Culture and Lifestyle

Bill and Melinda Gates: Falling Apart but Staying Together

You can draw a long list. Is it affluence, amazing reputation, global recognition, massive influence? They have them all and more. World leaders and reputable institutions across the world regularly eat from their hands. Now, what could be the reason that renowned billionaires, Bill and Melinda Gates, are seeking to end their marriage?

Take a look at their marriage which spanned 27 good years with no record of any scandal against either of them. Healthwise, there was no record that either was sick. Even if they go down in health, the best medical attention science can offer was at their beck and call. Their charity foundation is the biggest in the world. All these facts combine to make the separation of Bill and Melinda an enigma on the sands of history.

However, their efforts in picking up the pieces should spin out some great lessons that humanity can learn from. Popular English poet and Nobel laureate, Rudyard Kipling, in his highly inspirational poem “If” said; “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch; If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; …, Yours is the Earth ….my son!”

Even in separation, the brief statement released by the parting couple underlines their decision to keep the common touch, especially on issues regarding humanity.

It is true that no one gets married with the expectation of getting divorced someday. When couples promise to love and cherish themselves for the rest of their lives, they don’t picture what it will be like to be alone again. However, it is a true test of character how the parties react when the inevitable happens.

In the case of Bill and Melinda, the reason for their split might never emerge as the whole thing was shrouded in mystery and top secret. However, it is remarkable that the two parties were able to conceal their disagreements through strong synergy and mutual understanding even when they were making efforts to see if things could still work out.

In Africa, especially Nigeria, it is rare, even among the elites, for issues of divorce to end cordially, let alone the dissenting partners agreeing to work together on any project. Most times the parties will compete on who will be the better mudslinger. From celebrities to politicians, the trend has not been different. Even among religious elites, rancorous separations are not uncommon. The case between Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of Christ Embassy and the wife readily comes to mind.

While there’s no manual on how to put life back together when plans to stay “forever” is cut short, how the new life is managed and the steps towards smooth disengagement or keeping in touch in relevant areas when necessary, are strong indicators to the level of maturity of the characters involved. One lesson that can be learnt from the separation of Bill and Melinda Gates is that even beyond relationships, whether it is with a business associate, tenant, colleague, political associate and employee, parting of ways can always be handled amicably when the will exist.

The separating billionaires who are co-founders of one of the world’s largest private charitable organisation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have revealed that they have come to an agreement on how to split their assets. They have equally announced that they would continue to work jointly at the foundation.

Bill Gates even from childhood had always been highly unpredictable in character and actions. He grew up in a city called Seattle and fell in love with machines and computer programming as a geeky-looking 13-year-old. He was born on 28 October 1955. He shocked all around him when he dropped out of Harvard University after two years to start “Microsoft” with a childhood friend.

Also, Melinda Gates was born on 15 August 1964 in Dallas, Texas. The first computer she ever used was an Apple II, and she developed an interest in computer games and programming at school. In 1987, Melinda was hired as a product manager for the company, and she met Bill just three weeks after getting hired when she travelled to New York. Bill Gates was 32 at the time, and Melinda was 23. They later got married in 1994 and had three children.

In 2000, they launched the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the most influential private foundation in the world, with an endowment worth nearly $50 billion.

Interestingly, their 27-year marriage had no prenuptial agreement. However, the couples are handling things with deep mutual agreement. It was revealed that Melinda Gates was the partner who filed the divorce petition in which she described her marriage to Bill Gates as “irretrievably broken”.

In the divorce petition posted by TMZ.com, which was filed in the Superior Court of Washington (King County), Melinda asked the judge to dissolve the marriage “on the date stated in our separation contract”.

The Microsoft founder is presently the fourth richest man in the world with a fortune of about $130billion. He is likely to drop from number 4 to 17 on the billionaires’ index after splitting his fortune with his wife.

According to Forbes, Jeff Bezos topped the billionaires’ index with $177bn followed by Elon Musk with $151bn; Bernard Arnault and family with $150bn; and Bill Gates with $124bn.

The divorce of Bill and Melinda should be the biggest divorce since Amazon Chief Executive Officer, Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, split their $137billion fortune after his affair wrecked their 25-year marriage.

Bill and Melinda Gates have always appeared to be the reference point of married couples. So when they announced on May 3 that after 27 years they “no longer believe they can grow together”, almost everybody was stunned.

Many feel that if Bill and Melinda couldn’t make it, with all their money, including a joint project that had made a real impact, three kids, as well as 27 years under their belt, what hope is there for the rest of the world?

Some relationship experts have tried to pick out some probabilities that must have led to Bill and Melinda parting ways. Israel Helfand, who with his wife, Cathie runs retreats for high-net-worth individuals whose marriages are on the brink of failing noticed some things about many of his clients at the retirement stage. According to him, “Not only are people living longer and healthier at their older ages, but they’re also seeing more opportunities. And so people have become a little bit more picky about their level of happiness. They don’t want to compromise.”

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Another factor therapists notice about people close to 60 and above is the so-called “empty nest syndrome.” Many couples find that when they are no longer raising children together they have few other projects or interests in common. Others find it is a moment to take another look at what they really want from life as the kids are now on their own. “It’s a time when they reassess what the relationship holds for each of them as individuals,” says John Gottman whose 2015 book reads; “If part of the relationship is eroded, the romance, the passion, the collective adventure, then a lot of couples take that as a time to end the relationship amicably. And my guess is that in a lot of ways, they’ve probably led very parallel lives. They’re so busy, and they’re both very powerful intellects independently.”

In light of this, each of the couples, even within the joint foundation, developed different interests. Bill focuses on climate change and health. Melinda has been increasingly active in issues affecting women and girls. When she turned 50, she told TIME she was no longer going to meetings about science and medicine at the foundation. “I trust Bill has those,“ she said. “I’m taking more meetings about women and girls’ issues and the cultural behaviour-change pieces of that.” Melinda also has her own philanthropic foundation, Pivotal Ventures, since 2015.

Indeed, some therapists feel their work for the foundation may have contributed to their separation. They may simply not have had the time to give to each other that which a workable marriage needs. In the words of Julie Gottman:

“They actually have had the courage as well as the resources to tackle the biggest problems we suffer from in humanity.

“How do you pull yourself away from trying to address those never-ending problems in order to just prioritise you and me?”

While adding that it must be hard to prioritise one’s spouse over issues as enormous as global poverty and illness, Gottman noted that “You know, addressing the leader of India is a little more important than going on a date. That may have pulled them apart.” Until Bill or Melinda decide to open up on what directly led to their decisions, we will still work within the realm of guesswork.

Nevertheless, parting ways in marriages, relationships, partnerships, and other areas will always occur as long as humans with emotions, feelings, and aspirations exist in the world. It is the extent of preparation and maturity that will determine the style of play when the ball is in any individual’s court.