When Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin ended their ten-year marriage in March 2014, they announced their intention to protect their children by having a “conscious uncoupling.” Millions scratched their heads at this lofty moniker: what was “Conscious Uncoupling?” Some sort of artisanal divorce, if there could be such a thing? Or was it something new altogether? As it turns out, Gwyneth borrowed this phrase from therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, whose book Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps To Living Happily Even After provides a blueprint on how to take a more mindful approach to divorce.
Conscious Uncoupling: From Break Up To Breakthrough
Simply put, Conscious Uncoupling is the mindful process of turning a break-up into a breakthrough. According to Woodward Thomas, divorce hurts not just because of what’s happening in the present, but also because it re-opens old wounds: the trauma from our own parents’ divorce, perhaps, or from growing up in a family where we didn’t feel valued. When we don’t recognize how we manifest versions of the same story in our adult relationships, we feel victimized when they end. This sense of victimization is at the core of every ugly divorce, making childhoods rife with conflict and effective co-parenting almost impossible.
Conscious Uncoupling gives people an opportunity to unpack their toxic relationship patterns, re-write their skewed personal narratives (“I’ll never find lasting love;” “no one gets me”), and relate to others in a healthy, adult manner. It allows people to re-frame divorce from a personal failure to a relationship that ran its course. Charting a new, positive path for yourself and your children is possible, but not if you’re still stewing in resentment: blaming your ex for destroying your life and screwing up your kids.
Conscious Uncoupling In Your Own Divorce
Curious about what conscious uncoupling looks like in practice? Here are some tips on how to end a marriage with mutual respect, kindness, and a commitment to putting children first.
1. Don’t pathologize divorce. Nothing is “broken.” Accept that the relationship has naturally run its course.
2. Own it. Recognize that you are both responsible for what happened in the marriage – it’s not just you and it’s not just your ex.
3. See the divorce as an opportunity to shed toxic relationship patterns. Example: you no longer twist yourself into a pretzel in order to make a relationship work. When you show up as your authentic self, you are more likely to attract a truly compatible partner.
4. Be conscious of your “story.” Personal narratives that are common in divorce usually involve some version of victimization and blaming. Instead of telling yourself the marriage failed because “men can’t be trusted,” ask yourself what you did to invite bad behavior. This doesn’t mean that you caused your ex to cheat on you. But you probably did things to foster a breakdown in emotional intimacy: neglecting your partner, criticizing your partner, colluding in a don’t-ask-don’t-tell dynamic. Accept responsibility for your part, and move on.
5. Don’t surround yourself with Haters. People who echo your nasty sentiments about your ex like a Greek chorus. While hearing others eviscerate your former spouse may feel like support, it’s also a way to hold on to your old story.
6. Have compassion for yourself. Just as it’s inaccurate to lay all the blame for the divorce at your ex’s feet, it’s just as misguided to believe the divorce was all your fault – despite what your ex may tell you. Remember: you did the best you could at the time.
7. Practice mindful awareness. The next time you’re inclined to fire off a hostile e-mail to your ex, ask yourself: what purpose does this serve? Will criticizing your ex change the fact that your mother was an ice queen? Will it create a positive co-parenting dynamic? If the answer is “no” (and it probably is), don’t do it!
8. Self-reflect to get your power back. What was positive in the relationship? What did you really want? What could you have done differently? When you understand how you co-created the dysfunctional dynamic with your ex, you can trust yourself to make good choices in the present.
Not everyone can consciously uncouple. High-conflict personalities most likely will never be able to brunch together with their kids every Sunday, like Gwyneth and Chris. But reasonably well-adjusted people who are capable of developing insight, personal accountability, and problem-solving skills can divorce with dignity.
Would you like to explore how certain legal decisions you make in your divorce can support conscious uncoupling? Our attorneys are skilled at finding collaborative solutions for your divorce needs. Please contact us today to schedule your initial confidential consultation.