Why Are Bill and Melinda Gates Divorcing? | Carole Topol Orland, Esq.
As a seasoned divorce attorney, I have been asked that question by many friends, relatives, and colleagues since The Announcement. The bottom line is: I do not know. However, my years of experience provide me with some possible insight, as there is a typical range of reasons people, particularly a prominent and uber wealthy couple, call it quits. So, let’s explore what those possibilities are and you can decide for yourself, or maybe someday some version of the truth will surface.
Beginning with the most benign explanation and progress to the most insidious:
- “We still have affection and respect for each other. We simply grew apart. We are different people than we were in the early and intermediate stages of our marriage. We want to go in different directions as we grow older.” This is currently the Gates’ message and often the party line. While it can be true, after all, in many relationships people grow in different ways, how likely is it given the Gates’ mutuality on social causes and philanthropy that their goals and objectives are so at odds with each other that they couldn’t reconcile them to save their marriage? Doubtful this is the whole story.
- Money, success, and fame went to either one’s head, or both. Being a master/mistress of the universe can obfuscate what’s real and what’s important. It’s like looking through a clouded lens. Possibly true in the case of the Gateses. There really is very little textbook advice for how to handle life and relationships when a couple enters the stratosphere.
- There is an absence of intimacy. One partner is unable to perform. Or the other partner has intimacy issues. Sexual drives and proclivities no longer align. Psychologists and sex therapists can have a field day analyzing and trying to fix the underlying issues but often it just doesn’t work. Impossible to know without being in the Gates’ bedroom.
- Job stress can ruin a relationship. While Bill and Melinda have high performing “jobs” which may be stressful to either or both of them, if the relationship were otherwise solid and worth saving, they are in a position to scale back or check out. Bill did to some extent do that when he backed away from Microsoft but even if the couple’s other endeavors were creating stress to the relationship, they had an out. It’s hard to buy that their jobs doomed their marriage.
- The disability or illness of a child can cause tension in a marriage, leading to failure. By all accounts, the Gates children are physically well and high achieving. Even if there are emotional issues that come with the territory of being a Gates child, their parents have the intellectual capacity and ability to address that without it causing them to divorce. I don’t see this a as the reason their marriage has ended.
- Third party. More often than not, this is a component of a broken marriage. Whether it’s the chicken or the egg, the result is one party or both develops an extramarital love interest. Given the vast exposure of each of the Gateses to adulation from an outsized swath of people all over the world, they were susceptible to succumbing to the fawning and attention, especially if it filled some other void in their relationship. Good bet that either Bill or Melinda has found intimacy with a third party or will very soon.
- Substance abuse is often a factor in the breakdown of marriages. Why people engage in this behavior is again left to the psychologists, but certainly individuals with high stress, money, and access are prime candidates when it comes to drug use. Bill and Melinda’s public image does not comport with this type of indulgence however it can be easily masked given the resources and connections to do so. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t bet on this as a reason for their breakup.
- Alcoholism. Like other types of substance abuse, it knows no socio-economic boundaries. But it is pervasive among many divorcing couples. There is no evidence that either or both of the Gateses have fallen prey to alcoholism but again, it cannot be ruled out.
- Mental health of either party is always a consideration. Does either party or both have a diagnosis? Often we see mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar, and narcissism as a cause or result of a failing marriage. It is doubtful we will ever be privy to the Bill or Melinda’s medicine cabinet at least unless or until one or the other writes a tell all book but I would not be surprised if mental health is a component of their marriage woes.
- Emotional abuse and coercive control are factors we often find in couples who divorce. It is very possible, given the meteoric success of the Gateses, that some of these traits crept into their interpersonal dynamics. Maybe that’s what they were “working on” unsuccessfully before they made the decision to pull the plug. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some of this going on with Bill and Melinda.
- Physical abuse is one of the most intolerable behaviors in any relationship and often a ground for terminating a marriage. It too can and often does span the spectrum of wealth and intellect. Because it is so horrific, frightening and embarrassing, it’s not often shared with anyone outside of the marriage. So, it’s impossible to know if this was occurring between Bill and Melinda. I simply cannot opine further on this as a cause for their marriage failing.
Most often marriages end not due to any single factor above but more likely due to a confluence of circumstances. My guess is that is true for Bill and Melinda. We likely will never know the answer(s) but it is still interesting to speculate given their rock star status. Best of luck to them both.
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