Heidi Klum, Seal: Did Her Success Lead to Their Divorce?

Libby Kane

He proposed in an igloo at 14,000 feet.

They married on a beach in Mexico.

Now parents of four, they throw epic Halloween parties and take paparazzi-documented trips to the playground.

But the celebrity fairytale of supermodel Heidi Klum and singer Seal ended abruptly with the announcement of their divorce after nearly seven years.

It has been speculated that the couple split due to Seal’s temper, due to his hard partying, due to his taxing international tour schedule … and due to her success.

It seems counterintuitive—why would Klum’s success have an adverse effect on their marriage? The idea that outshining her husband could cast a shadow over their relationship sounds like it should be ridiculous, but sadly, it’s not. Instead, it’s indicative of a larger pattern: a power shift with the potential to sink modern marriages.

Who Outearns Whom?

Relationship patterns are amplified by celebrity couples, who seem to live their lives and run through their relationships at warp speed. “With celebrity couples, there seems to be this underlying competitiveness,” says Jonathan Alpert, New York psychotherapist and author of the upcoming Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 days. “There’s an incredible amount of pressure, living in the spotlight.”

Think Courtney Cox and David Arquette. Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. Sandra Bullock and Jesse James. Kim Kardashian and … what’s his name. What do they all have in common? Meteoric fame for the female half of the couple.

In Klum’s case, “meteoric” barely covers it. She’s a clothing designer, a model and an author. She has her own line of perfume, is deeply involved in charity work and appears on television in guest roles, as a host and in commercials as the face of everything from yogurt to maternity wear.

Last year, Klum reportedly earned $20 million, making her the second-highest earning model in the world after Gisele Bündchen. It has been speculated that in her divorce, she will retain the vast majority of her assets, with a settlement to her ex-husband capped at about $300,000 per year in the form of child support. There is no official word on whether the couple signed a pre-nuptial agreement, but it would be only sensible taking their careers into account. Seal is estimated to have a total net worth of about $15 million, while Klum’s is estimated to be closer to $70 million.

The problem isn’t that Klum outearns and arguably outshines her partner—it’s failing to confront it that tears them apart. “When there are two strong personalities and careers, it can be more about the careers than the relationship. It becomes a power struggle. They’re trying to outdo each other and it becomes very competitive,” Alpert explains. “None of that is good for a relationship.”

Alpha Women, Beta Boys?

It’s no secret that gender roles are more fluid than they’ve ever been before.

Recent social commentary dissecting the rise of “alpha women” and “beta men” has set the internet aflame. In her article for The Atlantic, “All the Single Ladies,” Kate Bolick wrote that single women today who choose to establish their careers, instead of marrying their college sweetheart, face a choice between “deadbeats” and “playboys.” And that, for those who do pair off, the traditional marriage roles are verging on extinct.

“The transformation is momentous—immensely liberating and immensely scary,” she quotes a sociologist as saying in the piece. “When it comes to what people actually want and expect from marriage and relationships, and how they organize their sexual and romantic lives, all the old ways have broken down.”


Chat with fellow LV readers about your relationship, money and where the two overlap.


And women earning more is verging on being the new norm: As early as 2001, wives were outearning their spouses in almost a third of married households where the wife worked, reports New York magazine.

But why should successful women threaten marriages modern in every other way? “It’s just the way our society is set up that men like to feel that they are in that position of authority and power,” Alpert explains. “It’s antiquated thinking, but I see it a lot. It still exists in this day and age.”

He finds that men like to feel that they’re earning the money, and therefore fulfilling their given role in society. “Guys just can’t reconcile the change in times.” And many women express resentment at—and lose respect for—a spouse who, by virtue of his dependency, feels more like another child.

Navigating Your Own Power Dynamic

Of course, we know that many marriages succeed no matter which gender is the bigger breadwinner. How can you keep your own relationship (or relationship-to-be) healthy and happy through power shifts that tilt either way? We asked Alpert for his expertise.

1. Set Expectations

When conducting pre-marital counseling sessions, Alpert says, “We discuss how a couple will deal with the big things: kids, careers, finances, religion. I ask them, ‘Who do you see being the breadwinner?’” He recommends setting clear expectations before you say “I do.” “Expectations need to be examined and aligned prior to establishing a relationship,” he says.

2. Be Flexible

“Healthy couples are able to be flexible,” Alpert advises. “Couples who are rigid and can’t adapt to change can have problems.” Adjusting to a dynamic relationship, no matter what the initial expectations, can allow a twosome to rebalance itself over time. After all, it’s normal for the power balance in a marriage to fluctuate, whether through job changes, kids or simply different life stages. It’s not change, but how you handle it, that will predict your success.

3. Have a Conversation

If expectations have been set, but you still feel things going south, address it immediately. “Approach the issue in a positive way, without accusing the other person,” says Alpert. “Just put it on the table to talk about handling changes and any concerns you may have.” In the end, it’s ultimately built-up resentment—not differences in remuneration—that get in the way of happily ever after.

Image Credit: Reality TV Magazine

More From LearnVest

Take a peek at celeb finances: LV talks to Beth Behrs, star of 2 Broke Girls.
Feel better about your money instantly with this quick trick.
Rearrange your living room, get richer? Find out how it works.

  • JackieAU5

    I think a lot of these celebrity or high-profile couples put their professional lives before their personal lives. In a celebrity’s case, they have more then enough money to live comfortably  and really don’t need to worry about where their next paycheck is coming from. So what’s their excuse for having their marriage fall apart? It’s fame and money and lack of perspective. As your life progresses what really matters are the people in your life you love and really not much else. I hope they don’t regret this divorce…

    • Orangess

      Couldn’t have said it better myself! ^_^

  • Another Heidi

    I’m furious that you would put a story together based on this premise. You missed ONE KEY THING in your description about what went wrong. Wanna know what it is? HIS TEMPER.

    Did it even occur to you that this might have occurred because of abuse?

    No, because of course, we have to damn the woman at every point and turn, even when she’s successful. 

    You guys royally suck. Stories like these overlook the warning signs of spousal abuse and hurt women who otherwise might be able to take examples like these as red flags that they need to seek help.

    I applaud Heidi Klum, not just for her success as a mom and as a career woman. And if she outearned him and he couldn’t take it — WITH HIS TEMPER? — Good riddance.

    • Anonymous

      Another Heidi, in almost every article I have ever seen about celebrity breakups, they almost always blame the man whether they have any facts or not. The whole “we have to damn the woman” is BS.

  • JackieAU5

    I’m confused, when did a bad temper lead to abuse? Are there reports of abuse? Am I missing something?

    • Another Heidi

      Obviously you’ve never been in an abusive relationship. Consider yourself fortunate, because “has a temper” is code for emotional and/or physical abuse. This article completely takes the blame for the divorce and places it in Heidi Klum’s lap, while ignoring the obvious reference to her spouse’s “temper.” It’s egregious journalism and  clearly was written by someone whose editor decided it would be a great story angle. It’s misogynistic and ridiculous.

      • JackieAU5

        I understand your point of view but I hardly think “has a temper” is code for “I abuse my wife.” I have a bad temper and I’m not slapping around my boyfriend. It could mean they have intense fights–which you can do without being physical. I would hate to jump to that conclusion without sufficient evidence. And I too am a feminist, an active one actually. Let’s see how this plays out.

        • Guest

          It seems to me that Seal is speaking vaguely about the estrangement of their marriage, and Heidi has yet to speak about her perspective. A temper could very well be abuse – not necessarily physical abuse, but the equally damaging, not often acknowledged, emotional abuse. Not all abuse comes in the form of bruises and mean words. A bad temper can be accompanied with power struggles and head games. This can only be determined by the dynamics of Heidi and Seal – and whether she felt uncomfortable by his temper and he refused to express his emotions in a different way at the respect of her request (if it was made). This article does not touch on that, rather it assumes that it is about a pride issue over gender roles and success. I have yet to hear Seal admit to this or Heidi attribute this, though. Their separation is their painful business, and a situation that I hope they can peacefully find healing through. Nonetheless, the topic of abuse is something I strongly feel is not recognized adequately. Regardless of it’s inspiration (which very well could be from a successful imbalance issue), a temper can very much be a red flag: many cases of abuse have started with the simple uncontrolled temper that – with enough time and resentment – grew into a more precarious situation. Everyone has the ability to have a temper. Not everyone takes it to a level where their expression becomes hurtful, but when it does and it is not addressed, abuse is happening – whether it be physical, emotional, or verbal. Not all people with tempers are abusive. Not all abuse contains a person with a temper. But either way, it is something that should not be categorized as black or white and be talked about for those that do feel uncomfortable with their partners temper. The more we talk about these issues, the more our culture will feel empowered to stand up and say, “I don’t like this” instead of succumbing and becoming part of the abuse in the long run. 

  • kMargaret

    Don’t love the sensationalist title that plays into the fears of “the masses” about the changing power dynamic–LearnVest’s content is much stronger than that and deserves better. Sad to consider how few people utilize those three great tips.

  • Jes

    I’m not a fan of this post either – I feel as though this post is encouraging women to reconsider their career ambitions due to their possible effects on their marriage.  My response – women, keep doing what you are doing.  Be strong and successful and the right man (or woman) will fall in love with you for those qualities.  My husband is continues to encourage me and love me for who I am even though I make twice as much as him. 

  • SareenSCD

    I love this article.

    Its so true that people like to sweep their problems under the rug only to deal with a giant mess later. Making things clear from the beginning is very important! And communicating is KEY! But, the standard set by the older generation hurts the egos of many men these days and that leaves many women single not willing to deal with the “deadbeats” or “playboys”…

    I think Beta men are here to stay…

    • Anonymous

      Yes, just as beta women are. Just just because a man makes less than his wife doesn’t mean he is a “deadbeat” or a “playboy”. We need to stop having different standards based on the gender of the spouse.

  • gobbledygook

    I expect more from LV than this. Pathetic.

  • Blind Lady

    I agree w gobbledygook, I expect more from LV.  I have always made more money than my husband.  I was always more involved in the community than he was.  But he was and is my strongest supporter. He is proud of my accomplishments and not threaten by what I have achieved.  Chose carefully and work like hell to keep up w/ life changes.

  • Guest

    I thought the focus on power dynamic as opposed to families burning the candle at both (every?) may have highlighted the wrong point. It’s anyone’s guess whether a woman’s success bothers her husbands particular ego and sense of self–the fact that there are only so many hours in the day and so much energy to go around affects all families though. The fact that any company paying you more than 50-70K now (depending where you live) often acts as if they ‘own’ you (weekends, nights etc.) is a problem. I haven’t worked full time in an office job for 2 years, but the last one I had was basically a glorified admin asst. –not terribly well paid either–and the boss still acted as if he owned my time! Recession + dual careers +spiraling work hours is an issue. We also don’t live in a society that hands out trophy’s for being a good spouse, mother or friend (though these rolls may pay off long term). The trophy’s, money and glamour go to career success…it’s a free society and we are free to choose that. But if you take every project that comes down the pipeline without considering whether you can afford to sit one out once in a while, something will have to give eventually. But who knows, maybe Seal was just a jerk with a temper. We have no real way of knowing what went on behind closed doors.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jrowell1 Jessica Rowell

    Thank you for writing about this issue.

  • Guest

    I agree with the criticism here that the content on LearnVest should be better than this. I clicked through to this article with mild interest but as I do earn more than my husband and now and again it does come up as a very underlying issue, I thought it might give me some insight on best ways to handle this. 99% of the time my husband is amazing and supportive but I do know as much as he tries to hide it that it does bother him that he doesn’t earn as much. I thought this would be addressing that and giving useful advice but this article is completely fluff and useless. “Be flexible”. Yeah. Obviously in a relationship its best to be flexible. What does that have to do with dealing with a very real ego issue that a lot of men have, whether they like to admit it or not, and the effect that can have long term on a relationship? Nothing. Don’t just post articles to put up more content, please. There is enough of this crap out on the web. If you want to keep your readers, please keep posting useful and intelligent content, not headline bait with no substance. And one that insults women to boot by suggesting the divorce was somehow Heidi’s fault because she is successful, with no real knowledge of their actual relationship and issues.

    • Oshunswriting

      @Guest above: Good point, I would also like to ask if the writer of this article is married? Or at least has had this experience? Not to say that writer is not entitled to writing about this, but perhaps pick things that are in your expertise? Especially in regards to such a topic that is taken seriously but almost every modern married woman or woman contemplating marriage in this day and age.

  • Anonymous

    Why are you even commenting on the reason for their split.  You have no facts whatsoever. 
    They are not giving information.  What a waste of time to read this article.

  • Anonymous