Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


What Celebrities Teach Us About Divorce

Does everyone need to know EVERYTHING about your divorce?

Celebrity divorce, like any breakup, can either be handled in a civil or non-civil fashion. Being human like any of us, a celebrity divorce can be done intelligently or it can become destructive like the War of the Roses. With the emerging news of the Cruise/Holmes divorce I hope that they can keep their pain private and civil. The media may not like it, but low conflict - and little news - is what’s good for children.

The Destructive Power of Stress: Divorce and stress go together, and can sometimes lead perfectly normal people to hurt each other - or their children. It's tragic. Look, sometimes there’s no room for civility, especially if the relationship was filled with violence or alcohol and drug use. But, in the end, whether it’s a celebrity divorce or John and Mary next door, the kids come out best when conflict is kept contained.

Besides, how you deal with your ex spouse really counts.

The Media: The media craves viewers and readers. As such, there is little incentive to shed a positive light on celebrity relationships and breakups. Instead, the media feeds off of the negative news and delivers it to the public in an appetizing way that depicts these tumultuous relationships as exciting, normative news.

Yet it is neither normal nor healthy to be involved in a turbulent relationship. It will slowly deteriorate the mind, body, and soul. Research shows that the best outcomes in divorce are in the low conflict cases – and this takes hard work on the part of the parents.

Our media fails to inform the public that there is nothing glamorous about an unstable relationship. It strains other relationships within the family and dampens the mood in the household. If there are children involved, they receive the short end of the stick, as they witness the instability and begin to regard it as the norm.

Celebrity Divorces, Exploitation & Media: One heavily publicized breakup is Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry’s, especially because of their bitter custody battle over their four year old daughter, Nahla. The media continues to have a field day reporting on this couple’s turmoil, as both parties openly discuss their disdain for the other. Interestingly enough, their breakup was initially a civil one as Aubry says of Berry, “She is, and will forever be, one of the most special and beautiful people that I have ever known, and I am certain that we will continue to have only love and respect for one another”.

This civility quickly made a 180-degree turn as sources close to Berry are accusing Aubry of using racial slurs towards Berry. This invites the media and the public to give their opinion and add to the already heated affair. No child deserves to be subjected to this.

Or, you may remember the unfortunate 2002 divorce between Alec Baldwin and his wife, Kim Bassinger. This divorce was made public by Mr. Baldwin’s outburst toward his daughter, Ireland, who he believed was manipulated by Ms. Bassinger. This tape, in turn was publicized by Ms. Bassinger; or at least that is what Mr. Baldwin claims in his compelling 2008 book, A Promise to Ourselves.

An Interesting Book: Baldwin’s book is one man’s view of divorce from the nasty inside, including a blistering critique of the “divorce industry” which includes well paid attorneys and therapists.

I have some sympathy; sadly, many divorces spin out of control if just one party has an unyielding agenda. And yes, sometimes the professionals just add insult to injury. Attorneys can stir the pot and benefit financially; therapists can over identify with their clients and miss what is really going on, and judges can be burnt out or make mistakes. No question, it is difficult to have an intelligent divorce if you are depending on the “system” to solve your problems. For those who are interested, take a look at my series on The Malignant Divorce and The Narcissistic Ex.

A Promise to Ourselves is worth a read. Baldwin makes a case for Parental Alienation Syndrome, but more importantly, he gives us an insider’s view on what it is like to divorce as a media icon. Would there be as much damage if Bassinger and Baldwin had not been famous? Did Ireland benefit from seeing her parents in a public power struggle? I don’t think so.

Everyone benefits when divorce is handled with dignity.

But, does it make the news?

Celebrity Divorces Kept Private: I applaud celebrity couples like Al and Tipper Gore and Troy and Rhonda Aikman who have found a way to keep their separations private. There is dignity here and they should serve as a model for how divorce should be done. We don’t hear a lot of gossip in either of these stories because both couples have kept their hurt and anger among those they trust. Their divorces may be as drama-filled as Berry and Aubry or Baldwin and Bassinger; however, it’s their ability to remain private and concealed that we applaud.

A favorite Friends star, Courtney Cox also successfully managed to have a private and amicable divorce. She and her (soon-to-be) ex-husband, David Arquette represented themselves during the filing of their legal documents. Although we learn they both agreed on a joint physical and legal custody over their 8-year-old daughter, Coco and Cox asked to drop Arquette’s last name, the pair wisely keep the details of their relationship to themselves. Cox has even said that she and David continue to be “best friends” after announcing their separation in 2010. The cooperation between the two illustrates two positive role models to their daughter who is still given the opportunity to be nurtured in a loving environment.

Divorce is not anyone’s business. It needs to be kept between the couple and with those the family chooses to involve (i.e. family, close friends, clergy or a psychiatrist). Without the additional pressure from the outside world, divorce can remain between two people who loved each other once; and be handled in a civil manner.

With Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ recent announcement, their divorce might prove to be either a private, intimate matter or a public spectacle. It may be close to impossible for this high-profiled couple to maintain a private divorce, but it has been done before.

Intelligent Divorce Advice: Follow the example of the Gores, the Aikmans, and the Arquette’s and be dignified and responsible during your breakup or divorce. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t tell just anybody where you keep the family jewels, only those who have your unfailing trust. View your divorce as one of the family jewels, because it isn’t everyone’s business to know what went wrong.


The Intelligent Divorce book series, online course and newsletter is a step by step program to handling divorce and intimate relationships with sanity.

You can hear Dr. Banschick on The Intelligent Divorce radio show as well.