What Bruce, Demi and her toyboy can teach us all about divorce
There was uproar among my divorced friends last week when Demi Moore was seen canoodling with her new husband Ashton Kutcher in front of her old husband Bruce Willis on a boat.
Most older (and balder) former husbands would have thrown the young whippersnapper off the boat, along with the ex-wife, or, at least, chosen to do a spot of deep-sea fishing with someone they weren’t related to by divorce.
“It’s outrageous,” said a friend who would no sooner go fishing with her former husband than jump in the Thames (actually, I think she’d probably prefer the latter).
“What on earth are they thinking about? They’re divorced, why are they hanging out together? They may as well have stayed married.”
When I saw the picture, my first thought was: if they’re kissing and Bruce is fishing, who’s driving the boat?
But after that I thought: good on them. As a child, I watched my mother get divorced acrimoniously three times and, frankly, it’s not much fun.
It might stick in the craw for many people to see this threesome so relaxed together, but it’s better than a life consumed by bitterness and jealousy.
What couples with children tend to do when they get divorced is focus so much on their mutual loathing that they forget the most important thing: the children. And how much better is it for them if you all get on?
As a result of my mother’s divorce from my father, I didn’t see him again after they split -when I was three – until I was 14.
When they first split up, there was no communication, apart from a note to my father to tell him that since she’d remarried,
I had stopped looking like him. Needless to say, this didn’t go down well, hence the long silence.
Even after I met him when I was 14, our relationship was patchy.
Shortly after my mother left my father, we moved from Rome to Britain, where she took up with an artist who became her second husband.
She came to dread his argumentative character and six years later he left for Morocco and that was the end of that.
After their divorce, he put up more of a fight than my father did to stay in touch with me.
In some ways, this was admirable; I wasn’t even his natural daughter. But to be honest, it felt as if they were fighting each other through me, rather than fighting for me.
There was a custody battle and court case. I had to give evidence, aged nine. All I really wanted was for them to stop fighting.
I remember standing in court looking around me and thinking: “How is it possible that these people once loved each other?” I just couldn’t believe the hatred flying around.
Not long after, my mother took up with her third husband, but though they were together for years, it was doomed to failure. In the end, she felt she had to get away.
Strangely enough, it was that third divorce that caused the reunion with my mother’s first husband. He provided the cash for us to escape.
Perhaps, not unnaturally, having witnessed such divisive and ugly conflict three times over, I vowed never to get divorced. So far, so good.
My husband, though, has been divorced and has two children from his previous marriage.
Rather like my stepfather, I got to know them when they were very little. But unlike my stepfather and mother, my husband and his ex-wife get on well. I get on very well with her, too. In fact, so do my children.
My stepdaughter Julia and I have a lovely relationship; whenever I can, I take her out shopping or to a film. Last year, we went to see the musical Mamma Mia!
After the show, her mother met us to take Julia home. As she drove off, she said: “Thanks for taking her, she had a lovely time.” How much better is that than bitterness and acrimony?
The attitude my husband and his ex-wife took when they split up was that for the children’s sake, it’s not worth falling out.
Of course, that means sacrifices and compromises on both sides, but if children are involved I think parents have an obligation to make them.
How much nicer is it to see your parents get on like Demi and Bruce than to see them fighting like David Hasselhoff and his ex-wife Pamela.
The fact is that when parents fight, it’s the children that suffer.
A friend from university lived, until the beginning of this year, in a beautiful big house in Gloucestershire with her husband and two sons.
She was a lawyer until the children were born and he works in insurance. They were well off enough to send their boys
aged nine and 11 to a rather smart prep-school. They almost worse. had nice holidays in France, gave Sunday lunch parties and drove an Audi and BMW respectively.
Then disaster struck. My friend decided she was bored, unfulfilled and miserable. She had an affair with a pub landlord.
Her husband found out and vowed he would never forgive her.
My friend was probably wrong to have an affair, but what they both did next was
They sold the beautiful house because they couldn’t agree on who was going to live there.
Once the mortgage was paid off, they ended up with £450,000.
Then they started arguing about who should get the cash. They spent most of the money fighting about it.
Instead of a beautiful farmhouse, my friend now lives with her two sons in a semi-detached house on an estate, which was all she could afford once the court battle was over.
Her former husband lives with his new girlfriend in similarly surroundings. So it’s probably just as well the boys have been taken out of the prep school.
They have lost not only the life they knew, but their home and school. For what?
Divorce is never nice. As my stepfather used to say: “Be careful about moving in with anyone. People move in together very easily, but they only ever split up if things get really bad.
“No one can face going through their record collection unless they have to.”
I don’t remember my mother’s marriage to my father, but I remember the other two, and things did get bad before she gave up on the relationships.
Maybe in any divorce there has to be a period of hatred, followed by a cooling off, which can then be followed by a lasting friendship.
If there are children involved, it’s crucial to aim for friendship in the long run.
If you don’t, the only people you really end up hurting are your children. You may get over your divorce, but will they?
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019