- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2010

The notion that Al and Tipper Gore had a “picture-perfect marriage” was squelched this week when they announced that they were splitting up. But that left many to wonder if it could happen to them, it could happen to anyone.

After all, Al and Tipper Gore, who are 62 and 61, respectively, were married for 40 years. The former high school sweethearts have been together since they first met in 1965. They got married five years later, they raised four children and they appeared to have weathered many hardships and heartache over the years.

So why did they decide to part ways now?

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“The breakup of Al and Tipper Gore shows that no marriage, no matter how seemingly happy or long-lived is immune from potential collapse,” said Jonathan Robinson, psychotherapist and author of the best-seller “Communication Miracles for Couples.” “The fact that the Gores’ marriage is ending can be a wake-up call to other couples to avoid resting on their laurels.”

Mr. Robinson, who has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, said he thinks that a good marriage takes an ongoing commitment to honest communication in order to have a strong and enduring relationship. He recommends that husbands and wives frequently discuss with each other ways they can make their marriage more fun, loving and enjoyable.

The Gores have and continue to invest a lot of themselves in their children’s careers while juggling their own. They survived a life crisis in 1989 when their son, Albert Gore III, was nearly killed in a car accident. In every public appearance together, most people observed the Gores’ seemingly marital bliss. Their famous long kiss at the 2000 Democratic National Convention left many talking about it for months.

But in an e-mail to friends on Tuesday, the Gores said they were calling it quits.

“After a great deal of thought and discussion, we have decided to separate,” the Gores wrote in the e-mail. “This is very much a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together.”

The Gores told friends they “grew apart” after four decades of marriage and there was no affair involved, according to two longtime close associates and family friends.

Some have speculated that Mr. Gore’s new fame as the world’s most well-known environmentalist, with his Oscar-winning film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and his Nobel Prize, may have had something to do with the breakup. Others think, and some experts have concluded, that because people live longer today, many couples after 25-plus years of marriage think there is no reason for them to stay together because the structure of their lives has changed.

“I think the Gores stopped having fun together,” said Claudia Arp, co-author of “Second Half of Marriage” and co-founder of Marriage Alive along with her husband, David. “The key to a successful marriage is the level of the couple’s friendship; if they are spending time together, having fun together.”

Mrs. Arp and her husband said they have “never once met a couple on their way to a divorce court because they were having fun together.” They hope that all of these questions raised by people and the media will lead couples to realize that there is help out there that will aid them in nurturing that kind of friendship. The Arps are finding a lot of baby boomers whose experiences are similar to the Gores.

“They need to grow together as a couple and not just as individuals,” said Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and former director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families.

“Taking time to work on their friendship provides the challenge couples need yet is within the framework of that relationship,” she said.

The U.S. Census Bureau does not tabulate divorce rates for specific age groups. But Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who studies family trends, points to its 2008 American Community Survey, which asked people if they had divorced in the past year. Among those who said that they had, a quarter had married more than 20 years earlier.

“It’s not inconceivable that people’s desires, preferences and interests would have changed enough over 40 years that they’d decide they’d be better off splitting up,” she said.

c This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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