“Divorce is much easier if both parties choose to have a conscious uncoupling”

Family|March 26th 2014

It has been a busy day here today, with a number of requests from journalists wanting to know about more about “conscious uncoupling”. The phrase, used by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin in the statement announcing the end of their 10-year marriage, is drawing plenty of attention.

I asked earlier, what are we to make of the statement, and of the concept of conscious uncoupling? It isn’t a common phrase. Then again, this is an A-list couple: a Hollywood movie star and a stellar rock star. From them, one wouldn’t expect something as simple as, “We are separating and going our separate ways as amicably as possible, particularly for the children whom we both intend to parent.”

Earlier today we took a quick look at the idea of conscious uncoupling. However I have also found the essay written by Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle advisors, published alongside the statement about the actress’s marriage, to be interesting reading.

You can read the essay in full on Goop. Here are some excerpts:

Because we believed so strongly in the “until death do us part” concept, we see the demise of our marriage as a failure, bringing with it shame, guilt, or regret. Since most of us don’t want to face what we see as a personal failure, we retreat into resentment and anger, and resort to attacking each other instead. We’ve put on our armor and we’re ready to do battle. What we don’t realize is that while a full body shield may offer a level of self-protection, it’s also a form of self-imprisonment that locks us inside a life that repeats the same mistakes over and over again.

There are no bad guys, just two people, each playing teacher and student respectively. When we understand that both are actually partners in each other’s spiritual progress, animosity dissolves much quicker and a new paradigm for conscious uncoupling emerges, replacing the traditional, contentious divorce. It’s only under these circumstances that loving co-parenting can happen. It’s conscious uncoupling that prevents families from being broken by divorce and creates expanded families that continue to function in a healthy way outside of traditional marriage.

Naturally, divorce is much easier if both parties choose to have a conscious uncoupling. However, your experience and personal growth isn’t conditional on whether or not your spouse chooses to participate. You can still receive the lessons he or she has to give you, resist being baited into dramatic arguments, and stand firm in your internal, spiritual support system. By choosing to handle your uncoupling in a conscious way, regardless of what’s happening with your spouse, you’ll see that although it looks like everything is coming apart; it’s actually all coming back together.

The more I think about it, the more it seems that everybody who is in a relationship should sit up and consider the concept of uncoupling.

At the start of a relationship there are usually flashing lights, intense sexual attraction and serious intent on both sides to “make it work.” Both partners see the other as glamorous and fault-free.

If the partners marry, they will hope and intend for the marriage to endure forever.

However as the years pass by, they will begin to see one other without the rose-tinted spectacles. The day’s light will become colder and life will touch them, as it touches all of us. Job loss, ill health and temptation are but a few examples. There will be faults and imperfections that become bigger and clearer as the years go by. Perhaps the couple will stay in love. Perhaps they will gradually grow apart, without even realising what is happening. Then, one day, the point will be reached when there is nothing left between them. They have uncoupled slowly, silently and surely, a point of no return has been reached.

In my experience as a family lawyer, clients often tell me they cannot say why the marriage is over – only that it is, and that whatever had once been there between them has simply gone, for good. They weren’t even conscious of the process. To my mind, this is unconscious uncoupling. It is different and more dangerous than the conscious uncoupling referred to above, not least because the lack of awareness can make it more difficult to move on, post-divorce.

My advice is not to snigger at the hip, Hollywood terminology.  Instead, think about it what it means and take it on board. Conscious uncoupling can give a relationship a dignified end; unconscious uncoupling should be halted in its tracks.


Image credit: Aleksander Markin.



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  1. Andrew says:

    Divorce is even easier if there is enough money around for both parties to live in luxury for the rest of their lives even if they choose never to lift a finger again. These two will get by.

  2. Luke says:

    Andrew, I agree that it is not a typical case because they have both made millions in their own right and don’t need the support of the other party – frankly I would be surprised if they can’t just go their separate ways without any settlement at all, maybe some child maintenance if only one of them gets residency.

    I agree with most of the article – but I also think the contents of it if you are going to get married makes a binding prenup (if it ever becomes available) absolutely mandatory – because as usual in normal marriages where people are not super rich it will be the finances that can prevent a dignified ‘uncoupling’.

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