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
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