On the surface, it's a banal one. Rimes and Cibrian met on the set of their 2009 Lifetime movie "Northern Lights" while they were both married to other people. Cibrian divorced Glanville, the mother of his two young sons, and Rimes split with her husband of seven years, Dean Sheremet. Rimes and Cibrian wed in 2011 — and ever since then, Rimes and Glanville have been publicly bickering on Twitter.
But take away the basic-cable glamour and the army of social-media followers, and it's a saga that hits home for a lot of people — particularly women, the target demographic for tabloids. "It's close in its possibility for every one of us," said Elaine Lui, who runs the popular celebrity blog Lainey Gossip. "I think especially for women, we've been socially conditioned to believe that our greatest fear should be that our partner will cheat on us."
That may be why Glanville's explosive reaction to her husband's affair was not only compelling as a trainwreck but vicariously thrilling as well. Glanville didn't quietly fade into the night: She lashed out with two memoirs that explicitly detailed her failed marriage, slashed Cibrian's motorcycle tires, and leveraged her otherwise fleeting notoriety into a gig on Bravo's "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," becoming a bona fide reality star.
Not the classiest moves, but when you're hurt, who wants to be classy? "It would be much more satisfying, I think, to indulge in base instincts and be like, 'F— you! You cheated on me, you tempted my husband, I hate you both, you suck,'" Lui said. "That's why we enjoy watching this go down: We feel vicariously satisfied. We know if that happened, we would have to take the high road and be classy and elegant and sophisticated."
Not an issue for this trio! Cibrian and Rimes have blamed Glanville for keeping the feud alive, claiming in interviews that her attacks force them to share their side of the story. However, they also produced a short-lived VH1 reality show in 2014, on which they shamelessly described their extra-marital affair as a meet-cute scenario
(“We were both married to other people when we fell in love!”) and Rimes frequently mouthed off about Glanville’s headline-making ways: “It’s unfortunate that we have a third party in this situation that’s just a mouthpiece. . . It doesn’t matter if we say anything because she’ll keep blabbing about it.” Said Cibrian, on the odds of his ever burying the hatchet with his ex: “slightly above the existence of Bigfoot and just below an actual zombie apocalypse.”
Those kind of juicy quotes are the core of why their “triangle” has continued for so many years. While Glanville declined to comment for this story, and reps for Rimes and Cibrian did not return emails, they generally can’t resist talking about each other. Last month after Glanville described in an interview
the pain of seeing her kids with Rimes in holiday photos, Cibrian shot back through People magazine that Glanville was a liar.
"I tend to think that Brandi is really the one who likes to keep it going, but the other two really don't turn it off a lot," said Howard Bragman, founder of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations, who represents several "Housewives" cast members though not Glanville. "It's safe to say, [LeAnn and Eddie] are certainly enablers. When they're asked, Eddie doesn't go, 'Oh God, haven't we beat this horse to death, let's go on.'"
As a result, every time they respond to each other, they add fuel to the fire. It doesn't help that that all three are attractive celebrities, Bragman said. "My concern is for [Eddie and Brandi's] kids," Bragman said. "As the kids get old enough and they read [the Internet] and their friends at school read . . . it's just like, 'Shut up.'"
David Perel, editorial director of InTouch and Life & Style, said the Rimes-Cibrian-Glanville scandal has had an "abnormally" long shelf life in part because the three keep publicly bashing each other — but also because it provokes an incredibly strong reaction in the readers of publications like his.
"Their fans and enemies have chosen sides. The readers have very strong feelings about who is right and who is wrong — almost as if these were their own family members they are talking about," Perel said. That's natural, he said, given the amount of personal information that Rimes, Cibrian and Glanville have shared. "They love one side and hate the other."
The fact that kids are involved — Cibrian and Glanville's sons are 12 and 8 — makes the mix all the more volatile, given the emotions involved with blended families. Bonnie Fuller, editor of HollywoodLife.com, said these kinds of celebrity stories get attention because so many readers can empathize. We saw the same dynamic when supermodel Gisele Bündchen, on the eve of marrying NFL superstar Tom Brady, proclaimed her devotion to his little boy ("I already feel like he's my son") — a comment that did not sit well with the boy's mother, Brady's not-too-distant ex Bridget Moynahan, and fueled a tabloid brush fire.
"People can relate because there are so many divorces in this country," Fuller said. "For a lot of people it's very difficult to get along with exes, especially when children are involved and there's a new step-parent."
That is often the flash point for Glanville. After Rimes referred to the kids on Twitter as "my boys," Glanville shot back in a tweet: "Someone is trying 2 get under my skin by calling MY children 'her boys' Sooo transparent! They R MY boys, Eddie Boys and ur step-sons… 4 now." She also tends to flare up when Rimes describes herself as their "bonus mom."
"Unfortunately the situation has a universal quality about it," Perel said. Even for all the readers this saga brings him, "my unsolicited advice remains: work it out in a therapist's office for the sake of your children."