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The “Jeff Bezos Syndrome”: When Craving Challenge Becomes an Addiction

People don’t come much more analytical and sharp than Jeff Bezos.  You just don’t get to be the richest (or, today, second richest!) man in the world—barring a huge inheritance!--without being really smart, not to mention, focused on your work.  Bezos and his now ex-wife, MacKenzie, divorced with a settlement worth $38 billion.  So how does a man like Jeff Bezos end up in a personal mess to rival any covered in the tabloids?  How does a billionaire with a beautiful and apparently caring wife end up falling for someone else and then becoming tabloid fodder when the someone else’s brother apparently releases all the details to the press?  Doesn’t someone that smart and worldly and rich have ways to avoid precisely this kind of humiliating situation?

To a casual observer, the Bezos situation would seem, on its surface, to be almost stereotypical of what can happen to rich and successful men—they fall for a beautiful, younger woman.  End of story.  But actually, that’s more like the beginning of the story. What happened to Jeff Bezos can happen to any of us.  Although most of us won’t make the tabloids, we nevertheless can end up in just as big a mess.

The biggest issue is that these are men and women who constantly crave challenge and excitement.  However much excitement they once may have had in their personal lives, they sometimes come to feel that the excitement has been drained out of the relationship.  They need a new challenge.  They always need a new challenge. So, they try to reestablish the challenge and excitement they once felt but no longer feel in their current relationship. But rather than try to reestablish it in their existing relationship, they try to establish it in a new relationship.  For some people, if the challenge is gone, the relationship may go too.

One last thing: Needless to say, I don't know Jeff Bezos (or his now ex-wife) personally. Relationships are complex and much of them, no matter how public they may be, is hidden from public view.  So we never really know for sure what is going right in a relationship or what is going wrong!  Sometimes relationships run their course and they just cannot be saved, affair or not.

What are trouble signs for a relationship—ones that your partner may be experiencing but that you may not be aware of?

Passion—If you’ve lost it, try to bring it back!

Passion isn’t just for teenagers.  It’s just as much for anyone at almost age who is well past being a teenager.  And it has no relation to IQ.  It doesn’t how matter how smart you are.  On the contrary, very smart people may be better at figuring out how to rationalize their behavior. 

Do you and your partner still feel passion?  More importantly: If the passion has waned, how much is each of you bothered by it?

Equity—Without it, one partner or the other probably will feel cheated. 

Elaine Hatfield and Ellen Berscheid, researchers on love and close relationships, found many years ago that relationships work best when there is a feeling of equity—both partners feel that the other is just as good a deal for them as they are for the other.  When a man (or woman!) is hugely successful and values that success, that individual may come to feel that he or she is ripe for “moving up.” 

If you suspect your partner feels this way, what can you offer that might remind your partner of what a good deal you are?  

Maintaining intimacy in the face of situational pressure—when your partner is gone a lot. 

Sometimes, you feel your relationship is under great stress not because of any particular feelings you or your partner have, but rather because of his or her being all over the place.  How do you maintain intimacy with someone who is, well, everywhere?  Extremely successful men and women often are all over the place.  Situationally, if anyone is ripe for being picking off by someone else, it is likely to be a man or woman who is away from home a lot. That person is likely to be attractive to many potential suitors who idolize the individual for their success and maybe want to be a part of it.  It’s easy to criticize those suitors. Such suitors always will be there.  The question is whether the successful individual will have the will power to resist them or even feel that he or she should.  Note that the physical attractiveness of the “target” usually is not much of an issue. 

What are some ways you can remind your partner that you were and still are a great catch?

The Art Story—how partners can be lured away.

 People all view love through stories (you can read more about stories here).  One of those stories is the “art story”—the view that, in John Keats’s words, “Beauty is truth, truth, beauty.”  You come to believe that the truth, at least for you, is to be found in beauty.  As many of us age and begin to decline in beauty, those who are successful may look for it in someone younger than the person they are with. 

We all can make ourselves more attractive, inside as well as outside.  But sometimes, when we have been in a relationship for a while, we stop trying.  Don’t stop.  Everyone at any age appreciates a partner who is attractive in whatever ways they value.

Boredom—don’t let it happen to you. 

When intimacy, passion, and commitment all decrease, boredom often results. The problem is that by the time both people realize that the components of love have declined, it is often too late to do anything about it, perhaps as in the Bezos situation.  Find new things to talk about; do new things together; take on joint hobbies; go to new places or watch new kinds of movies or read new kinds of books. 

Boredom can happen to all couples. Don’t let it happen to you, and if it has, no better time to fight it than right now!

Middle-aged angst. 

As we make our way through life, we often come to realize that our window for second chances is closing, more and more rapidly.  We begin to feel that it’s now or never.  Sometimes, men and women experiment with affairs to give themselves a second chance but with the safety of the primary relationship still intact.  Or so they think, because affairs often blow up marriages, even when that is not the intention. The other partner finds out and the marriage may be kaput, not matter what the wandering partner intends.

The more prominent you are, the more likely you are to be a target.

And for those who quickly have shot up to success:  It does not sound like Bezos was super-careful about taking the steps he would have needed to take while having an affair.  He probably never expected to be betrayed by the brother of his paramour.  But that’s a problem for all affairs, not just those of the rich and famous.  How much is secure these days, anyway?  All kinds of entities have been hacked--the US government, technology companies that one would think would know better, major corporations that can essentially spend unlimited funds on security.  Do you really believe that anything you do could be kept private if someone were determined enough to snoop on you?  Could you keep secret what technology companies fail to secure?  Probably not. 

Chances are that you lack quite the fame that would make you the next super-salable Bezos story.  But that does not mean that someone might not want to snoop on your private life.  If they want to and have the resources and the will, almost certainly they can.  So, keep in mind that, especially these days, relationships that start off as secret relationships, often don’t end up that way. 

One last thing: Relationships are complex and no matter how public they are, people outside the relationship rarely know what is really going on inside the relationship.  Sometimes even people inside the relationship do not know quite what is going on.  As I do not personally Jeff or MacKenzie Bezos personally, I am in no position to know exactly what happened to them.  None of us know and maybe they don't quite know either. Sometimes, relationships run their course and just cannot be saved, affair or no affair.

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