I thought. If you yearn to have a name tattooed on your body, choose your mom's or the name of your first pet. Otherwise, take it from Melanie, Antonio and countless others: Even long marriages have an uncertain future. I am not saying to plan for an exit while you are trying to make a solid entrance, I am just saying -- take care and have a Plan B.

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