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The Gores' Separation Begs the Question: How Does Any Marriage Last a Lifetime?

Al and Tipper Gore's surprise separation announcement has exposed "An Inconvenient Truth." In today's environment, it's very hard to keep a marriage together for a lifetime.
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Al and Tipper Gores' surprise separation announcement has exposed "An Inconvenient Truth." In today's environment, it's very hard to keep a marriage together for a lifetime.

There doesn't seem to be much support encouraging the continuity of marriage if you take the temperature of commentators. The New York Times had someone call divorce an iconic baby boomer event.

On one of the morning TV shows, their so-called experts said that it doesn't matter that Al and Tipper may be divorced since the kids are now older. Hmmm. With rationed time, it now means that elderly parents see their adult kids half as much for holidays and get togethers and adult kids have to choose between parents.

Ironically, the announcement was made at the peak of wedding season when couples will walk down the aisle making the commitment to love each other through thick and thin, sickness and health, richer or poorer.

As one reader wrote, "When young couples see that the Gore's (and many others) can't quite make it work, what hope is left for them?

It is a good question.

We live in a culture where there are two major values when it comes to marriage. To some, personal happiness is more meaningful than anything else and to others a sense of family connection with all its problems trumps the frenetic pursuit of personal happiness.

As my colleague, Dr. Mark Banschick, author of The Intelligent Divorce wisely explains, "the person who is more selfish will think, I need to be happy, my marriage will make me happy or I will find another relationship that will make me happier."

The other competing value is more traditional.

The person thinks I'm part of a family and a clan that demands my loyalty and through my commitment to that clan I find happiness. I take pleasure in the sweet moments and the history.

"In 2010, every person in marriage is wondering which value trumps the other," says Dr. Banschick. "When you're fortunate, those values are both lined up like the stars in heaven and when they're not, you have some tough choices or choices are made for you."

Because we spend our days with divorcing couples, we have data from the frontlines. Are there many people who have divorced and found happiness again? You bet. I'm one of them. And my husband's ex-wife is a valued member of our family.

But make no mistake, freedom creates other hardships and handcuffs.

Society benefits from marriage because children can flourish when they have both parents at home and don't have to shuffle between two households carrying both their Batman backpacks and their parents' emotional baggage. Staying married is also less economically destructive because one house is easier to support than two. Even those who divorce and can easily afford the transition acknowledge years later how much they didn't realize how meaningful their history was together.

Your partner becomes your historian. Remember going to see that Sting concert? Wasn't that cliff side restaurant by the sea so beautiful? When you remarry or repartner, the pictures of your previous life get edited out.

There is no doubt that some people should get divorced. And sometimes you can have two good people who are not good together. But many others opt out too early.

A major study done at the University of Chicago by Linda Waite found that in most so called unhappy marriages, almost 8 out of 10 who avoided divorce were happily married five years later. Furthermore, the researchers also found that two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed married reported that their marriages were happier.

But Al and Tipper Gore had a risk factor that creates potential divorces. They were high school sweethearts. According to the National Marriage Project, those who marry in their early 20's have a higher risk of divorce than those who marry later. They don't know what they're not missing and how difficult it really is to partner with anyone. Perhaps this will be a separation and not a divorce though less than 8 percent recouple.

Yet a marriage that lasts 40 years should still be viewed as a success. Al Gore, the former Vice President, Oscar winner for "An Inconvenient Truth" and Nobel Peace Prize winner along with his wife Tipper should also be awarded a prize for conducting this announcement with disciplined dignity. No affairs, no dirty laundry being aired. No one knows what Tipper's tipping point was or his. Yet there are ways to divorce that honors the time together and the family you've built together. You may not be married but you are always parents. Class vs. crass.

So should the vows of upcoming brides and grooms be changed to "As Long As It Lasts" or remain "Till Death Do Us Part?" I have written how "Till Death Do Us Part' should be eliminated from marriage vows because it sets the expectation that you have failed if you can't reach that goal, which few do when we are living now into our 80's and beyond.

However, Dr. Banschick and I have seen the benefits of sticking it out for the long run. No marriage is fun and fulfilling all the time. But those who invest in it and patiently ride the waves do find deep happiness that their families also take pride in. These couples are saying, we have grown together, we know what bothers us and frankly we don't care. We're family and there's a love here bigger than anything that bothers us.

And as to why Bill and Hillary Clinton are still married? They obviously have a bond that is deeper than the wounds.