The usual gossip has begun to swirl around the big announcement that Hugh Jackman and his wife Deborra-Lee Furness are divorcing after 27 years of marriage.
But as people wonder if the marriage was a “sham” all along, and Page Six reported that the divorce was “a long time coming,” they could also consider that the Jackmans are like many couples who divorce after long marriages. Whatever led to the split, Jackman and Furness are part of a growing U.S. trend of “gray divorce” — or divorce after the age of 50.
In a statement to People, the couple explained that they are amicably ending their marriage.
“We have been blessed to share almost three decades together as husband and wife in a wonderful, loving marriage,” the statement said. “Our journey now is shifting and we have decided to separate to pursue our individual growth.”
The statement, signed “Deb and Hugh Jackman,” concluded: “This is the sole statement either of us will make.”
The Australian couple, who have long lived in New York City and who share two children, Oscar, 23, and Ava, 18, married in 1996. They met the year before while working together on an Australian TV series. At the time, Furness was already an established actor, while Jackman was an up-and-coming young actor fresh out of drama school.
Several years later, Jackman became known outside Australia, first by performing on stage in London and then by starring as Wolverine in the “X-Men” franchise. He cemented his international, leading man status by starring in a number of films, most recently in “The Greatest Showman.” He also won major awards, including a Tony and an Emmy, and he successfully hosted the Academy Awards in 2009.
Over the years, the couple have responded to persistent speculation that Jackman is secretly gay. The couple often have used humor to push back against such “mean-spirited” gossip, as Furness has called it.
“Hugh’s been gay for whatever, I mean, hello guys — if he was gay, he could be gay!” Furness joked in a 2022 interview with the “Not an Overnight Success” podcast, Us Weekly reported. She also said that if her husband were gay he wouldn’t still be married to her.
“He (wouldn’t) have to hide in the closet anymore, and he’d be dating Brad Pitt, or whatever,” Furness said. “Not that Brad’s gay, but you know what I’m saying!”
But Furness admitted in a 2020 interview that one aspect of being married to Jackman has been hard. She said people constantly remind her how lucky she is to be partnered with the actor, singer and dancer, who is so handsome and such a “stud muffin” that some people like to joke that he can’t be straight.
Whatever went on privately between the couple, they are not the only high-profile couple to break up after a long marriage — sometimes shocking fans as well as anyone who longs to believe in the idea of a happy, till-death-do-us-part marriage. Other prominent, longtime couples who have divorced in recent years include Sonya and Dell Curry, the parents of Steph Curry, as well as Bill and Melinda French Gates and Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott.
At a time when divorce is becoming less common for younger adults, the divorce rate among U.S. adults 50 and older roughly doubled between 1990 and 2015, according to Pew Research data. But when longtime couples like the Jackmans break up, people don’t just wonder what happened. They also tend to ask: Why divorce now? With the Jackmans, people could say, they’ve already make it this long together, and they’ve long managed to shrug off speculation about their marriage.
Experts told this news organization in 2021 that shifting cultural norms and economic factors have contributed to the growing rate of divorces in the 50-and-older crowd.
If marriage is not fulfilling, divorce is an acceptable solution for many couples, experts say. When longtime couples break up, it’s often said that they have “grown apart,” said San Jose-based marriage and family therapist Liliya George. That’s the case with Jackman and Furness, whose statement referred to their “shifting journey” and the “next chapter” in their lives.
“People get so focused over the years on building their finances, raising their children, but now that the kids have been away for a while, they tell me, ‘We don’t seem to have anything in common. I look at my partner and I don’t really recognize that person,’” George said.
Infidelity is common in older couples that George sees, though it’s usually a “symptom,” she said, of larger issues. Page Six quoted an “insider” who said a “third party” was not a factor of Jackman and Furness’ breakup, but added that the couple had “morphed into roommates.”
Longtime couples often find that their marriages are in trouble because people change and grow — sometimes separately and sometimes together — as they go through each life stage, said Orinda-based therapist Margie Ryerson.
Couples also tend to reassess their marriages at certain turning points, such as when they become empty nesters or reach retirement, she said. Perhaps, it’s no coincidence that the Jackmans’ youngest child has turned 18. Meanwhile, Americans’ increased life expectancy also means a spouse may start to question whether they want to spend another 10, 20 or 30 years with a person they realize they may not even like much.