How to break up with dignity

The stage-managed break up is part of the celebrity lifestyle, but behind the scenes things are rarely so tidy, writes Olivia Kelleher
How to break up with dignity

WHEN we see picture perfect images of celebrities we tend to think they are immune from pain. They are so good looking, so wealthy, so fabulously talented. But then of course their marriages implode and we discover that the likes of Angeline Jolie and Brad Pitt or Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber are as fallible and flawed as the rest of us.

The newly-separated or divorced need a guide to move forward with many people entering in to painful uncharted territory. Celebrity or civilian the grief is immense and it can be terribly hard to move on without assistance from someone who has felt similar grief at the loss of a marriage.

Sara Davison (inset right) has written such a guide after her life imploded a few years ago. Sara walked down the aisle on her wedding day expecting to live happily ever after. She built a business with her husband and started a family. She was married three years when life came crashing down. She opened a drawer at her home and a contact lenses box was sitting inside. She took the lid off and found a large false eyelash.

Immediately knowing the implications she went in to survival mode and tried to put it out of her mind. She never confronted her partner and life continued on as usual.

She learned to cook and started working out with a personal trainer. Sara was trying so hard to keep the marriage intact until one night she looked in her husband’s eyes and she realised that the “connection” was gone.

Sara Davison

Sara Davison

“It changed everything. The connection in his eyes had gone. You just see that it isn’t returned and that is it.”

She had a baby to care for and was suddenly on her own.

A life coach by profession Sara expected to bounce back from her situation. However, she was engulfed by pain and felt there was no way back from her feelings of despair. A practical person she went in search of “stepping stones” that would bring her back to solid ground. She found that there was little practical help for men and women in her situation and decided to write a book herself.

She has since gone on to publish a book called Uncoupling – How to Survive and Thrive after Separation and Divorce. She also works as a divorce coach. Sara says she always advises clients to cry it out.

“Crying is important. Not crying at all is unhealthy. You have to allow yourself to grieve the end of your relationship. My divorce hit me like a freight train. I had an 18 month old son. I was a single parent and I didn’t know how to put one foot in front of the other. It took the ground from under me.”

When you embark on married life you never envisage a time where you will be splitting your child with your husband. Sara says there is huge pain in sharing a child with the person you once expected to always be at your side.

“Nobody signs up not to see their child at weekends. The biggest point of pain is handing over your child to your ex husband and perhaps another partner. Nobody ever expects to not see his or her child for half of the summer. And then you worry about them playing ‘happy families’ and this whole world that your child has that you will never have access to.”

Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber have announced they are splitting.

Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber have announced they are splitting.

Sara says even in the midst of turmoil you can take control and move forward. She stresses that it is important not to hold on to hating the other person.

“Holding on to hating the other person will only eat away at you, not them. It will consume your life, not theirs. It is like driving forward but looking in the rear view window. If they decide to move on, they are not the partner you thought they were and you deserve better.”

The UK-based coach says the reality is that if an affair is the cause of relationship breakdown, the collateral damage is far reaching and the emotional damage can be two fold.

“It doesn’t just injure the relationship, it also makes the person who has been betrayed doubt everything about who they are.”

Sara emphasises that post divorce recovery is very much about rediscovering self esteem. She urges clients to work on “build on you” time.

People often become enmeshed in untrue beliefs about themselves. Their marriages were often dysfunctional and unhealthy and they were “drip fed” negativity about themselves.

“As women, we can be prone to believe that the responsibility lies with us: that we just aren’t sexy enough, or thin enough or he just doesn’t fancy us. I know this from bitter experience and it is very damaging.”

Post separation or divorce it is all about making small changes to take back control. It is not about huge changes — self esteem can be rebuilt by making an effort to dress smartly every day, starting an exercise regime, eating healthier food or giving yourself a manicure.

Ultimately it is about rediscovering your own identity. Sara says clients need to learn how to rebuild themselves as independent single persons.

“After my divorce I started eating meat again after 15 years as a vegetarian. It gave me a thrill to know I’d redesigned the person I was back to the real, original me and to think to myself, “You don’t know who I am anymore. I felt I had rediscovered a freedom to be myself again. Not the person I hoped he would love, and it made me feel so happy.”

Sara says ultimately separation and divorce is all about letting go.

“For many of us, taking off our wedding ring and getting used to the sensation of a bare finger is a big first step when it comes to letting go, but it is just the beginning of a long process. I found it one of the hardest things in the whole process. I decided to flip the situation and find something positive, so I bought myself a beautiful ring for the third finger of my left hand. I called it my ‘freedom ring.” The ring wasn’t replacing anything but it was an important step in letting go of the past.”


Separation and divorce in Hollywood is always “amicable.” Amazingly two people decide at the very same moment that their marriage is no longer viable and they co-parent without any acrimony.

So you have Gwyneth Paltrow going on holiday with her ex Chris Martin and their children. Of course you marvel at the sheer civility of it all until you realise that they allegedly split up a full year before they issued their infamous statement about “conscious uncoupling.”

These days celebrities are so good at stage managing their break ups that it is now unusual for the press to pick up on any of the salacious details.

The Johnny Depp/Amber Heard divorce grabbed the headlines because the couple actually had grievances with each other. Claims of domestic abuse against Depp were hurled out amid counterclaims of Heard being a money grabber. But just when it was getting really nasty the couple battened down the hatches. A joint statement was released, settlements were made behind closed doors and confidentiality agreements were promptly signed. However, for all the stage management even celebrities are not given a free pass from heartache. Singer Gwen Stefani wrote an album about her utter devastation at the breakdown of her long marriage to fellow musician Gavin Rossdale.

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

Stefani in true Hollywood style has since rebounded and is now in a relationship with a country singer.

However, she was bitterly hurt after her husband was caught cheating with the live-in nanny. She says her divorce has scarred her for life.

“It was so insane because not only did my family break up, but then my kids are taken away half the time. My dreams were shattered. All I wanted my whole life was to have babies, be married, like what my parents have.”

More in this section


Did you miss our Virtual Event with Alison O’Connor, Aoife Moore, Clodagh Finn, Derval O’Rourke and Vicky Phelan