Dubai Diaries: Lessons from Bill and Melinda's divorce
What can we learn from the break-up of this famous couple?
This week the world woke up to news that another marriage ended ‘badly’ when Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates and his wife of 27 years, Melinda Gates, announced their divorce. In a well thought out joint statement, both said, “after a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage.” The power-couple’s split shook the world partly because no one but them saw it coming.
From the outside, they appeared to be an ideal couple who lived a meaningful life together for nearly three decades. Their multi-billion dollar charity foundation has impacted millions of lives across the globe. Bill and Melinda turned their marriage into a mission to make the world a better place. Now the marriage is over, but their mission is not. There are some lessons in the Gates’ divorce.
First, divorce isn’t always a ‘bad’ thing. It’s almost always a hard thing, a sad thing, and a challenging thing, but it is not always bad. Nobody gets married intending to get divorced, so ending a marriage necessarily means waking up from a dream of spending the rest of your life together. But sad doesn’t mean bad.
A divorce is often-times like a slow-moving train wreck, years in the making. There are exceptions, of course, when a marriage crash-lands to divorce faster than it took to plan the wedding. But in the slow wreck scenario, you can see the end result coming, but stopping it requires difficult action and overcoming marital inertia that may have built up over years.
By the time the train wreck happens, trust may have degraded between partners to the point where splitting is what is best for one, both, and maybe even the kids. It allows both to start over and rebuild their lives anew.
Second, as the Gates’ joint statement shows us, the divorce itself does not have to be acrimonious. Maybe because so many people try to hang on for so long, avoiding the inevitable, when the train finally hits, the blame starts. The key is for both parties to try to remain friends, and keep decency and respect at the forefront of your mind. That can be hard, especially if the marriage ended after a long period of acrimony and bitterness. Third, don’t let your divorce turn your friends and family against one another. Divorce can cause people to take sides, sucking them into arguments as nasty as the divorcing couple’s fights.
I hope this doesn’t happen for the Gates: too often, we see high-profile celebrity marriages become gossip material for clickbait and Page 3 headlines. While there is no TV show in most of our lives, divorce can still turn ordinary peoples’ lives into a family circus. It may seem odd to say, but: Congratulations, Bill and Melinda.
Your marriage served its purpose, and did not ‘fail.’ It existed for the length of time it needed to, established a world-changing foundation, and now each of you can move forward with respect, caring, and grace.