Oh, Mel, what’s happened to you?
Of course I’m referring to Mel Gibson. The same Mel Gibson with magnificent blue eyes and the face of a romance novel hero who used to leave women swooning at his feet. The same Mel Gibson who raised seven children with a wife he’d adored for 20-plus years. The same Mel Gibson who won sexiest man of the year and went to mass every Sunday.
This Mel Gibson now screams at us from the television, in scratchy recordings. He rages at the mother of his child, gasping tortured gulps of air in a vain attempt at calming down. He rants in a frightening voice, the decibel level that is terrifying even to hear as a curious listener. He uses so much profanity that a mechanical bleep obscures every other word.
It is disturbing, of course, to hear anybody scream at his partner with such venom, to say such ugly things to her, to be so terribly out of control. Mel was already Enemy No. 1 after his anti-Semitic, drunken rant from 2006. These tapes don’t help him. Now he’s the most hated man in America.
I can’t possibly defend Mel Gibson. Who could? But … yes, there is a but. As a therapist, I am more intrigued by his wife, Robin – the woman to whom he was married for 28 years, the woman who defends him and says she never saw any bad behavior from him all those years they were married. It takes courage to stand up and defend a soon-to-be ex-husband in his darkest hour.
Whatever troubles became the Gibsons’ undoing, there appears to have been a solid partnership for 28+ years. Mel seems to have chosen wisely when he was selecting a life partner. One of Mel’s wiser life decisions was choosing to marry Robin, I suspect.
I see couples and often wonder how in the world they chose each other. What made these two people think this pairing was a good idea? The choice of a marital partner is one of the most critical ones a person makes. This simple choice sets many aspects of life into motion. What traits do you look for when you are deciding whom to marry?
Psychologist Robert Sternberg suggests that when passion, intimacy, and commitment are all sustained at high levels, the ideal pattern---consummate love----is the result. Understanding your relationship in terms of passion, intimacy, and commitment can help you know which areas are strong and which ones need work.
For example, if you have high passion, but little intimacy or commitment, you have infatuation. While this is exciting, it doesn’t last. Or when a love is based on commitment, such as in an arranged marriage, the result is empty love. It lacks the passion of sexual desire, and the intimacy of knowing each other well. And, a marriage that is based on deep affection and commitment, but lacks passion, is a companionate love.
If you are trying to make a decision about a partner, or to improve a partnership you are already in, look at your passion, intimacy, and commitment. Is one area lower than the others? Think about how you can make improvements in the weakest area. An infatuation, companionate love, or empty love could develop into a consummate love, with the right two people making effort.
Back to Mel and Robin: I don’t know if it is too late for them. But from this outside perspective, my guess is that at one time they had high levels of passion, intimacy and commitment. Twenty-eight years of marriage is nothing to sneeze at. Don’t stone me because I am saying something nice about Mel. I don't know what's up with him right now; but 28 years ago, he did something right.