Why we care about Bill and Melinda Gates

I have never met Bill or Melinda Gates, the Microsoft and philanthropy power couple. But I groaned aloud when I read the headlines today: Bill and Melinda Gates to divorce after 27 years of marriage.

I felt sad for the fourth richest man in the world and his wife, two people I have no relationship with at all.

In a personal statement posted separately on their individual Twitter accounts, Melinda and Bill Gates shared how “after a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage.”

The Gates’ statement celebrated their “three incredible children” and asked for space and privacy. They also will continue to work together on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, their global non-for-profit that “fights poverty, disease and inequity”.

Celebrities of all sorts make the news every day and often for relationship issues or catastrophes. It seems that plenty of us love to peer into the private lives of famous people, particularly when the wheels are falling off. Perhaps we take pleasure in the fact that rich, successful people have hardships too.

The Gates’ announcement, though, tends to strike a different chord. One of sorrow and disappointment, not ridicule or “only a matter of time” sneers. Even though we live in an age where serial dating, fluid relationships and sexual freedom permeate culture, we also want marriages to last.

At the same time as individual happiness can be championed, we continue to recognise something worthwhile and commendable about the ongoing union of a married couple.

Married for almost three decades, Melinda and Bill Gates looked like they were going to go the distance. In a universe far removed from mine, the Gates had navigated vast wealth, power and influence throughout their marriage – and remained together. At least, they were

I’ve been separated and divorced. To put it simply, it was the worst experience of my life. By far. And my ex-wife and I did not have children, an international charity or media scrutiny to contend with like the Gates’ do.

I have since married my wife Amy, who also has been divorced. Once or twice per year, we facilitate a course called DivorceCare. This Christianity-based support group includes video material on topics related to separation and divorce – from anger to loneliness, single parenting to possible reconciliation – as well as extensive time for group discussion. These conversations frequently are raw, vulnerable and heartbreaking.

We’ve met many men and women like us. Their personal stories are always totally different to anyone else’s, but there is a consistency to the heartache, shattered dreams and residual pain of a marriage torn in two. Devastation abounds when spouses who set out to love, cherish and support are unable to do so.

When God designed marriage, he designed it to last. The two shall become one, as the start of the Bible captures it (Genesis 2:24). This beautiful picture of a union intended to never end effortlessly explains why we care about Melinda and Bill Gates getting divorced.

Yes, we all know that marriages can crumble and collapse. But we also know that that’s not how we want it to be. I imagine Melinda and Bill Gates feel the same.