“And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark…” So goes Genesis. And in its own way, ditto PEOPLE.
Since its beginning in 1974, the magazine has chronicled the lives of “two of every sort” week in, week out in its Couples section. We’ve dealt with long-marrieds, multiple-marrieds, unmarrieds, gay couples and one duo (producer Bob Radnitz and writer Joanna Crawford) divorced for six years but still enjoying conjugal visits together. Our 292 couples have been a diverse lot, having little in common except love (if sometimes fleeting) and prominence.
Last week the editors of PEOPLE completed a follow-up study of all those couples, and the results are surprising indeed. Of the 292, 50 have split—a seemingly low figure considering the high-pressure lives these men and women lead and the precarious reputation of celebrity marriages. This 17 percent failure cannot be compared to the national divorce rate of nearly 50 percent because the figures use different statistical bases and because our sample is so special. But of course that’s what makes their romantic success so interesting. Among our couples, both partners almost always had separate careers and enough money to live independently if they wished. Shouldn’t these factors make breaking up more likely?
Not necessarily. When both partners work, says Dr. Clifford Sager, who specializes in couples therapy, “they don’t have to stay together out of financial considerations. They elect to stay together.” Adds New York psychoanalyst Harriet Pappenheim: “The key to happiness for high achievers is, each partner gets fulfillment outside the marriage, while maintaining the commitment to the marriage.”
Our couples tended to be well educated, another advantage. “The higher the intellectual level, the higher the understanding—they’re able to talk it out,” says George O’Neill, who with his wife, Nena, wrote Open Marriage (they were a PEOPLE couple in 1977 and are still together). Couples with brains and money are also more likely to try therapy if their marriages falter. “Once a couple comes in for counseling,” Pappenheim reports, “there is a good chance their marriage can be helped.”
Finally, life in the fast lane gives people adaptability. “It’s a willingness to experiment with life-styles,” says Pappenheim. “Urban couples are more likely to survive an extramarital affair than a couple in a small town where everybody’s talking.”
A clear geographical difference emerged. All of our Washington, D.C. couples are still intact, while the mostly showbiz twosomes in Los Angeles flopped at a 27 percent rate. Sager suggests that pressures are the same in each town, but customs differ. “Hollywood has a tradition of marital mixup,” he says. “In Washington you can’t get divorced. It’s bad for a politician’s career.”
When couples work together, theorizes Pappenheim, their chances of success are even better because “shared career interests can be very fulfilling.” Indeed, only 16 of PEOPLE’S 124 partner-couples have split. Ironically, one of those hapless pairs was doing research on human compatibility when they were profiled in 1975. While Elaine Hatfield still teaches at the University of Wisconsin, her ex-husband, Bill Walster, is remarried and working for a computer manufacturer in Minneapolis. “When there are two careers going simultaneously,” Walster demurs, “there are more possibilities for people’s interests to grow apart.”
The Census Bureau reports more than twice as many unmarried couples live together now as in 1970. All that company has not greatly helped the 29 unmarried PEOPLE couples. Thirteen are no longer together (e.g., Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert are married to others), five married each other, and two more are engaged (Margaux Hemingway and Bernard Foucher plan a New Year’s Eve wedding).
Overall, our couples have had 16 babies, with five more on the way. Authors Erica Jong and Jonathan Fast have 15-month-old Molly, who “will be writing in about a year,” says Mom. Alana Hamilton and Rod Stewart announced a daughter four months after they exchanged vows last April. (He insisted in February 1977 that he had made Britt Ekland, then his mate, “happier than any man she’s ever known.” She subsequently sued him for $15 million-plus.) Among the expectant mothers are actress Penny Peyser; John Ritter’s wife, Nancy Morgan, and Gay Black-stone, wife-assistant to Harry the magician.
Some of the 50 sunderings have been especially traumatic. Al and Sandy Williamson, who were running a center for schizophrenic youths in Winter Park, Fla., broke up when Sandy went to live with a woman who was a former resident. Sandy assumed the name India Aditi (“free and unbounded, mother of the gods and protector of cattle and children” in Hindustani). Al remarried. The halfway house is flourishing.
Cybill Shepherd is “the kind of woman who doesn’t mean to be cruel to men, but who is,” her lover Peter Bogdanovich said in 1974. Early this year she married Memphis auto-parts dealer David Ford and has since borne his child. Dancer Juliet Prowse spent six months a year on the road while her actor husband, John McCook, stayed home to tend their son; they’re blaming distance for their split. (Marriage counselor Pappenheim says that’s a special hazard for showbiz couples: “People simply need to be together for a certain amount of time.”)
Then there’s the pop-rock group ABBA, a double couples story in 1978. Agnetha Fältskog and Björn Ulvaeus, then married, have divorced. Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson, then cohabiting, have gotten married.
Both of our homosexual couples are still together. Madeleine Isaacson and Sandy Schuster are raising six children outside Seattle and writing a book, and in San Francisco architect Charles Deaton and Dr. Tom Waddell are in their fourth year of self-styled matrimony.
Sweetest of all, perhaps, are the couples who separated and reunited. “Some couples are saying: ‘Let’s live apart for a while,’ ” says Sager. ” ‘You have your fling and maybe we’ll come back together again.’ ” Natalie Cole and minister Marvin Yancy split for eight months, citing career pressures, then reconciled quietly three months ago. New York Times columnist Tom Wicker and his second wife, ABC vice-president Pam Hill, had a 10-week hiatus in 1975 but are a duo once more. Rick and Kris Nelson have settled their differences. Actor Richard Harris and Ann Turkel have called off divorce proceedings again.
Some social scientists predict that as the traditional reasons for marriage—child bearing and financial support for women—become less crucial, so will the institution itself. More people—20 percent of American adults, in a recent study—are in fact living alone. But, says George O’Neill, “We’re going to continue to have marriage. It is the most rewarding of all relationships. Caring, sharing, enthusiasm and trust are the basic dynamics for great man-woman relationships.”