Lessons from the Tom Cruise Katie Holmes Divorce

When is divorce apppropriate to consider? Should she have stayed?

Posted Jul 12, 2012

Could tom cruise and katie holmes divorce have been prevented?

Could Katie Holmes' divorce have been prevented?

Celebrities are notoriously bad at holding down relationships. The Katie Holmes divorce will be Tom Cruise’s third. I am constantly reminding myself not to be cynical and write off each new breakup with a roll of the eyes. Divorce is serious, and I believe that couples take it so. Just because divorce rates are high in this country doesn’t mean that people are going out and getting them for fun. Couples separate because they are unhappy. Each spouse has had more than his and her share of pain and heartbreak.

Every divorcing couple believes they have good reasons for divorce.  At the same time, do they have good enough reasons? Is divorce actually the only answer?

Every couple has differences.  Every couple has a period of time when they struggle to bridge these differences.  If the two spouses each aim to understand each other's concerns and to be responsive in a way that still respects their own concerns, their relationship will season like a good wine that gets better and better over time.  

When spouses criticize each other, each insist that the other make changes, or become distant, angry or controlling, marriage problems ensue.  Spouses who deprecate instead of listening to each other's concerns are likely to find that their communication skill deficits cause their initial differences to grow into canyons of resentment and disillusionment. Throw real out of bounds behavior like alcoholism, abuse or affairs into the mix and even the sweetest love can sour very quickly.

Learning skills for communication in relationships can overcome talking, listening, controlling and criticizing habits.  That's generally a far preferable response to these kinds of communication problems than divorce. Good coaching plus practice can develop skills that enable spouses to resolve most and hopefully even all of their marriage differences. Fighting doesn't fix differences, but learning to talk collaboratively about how each of you can modify what you have been doing can make a world of difference.

These are five top-cited reasons for divorce—and all of them are addressable:

1. We just don’t communicate very well. We can’t resolve our conflicts. Communication and conflict resolution difficulties are the most common complaints of divorcing couples. Luckily, they are also simplest to change. Learning how to communicate positively and cooperatively gives couples the tools to solve current and future problems.

So instead of divorcing, read books on marriage communication, take a course like the ones listed at SmartMarriages.com, or do an online marriage ed program like Dr. Heitler’s PowerOfTwoMarriage.com.

2. I just don’t love him anymore. Love is a cornerstone of marriage and feeling “out of love” can be frustrating and scary. At the same time, the quality of love is constantly changing; sometimes hot and passionate, other times a cool, subtle bond. Do you really not love each other at all?

Rethink what love is. Love is listening sympathetically rather than critically to each other. Love is enjoying each other’s positives. Love is accepting that neither you nor your partner are perfect. Love is looking at yourself instead of criticizing your partner. That way you can come up with alternative ways to deal with what you don’t like in the other so that it no longer hurts your feelings or bothers you.

3. Because it’ll be better for the kids. Many couples believe that fighting is a natural part of relationships. It’s not. While a couple may feel that arguments keep things “spicy,” fights eventually overwhelms the marriage with negativity and stress.

Having parents who fight is especially detrimental to kids. At the same time, divorce is hard on kids as well. And, if you keep fighting while you’re divorced, it’s still bad.

So, a better solution is to learn to stop the fighting. Use your legs instead of your mouth when you feel angry. Agree that you will only talk in a civil manner, and that you will exit the room if a fight begins. If one of you wants to continue to engage in angry talk, the other still can exit immediately. Fighting is like clapping. It takes two.

4. He/she’s just not the same person I married. We all change and grow as we go through life together. As a spouse, the important thing is to know how to support each other on your personal journeys instead of allowing differences to become a source of marriage problems.

So, again, learn to turn differences into powerful opportunities to grow. The key is to listen to learn from each other instead of to prove that you are right and your partner is wrong.

5. I don’t trust him/her anymore. He lied. He made a disastrous financial deal. She gambled or cheated. This last one is especially tricky because infidelities can definitely become grounds for divorce. At the same time, people do make mistakes, and most mistakes are repairable.

If this is a first time offense, nip it in the bud by getting the skills to analyze your errors and prevent future repeats. If there have been multiple infidelities, get professional help.

I don’t want to argue that all marriages can or should be saved. At the same time, our brains are highly malleable—with practice we can change behavior habits we thought were permanent. It’s not easy, but with dedication you and your spouse can reshape your marriage interactions.

So what does all of this tell us about celebrity marriages like Kim Kardashian’s and Katy Perry’s? I do believe they could have tried a little harder to make their unions last. Asked if she had “Fought for her marriage” on Sunrise talk show, Kim only answered that she left him because her intuition told her, “He just isn’t the one.” This intuition is a valid concern. At the same time, even allowing for a celebrity’s right to keep the marriage details quiet, her explanation models a pretty flimsy reason for divorce.

Anyone who has deep enough feelings about someone to marry him should by that time have done a fair amount of assessing if the potential spouse is an appropriate candidate for lifelong partnership. Once the deal has been sealed, better to at least seek marriage help before getting a divorce—especially only 72 days later.

But not all divorces are like Kim’s. Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise were married for 5 years and went through their share of struggles. The entirety of their marriage was plagued by gossip about Cruise’s Scientology faith negatively impacting the family. It now seems that the role of Scientology in their daughter Suri’s upbringing is a key point in the divorce. The dark undertones of their relationship reflect good reasons for divorce.

What are good reasons for divorce?

They all involve seriously abusive, damaging behavior where your spouse shows no sign of reform:

1. Your spouse is controlling. He/she attempts to manipulate you and/or control your friends, activity, behavior or money by the use of threats, put-downs, criticism, excessive guilt or anger. This is not partnership. It’s tyranny.

2. Your spouse has been cheating repeatedly. One infidelity does not necessarily spell doom—with lots of work, your marriage can recover and thrive. However, repeated affairs mean your spouse unlikely to change his ways no matter what.

3. There are unaddressed addictions. It is totally appropriate to consider leaving if your spouse has significant problems with gambling, drugs, alcohol, or other seriously out-of-line behaviors, and refuses or continues to avoid seeking professional help in order to change.

4. There is an unaddressed mental disorder. Many couples live with mental disorders and have strong marriages. At the same time, if your spouse refuses to get treatment for a damaging or dangerous disorder, considering ending your marriage is totally appropriate. In these circumstances, separating can turn out to be best for both of you. (cont. on next page)

5. Your spouse is violent with you or others, or mistreats children. This is the most resounding “YES” to the question “Should I get a divorce?” Remove yourself and your children from this situation immediately and seek professional help.

It seems Tom Cruise was controlling; it seems like he violated trust in their relationship; and membership in a consuming and restrictive religion can combine elements of addiction, control, and mental disorder. Katie Holmes’ concerns over the impact of it all on Suri provides even more support for divorce. Then again, this is all my guesswork about the nature of their relationship.

I wish Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ divorce to be an easy one, especially for Suri’s sake. No matter how entertaining celebrity divorces are, there are real people and emotions behind them. I hope never to loose sight of that.


Naomi Grunditz, the main author of this posting, is a colleague of Dr. Heitler's at her marriage skills learning program, PowerOfTwoMarriage.com