The fact that Al Gore and Tipper Gore are separating after 40 years together has been billed by many as the "failure" of their marriage. But I think there's another way to see it_ Any marriage that lasts 40 years (or 20 years, for that matter), which results in children and which includes many years of mutual support and fulfillment is a wild, out-of-this-world success. A grand slam homerun. There's really nothing to grieve and certainly nothing to criticize here.
Al and Tipper Gore's marriage survived the national political scene, the near death of a child and Tipper's struggles with depression.
Most marriages end in divorce a lot sooner. The majority of the ones that last even a decade make spouses unhappy long before they end. Of the married folks I treat in my practice and speak to informally outside the office, I would say that 80 to 90 percent consider their marriages sources of stress that contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression, not sources of comfort.
There is a marriage crisis in America, with the institution failing for most people who tell me they cannot maintain a sense of "self" in the context of their relationships. Many describe feeling as though they "do not exist" or are "dying."
These are dramatic words for intense feelings, and the fact that they are spoken by people younger and older, across a wide socioeconomic spectrum, begs two key questions: First, what has gone wrong with the institution of marriage at this moment, in our culture? Second, how can we overcome our resistance to speaking more openly about the problems married people face, so that solutions might be found?
Many factors may be contributing to putting the institution of marriage under siege. The advent of contraception, the way gender equality has freed females to express their sexuality, the extension of marriage rights to gays (a lifestyle to which many married people cannot relate), the ease of social networking via the Internet and mobile phone applications, the dissemination of erotic images via television and print advertising and the revelations that so many of our leaders and "role models" have not remained monogamous may all be significant.
Admitting that the institution of marriage is failing in America would be a first step toward saving it. But people loathe speaking the truth on this topic. We fear, it seems, offending our spouses or being labeled blasphemous or, perhaps, admitting to ourselves and to one another that, in the year 2010, our relationships are far less predictable than we might like them to be.
Children instinctively fear the dissolution of their parents' marriages. Perhaps we carry so much of that fear into adulthood that we dare not think how fragile our own marriages are, much less speak of it.
Yet, we must. Because without understanding why the institution of marriage is weak and resolving to change or strengthen it, I predict that people will fail at it (or shun it) in increasing numbers-until it has, for all intents and purposes, no intrinsic truth or meaning at all.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com.Dr. Ablow can be reached at email@example.com.