Editor’s Note: Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist and the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.” She is at work on a book about the failings of feminism. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers. View more opinion on CNN.
In a post to Twitter earlier today, Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, announced that they’re getting divorced after 25 years of marriage and a period of trial separation. “We feel incredibly lucky to have found each other and deeply grateful for every one of the years we have been married to each other,” the statement read. “If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again.”
It’s a remarkably civil and companionable-sounding take on what can be one of life’s most traumatic experiences. And yet all signs point to the idea that friendly divorce is on the rise – in theory, at least. A Google search for “amicable divorce” returns more than 6 million results, with everyone from the American Psychological Association to divorce attorneys weighing in. (I even recently wrote about the trend of “breakup therapy” among couples looking to part ways without drama.)
Some of the credit for these increasingly civil dissolutions may go to the fact that we’re living in an age of self-help and self-care – “personal development” is an estimated $9.9 billion industry – and people are searching for better or more authentic ways to do just about everything. Today’s older adults, the ones getting divorced after long marriages may have come from families of divorce – and many want to do it differently.
What’s more, divorce is so common that there is little taboo surrounding it anymore, which makes people, particularly in an era of social media “sharing,” much more willing to talk about it – and, perhaps, more willing and able to face it with grace. And while it’s unlikely that people are taking their marital cues from actress and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow, it’s certainly possible that her reliance on the phrase “conscious uncoupling” to describe her split from musician Chris Martin – while drawing eye-rolls from some – made others open to, or aware of, the idea of harmonious divorce.
There’s also plenty of media interest in stories such as “The 10 Most Amicable Celebrity breakups of All Time” (Vogue) and “5 Hollywood Exes Who’ve Managed to Divorce Amicably” (Bravo). These celebrities may have come together post-split for the sake of their kids or for other personal reasons, but in doing so they set examples for others that it’s possible to remain a family, even when two people separate.
All that said, it’s worth noting that amicable divorce can be something of a luxury. What the Bezoses and Paltrow-Martins of the world have in common is financial solvency. Money can make divorce more contentious, but it can also make it far less frightening. No one is likely to be out on the street or face imminent ruin.
At least one divorce lawyer supports the idea that when there’s enough money to go around, it’s easier to part ways civilly, claiming that, in his experience, couples who have about $5 million or more are more likely to have an amicable divorce than those with less. And, of course, the Bezoses, the world’s richest couple, have far more than that.
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Lastly, for those in the public eye, a friendly divorce can also be something of a learned skill – and a necessary one. Someone as successful in business as Bezos may have the ability to make something as emotional as divorce appear, or even be, sensibly transactional. Meanwhile, an amicable divorce certainly makes for better PR, and in the case of the Bezoses, both sides have a stake in presenting a consumer-friendly front.
As the couple wrote, “We’ve had such a great life together as a married couple, and we also see wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures. Though the labels might be different, we remain a family, and we remain cherished friends.” Sounds great – if you can do it.