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What Is the Price of Love?

Rich people are “less likely than poorer people to exhibit flexibility, empathy, and all the other traits” that lead to healthy, long-term relationships.

The “stratospherically rich,” observed Beverly Hills psychotherapist Fran Walfish, do often care more about “achievements, status, and how they are viewed by others” than relationships. (Photo: Farid Iqbal Ibrahim/flickr/cc)
The “stratospherically rich,” observed Beverly Hills psychotherapist Fran Walfish, do often care more about “achievements, status, and how they are viewed by others” than relationships. (Photo: Farid Iqbal Ibrahim/flickr/cc) 

Valentine’s Day must be former billionaire Tim Blixseth’s least favorite day of the year. The 67-year-old timber baron turned real estate developer has not exactly been, you might say, lucky in love.

A first wife came and went. Ditto a second. Wife number three did seem, for a serious spell, to be working out spectacularly well. In the late 1990s, Tim and Edra Blixseth turned their 13,600-acre spread just north of Yellowstone National Park into a member-only, high-security ski club resort for the rich and famous, everyone from Bill Gates to global golfing superstar Annika Sorenstam.

Tim and Edra “ran the club together,” notes one media report on their entrepreneurial exploits, even installing a “caviar bar in the clubhouse.”

The place enthralled the world’s deep pockets. One after another, they ponied up the $250,000 sign-up fee, built mountainside homes on the grounds that cost up to $35 million each, and chipped in another $20,000 for the annual “Yellowstone Club” dues.

By 2005, all this cash had helped elevate Tim Blixseth into the ranks of the annual Forbes list of America’s richest 400. But the Blixseths overreached. They flitted away a huge bank loan on a scheme to create a global chain of luxury resorts. Tim and Edra split and went bankrupt.

Tim did find a wife number four. They would split, too, but not before Tim connived to shield some of his prized assets from creditors by transferring ownership of a yacht, two jets, and a mansion to number four and her mom.

Earlier this year, in mid January, those creditors finally reached a settlement with Blixseth. They walked away with pennies on their dollars.

We don’t know yet if Blixseth has a wife five in the offing. He may feel that his odds at achieving matrimonial bliss have to turn at some point. But a new study published this past December in a flagship UK scientific journal suggests that Tim Blixseth’s problem may not be his luck. His problem may be his wealth.

Rich people, notes an NBC News analysis of this new study, turn out to be “less likely than poorer people to exhibit flexibility, empathy, and all the other traits” that lead to healthy, long-term relationships.

NBC’s Nicole Spector ran the study’s conclusions by several professionals in the relationship field. None seemed surprised by what the researchers behind the study — psychologists Justin Brienza and Igor Grossmann of Canada’s University of Waterloo — had found.

The “stratospherically rich,” observed Beverly Hills psychotherapist Fran Walfish, do often care more about “achievements, status, and how they are viewed by others” than relationships.

“Privilege has endowed them with a sense of entitlement,” she explains. “So, interpersonally, these people can be rigid.”

Wealthy people, adds Lifetime network relationship expert Rachel DeAlto, feel they have plenty of choices. Her relationship coaching experience has taught her that “the more affluent the client,” the “less fear of a relationship ending” — since many affluent consider any partner “easily replaceable.” And if you see your partner as “easily replaceable,” why bother investing any significant time or psychic energy in learning what that partner truly needs? Why be flexible? Why not just move on and find a partner who more perfectly relates to your needs?

For the super rich, the philosopher Philip Slater once noted, finding potential partners along that line will never be much of a problem.

“If you gain fame, power, and wealth, you won’t any trouble finding lovers,” as Slater wrote in his 1980 book Wealth Addiction, “but they will be people who love fame, power, or wealth.”

At the caviar bar, in other words, the seats will always be full. Only the hearts will be empty.

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