How Reese Witherspoon’s lessons in postdivorce living are life goals for all of us
Separating with strength, blending a family with grace and above all else, being open and honest about the challenges of life before, during and after divorce.
The way Reese Witherspoon navigated her separation in the constant glare of the public eye – and with her particular brand of Southern charm and positivity left intact – makes her one of Hello Mojo’s favourite post-divorce role models.
Here’s how to survive and thrive a relationship breakup – Reese style.
It’s okay to fall apart
The actress, producer, entrepreneur and parent met first husband Ryan Phillippe when she was just 21, and they married two years later in 1999. After two children, Ava, now 18, and Deacon, 14, they separated in 2005.
Reese was refreshingly open about the painful split, admitting it was ‘very humiliating and very isolating’. Two years after the divorce was finalised in 2008, she was frank about how tough things still were.
‘When people get in your face and say, “This will pass,” you think, are they crazy? I’m never gonna feel any better than I feel right this minute and nothing’s ever gonna make sense again. And I still have moments where I’m like, nothing’s ever gonna make sense again,’ she admitted.
Accept your fallibility – and theirs
When a relationship breaks down, we all have a fundamental need to lay blame. Reese urges us to accept this as part of the natural grieving process. And when that’s out of our system, the next healing stage will hopefully be just around the corner.
‘I lay on my kitchen floor and cried a lot and I think at a certain point you just wake up and you’re like “OK, I don’t want to feel like this anymore,”’ she explains.
Then, she was ready to dig deep.
‘[You have to] look at yourself and go, “What part of this do I need to own? Which part of this is my responsibility?” And that’s the painful work that you have to go through to hopefully get some real life knowledge out of it.
While not many of us, especially in the midst of often costly separations, can afford to let work slide, it’s only natural to reassess priorities. Keep things simple, advises Reese, because you have a lot going on.
In her case that meant a few dud movies while she concentrated on rebalancing her private life.
‘You know, you can’t really be very creative when you feel like your brain is scrambled eggs,’ she explains.
Watch yourself – for the sake of the kids
‘I think the most important thing is the children. What do they want, what makes them feel comfortable?’ says Reese.
Keeping the anger and grief we feel towards our ex from spilling out can seem like an impossible task, but it’s one Reese and Ryan have worked hard to control.
‘When we’re with our children, we’re very good about checking ourselves,’ she adds.
Being a single parent is tough
Transitioning to life as a single parent is one of the greatest challenges of separation.
Reese urges women to recognise, ‘You are strong and capable, and now you have been put in a position where you must use your capabilities to change your circumstances without your ex’s help or kindness.’
But she’s also very frank about how single-parenthood is just really bloody hard.
‘I don’t think I recognised how anxious I was about being a single parent. It was really, really stressful. It’s not easy on anybody,’ she admits.
Friendships are your armour
This, more than any other time, is when you must call on your army of friends, urges Reese.
‘I am so, so lucky to have girlfriends who, when I was on the floor crying, upset about things that happened in my life, came over, stood me up, put me in the shower, put my clothes on, took my kids to school, brought me dinner,’ she says.
You will surv ive and thrive
Now 42, Reese is happier and more successful than ever. In 2011, she married talent agent, Jim Toth, dad to their five-year-old son, Tennessee, and in the past few years her career has gone stratospheric. She runs a clothing line, a soon to be launched streaming network, has an acting career that goes from strength to strength and is hosting her own chat show, Shine On With Reese.
Above all, the Legally Blonde star is now considered a Hollywood powerhouse and one of the best producers in the business thanks to her highly regarded, box-office hits Strayed and Gone Girl and the Emmy-awarded TV series Big Little Lies.
And a decade on from the end of her relationship with Ryan, she still recognises how pivotal her divorce was in making her the woman she is today. She’s also adamant she has no regrets.
‘I would never change anything,’ says Reese.