Okay, let me start by saying I know that they are not getting divorced, at least not at the moment, and that they're trying to work things through with a separation.
That's actually one of the reasons that they're role models for how to figure out the whole marriage and divorce thing in a healthy way.
There are lots of things that separating couples can do to keep the peace in their divorce. The old model of scorching the earth, making your friends choose sides, and plunging yourselves into bankruptcy with attorneys fees is just that--the old model. When you do just a few simple things, all of which are free, by the way, you can reconfigure your family and be great co-parents and sometimes even friends.
But why Courteney and David? They are celebrities. Their separation is very public, yet they managed to keep it very quiet until they were (almost) ready to break the news themselves. They could have started parading around town with hot new partners and spashed themselves all over the tabloids talking smack about each other. But they didn't do that. Their separation has been as private and peaceful as possible in our celebrity gossip crazed culture. Sure, they haven't been perfect. And that's what's so great about how they're handling this: they're handling this like ordinary, reasonably mature adults, and not like celebrities.
Here's why I think they're such good role models for how people ought to handle divorce and separation:
They're keeping Coco first and doing things as a family, even though it's (likely) painful for Courteney and David, yet not leading Coco on to think they're definitely getting back together. Kids will hold onto the idea that maybe their parents will get back together for a long, long time. It's important to have an age-appropriate explanation for what's going on. Kids also tend to like things to be concrete, black or white, so the idea that even the adults aren't sure about what's going on but that they're going to behave honorably is a valuable life lesson.
He caught a lot of flak for his candid call ins to Howard Stern but when I listened I heard a heartbroken man trying to make sense of the situation in a very authentic way. It wasn't a polished press release from a publicist. It was words from his heart. If you're separated and concerned that your marriage is falling apart, you're supposed to be upset. These feelings are natural and part of being human.
Or at least decide what they want to do. They've been married a long time. The investment of a year or two trying to decide what's best is time well spent, because by the time they reach a conclusion they'll know that it's the right decision for them, and not a knee-jerk reaction. In my 22 years of practice, I've had countless couples tell me that they wished in retrospect that they'd worked through the hard issues and gone to counseling. At least then they would've known for sure their relationship was over and that they were just giving up because it was too painful to work things out.
...all around town with a series of boyfriends, wearing skimpy outfits. Both Courteney and David have been photographed with other people, and David acknowledges a couple of other relationships, but they haven't gone revolving door crazy. Behaving respectfully towards each other will go a long way toward having a great co-parenting relationship, whether they stay married or not.
If they were, it would've surfaced long before now, so they obviously aren't. Kids hate being in the middle, and they shouldn't have to be. Trash talk ultimately backfires on the loose-lipped parent anyway as kids get older and find out the truth for themselves.
...which tells me that he's in touch with his pain and working through his grief. When marriages end, it's like a death, and so the 5 stages of grief and loss apply: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. Too many people jump right into another relationship and don't take the time to grieve the end of their marriage. And that David is doing it in the public eye is even more impressive. Sure, it would've been great if he didn't need to go to rehab, but since he feels he needs to, he's doing it. He's being a great role model for how to handle your life when things go wrong.
Finally a celebrity couple that can show us how to unravel a marriage with respect and dignity. Now if the rest of us could just do the same.
Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin 2010), and Your Divorce Advisor (Simon & Schuster 2001) and a mediator at Peace Talks Mediation Services, Inc.
Follow Diana Mercer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dianamercer