Lessons from High-Profile Celebrity Divorces

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This may not sound like the title of one of my usual newsletters, so let me explain. First, an explanation for the gap between newsletters: I was on a roller coaster ride for a number of weeks, first with a surprise health issue that is now fortunately resolved and then with some 15-minutes-of-fame experiences.

After two minor surgeries (one surprise, one planned) I flew to Club Med Cancun to teach my Creating Your Abundance from the Inside Out Seminar. The participants—a mix of savvy business folks, marketing experts, health professionals, and professors—contributed so much to my already jam-packed workshop that I decided to compile all this wisdom into an e-book, aptly titled Creating Your Abundance from the Inside Out, which will be ready for ordering in September.

Club Med was followed by a “Cinderella at the Ball” experience in L.A., where I was escorted by my wonderful producer friends to meetings with TV executives for a possible reality show. From these gleaming high rises, I was taken to the Paramount Studios set of “Monk,” where I met Tony Shalhoub and reconnected with his co-star Jason Gray-Stanford (my buddy from the televised Grammar Bee that he hosted and I judged). When I flew home, I was still on Cloud 9 but grateful for my day-to-day life with my family.

Just as I was settling in, I was contacted by USA TODAY (They’d googled Relationship Expert and voila!) to offer some wisdom on how to have a “sane” breakup using celebrity divorces as backdrops. Below is the article as it appeared in USA TODAY online. An edited version appeared in print on July 11, 2008, in Section D, Life. If you’d like to see the original with all the celebrity photos, click here:

Staying Civil in Divorce Court is Hard to Do

Christie Brinkley and architect Peter Cook ended their brutal divorce trial Thursday with a settlement that gave the former model custody of their children, Jack, 13, and Sailor, 10, and all 18 of the couple’s Hamptons properties. Brinkley, 54, agreed to pay $2.1 million to Cook, 49, who was granted “parenting time.” The settlement, which followed allegations of affairs, expensive porn habits and bad parenting, was “a very bittersweet moment,” Brinkley said.
While the ugliness of the trial didn’t rise to the level of the divorces of Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards or Paul McCartney and Heather Mills, other celebrities have had more success in keeping their breakups civil. USA TODAY and relationship expert Jane Straus, author of Enough Is Enough! Stop Enduring and Start Living Your Extraordinary Life, look at the good and bad of celebrity divorces.

Ryan Phillippe, 33, and Reese Witherspoon, 32
Married: June 1999
Divorced: June 2008
Children: Ava, 8 and Deacon, 4
Issues: Irreconcilable differences
Back story: Witherspoon and Phillippe stayed amicable after their split, even after rumors surfaced that Phillippe was having an affair with his Stop-Loss co-star Abbie Cornish. Phillippe says that he and Witherspoon “have done a really good job at keeping things peaceable and completely focused on the children.” Witherspoon has opted to keep the details of their divorce private.

Straus says: If only more ex-couples could bite their tongues until time has had a chance to help them heal. Once nasty details have been publicly aired, it’s much harder to ask friends, family, or even the public to forgive and forget.

Hilary Swank, 34, and Chad Lowe, 40
Married: September 1997
Divorced: May 2006 (announced)
Children: None
Issue: The double Oscar-winning actress told Vanity Fair in 2006 that Lowe’s substance-abuse problem was at the heart of their split.
Back story: The two remain good friends, and Lowe publicly raves about the way Swank supported him throughout his path to sobriety. “In the end, it just didn’t work,” Swank told Vanity Fair. “But I would never look back on this relationship as failed. I look at it as 13½ years of success.”

Straus says: This attitude shows hard-won wisdom on both Hillary’s and Chad’s part. They’ve been through the agony of addiction and come through with grace as demonstrated by neither of them having to play “victim.”

Kate Hudson, 29, and Chris Robinson, 41
Married: December 2000
Divorced: October 2007
Children: Ryder Russell, 4
Issues: Irreconcilable differences
Back story: Maintaining her friendship with Robinson was very important, Hudson told Harper’s Bazaar in September 2007. “For both Chris and me, our main focus is, and was, Ryder. And happy parents, happy baby. Therefore, I love Chris to pieces.” Hudson is so at ease with their split that she spent Father’s Day this year with Robinson, Ryder, her new love Lance Armstrong and Armstrong’s three children.

Straus says: Some couples come to realize that their purpose has been fulfilled once they have a baby. If they have no stake in feeling wronged, they can split amicably and focus on their children’s well-being. It helps if money isn’t an issue, of course.

Paul McCartney, 66, and Heather Mills, 40
Married: June 2002
Divorced: McCartney filed for divorce in July 2006
Children: Beatrice McCartney, 4
Issues: Without a prenuptial agreement, Mills sought a financial divorce settlement of $250 million.
Back story: Despite his wealth, McCartney lives on a modest property, according to court documents, and offered Mills $30 million. Mills wanted $6.5 million a year for herself and daughter, $25 million for a London home, $6 million for a New York City apartment and $1.5 million for an office in an English seaside town, according to People magazine. In addition, both McCartney and Mills have blamed the other for leaking details of their private affairs to the press.

Straus says: “Most of us believe we would feel satisfied — even thrilled — with Paul’s seemingly generous offer. But we all get used to a lifestyle and can then feel offended or even threatened when it is being taken away from us. Maybe the lesson here is that it is a slippery slope from privilege to entitlement.”

Alec Baldwin, 50, and Kim Basinger, 54
Married: August 1993
Divorced: November 2002
Children: Ireland Eliesse, 12
Issue: Custody battle
Back story: Basinger has charged that Baldwin is “emotionally and physically abusive,” and Baldwin has accused Basinger, 53, of having “a pathological need” to turn their daughter against him. In 2008, Basinger filed a motion to stop Baldwin from publishing A Promise to Ourselves: Fatherhood, Divorce, and Family Law, a book reportedly about their divorce, though Baldwin told the New York Daily News that he has not divulged private information about Basinger. The book will be released in September.

Straus says: “This ex-couple demonstrates a need on each of their parts to get the public to side with them. If they could agree to keep their communications private, they would be letting the public know that their daughter comes first. Wouldn’t that be the best PR of all?”

Charlie Sheen, 42, and Denise Richards, 37
Married: June 2002
Divorced: November 2006
Children: Samantha, 4, and Lola, 3
Issue: Custody battle
Back story: Richards described Sheen in court documents as abusive, negligent of their daughters and a patron of prostitutes. She also has asked the court to give her final decision power, despite their joint custody arrangement. In a May statement, Sheen said Richards continues to publicly discuss and harass both Sheen and his new wife, Brooke Mueller.

Straus says: “Like many newlyweds, Denise may have thought she could change Charlie’s notorious ways. At the time of their split, she may have felt disillusioned and hurt. Many parents find themselves fearful and confused about the data on vaccination risks, so this battle shows concern for their children. Let’s not judge them for this.”

USA TODAY also asked me to write an introduction with advice for a “successful” breakup. Due to space limitations, it didn’t get printed, but I thought it might be helpful for some of you.

“Successful” and “divorce” are not two words we usually put together in the same sentence. Is it even possible? Well, if some celebrity couples can manage it, even with the paparazzi on their heels 24/7, maybe we can too. But just as it takes two to make a successful marriage, it helps if both partners are mature enough to abide by some basic rules when they come to the painful decision that it’s time to split up.
Rule #1: Don’t tell your family about all the terrible things your partner did. What if you get back together? You will feel embarrassed that you’ve forgiven your partner and your family may find it hard to forgive him/her for hurting you.
Rule #2: If you need to talk, which you probably will, talk to a counselor/therapist. You deserve compassion, but a professional listener won’t support you in wallowing in self-pity any longer than necessary. A counselor’s job is to help you understand your relationship patterns so that you can break the unhealthy ones and move on.
Rule #3: Never fight in front of your children or share any gory details. Getting them to side with you is nothing short of cruel.
Rule #4: Don’t talk about money too soon. During a split, feelings tend to be volatile. Anger and revenge can morph into remorse in the blink of an eye. You will want to get stabilized emotionally before you divvy things up. Even if you agree on how assets will be split, have your own attorney look everything over. But make sure you hire a lawyer who is supportive of mediation so that you don’t lose everything in a potentially futile court battle.
Rule #5: Keep your new life private for a while. While it can be tempting to show off new eye candy on your arm, why risk turning still-smoldering embers into a wildfire?
Rule #6: Remember the loving feelings you had when you first got together. Why? Because simmering resentment doesn’t help you get over the relationship; grieving does. Grieving requires remembering the good and feeling your sadness and loss. You may feel uncomfortably vulnerable, but you will also heal that much more quickly.

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