In defense of “conscious uncoupling.”

Gwyneth Paltrow is in the celebrity news cycle again regarding her divorce from Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. This time she is setting the record straight that she was not author of ┬áthe infamous term “conscious uncoupling.” She now credits the editor of her blog where she first made her divorce public.

But this time she is no longer backing away from the term as she first did after a hail of negativity following her initial announcement.

I haven’t formally cataloged the hew and cry over Conscious Uncoupling, but let me see if I can tap into why it became a furious object of derision.

  • Describing a divorce as a conscious uncoupling comes off as a little precious. Many people with complicated, angry, spiteful divorces might think, “I am barely surviving and these people sound as if they splitting up because they got a little bored with each other. Save your sympathy!”
  • In the court of public opinion celebraties often get a pass for all sorts of behaviour or else are judged twice as harsh. Here again envy could be at play. If someone can sound so civil about separating, shouldn’t they work harder at staying together?
  • Who does one root for in a conscious uncoupling? We are given no indication of who the bad guy is (let alone the bad actor, well maybe some have opinions on this topic). Judge Judy would lose all her ratings if she had to preside over cases like this.
  • For people from the East Coast there is a certain New Agey quality to the term that qualifies for a smug smack down. See The New Yorker March 26, 2014 for example of this line of attack.

And there in lies the rub. Whatever their shortcomings as human beings, their narcissism, their envied privilege, their function as repository and diversions for the public to gossip, speculate and, at times, live through their lives, Paltrow and Martin had a marriage that came to an end. We can make fun all we like, but 2 children are likely spending time between different homes.

True, struggling people won’t be sympathetic to various aspects of the money and class dressings that accompany a situation like this. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to be learned and possibly employed for the betterment of everyone.

As much as people think they know the personalities and lives of their idols, who are we kidding. Most of the time no one knows about the real intimacies and internal lives of even couples they are very close to. Do you really know what is said behind closed doors of your good friends or, say, even your brother and his spouse? I am not talking about the end stages of relationships where hurts compile so deeply and one or both parties lose all impulse control in a public and sad display.

No, I am talking about what the late psychologist and author Lilian Rubin referred to as “worlds of pain.” Just the everyday slights and misunderstandings that occur and eventually can begin to pile up in even the most seemingly together relationships. To borrow the title of an REM song sometimes, everybody hurts.

The difference in relationships that last is that commitment and love provide the couple the wherewithal to stop the the hurt piling upon pain. Or the discover such abilities in couples counseling in the best circumstances. Such couples have the skills innately or acquire them They are always using their skills for their own individual and couple benefit.

The way I feel about conscious uncoupling is that it feels like a worthy goal. Not every relationship lasts. 50% or so of marriages don’t last for all sorts of reasons. If being able to let go with dignity and respect in a relationship that was going to end wouldn’t that be a goal. Even when it hurt. If it were possible to honor what was once loving and sacred between two people, wouldn’t it be good acknowledge that feeling, sad as that may be.

I don’t mean to come across polyannaish. People have affairs, experience domestic abuse, suffer emotionally at the hands of one another. Sometimes the best we can do is to hold to the standard we wish the other could employ. Not an easy thing to do when a spouse’s attorney is turning up the heat.

My point is the spirit which animates a conscious uncoupling is a worthy goal. Even when it only takes one to fuck it up. If it is available to you get support. Get counseling form friends, clergy, or professionals. Practice. See what you can create and receive. Then move on.

Don’t let the derision of other’s keep you from finding the equanimity in agreeing to say goodbye as peaceably as one can. Elvis Costello sings a song written by Nick Lowe with a title that applies here. The song is, “What’s so Funny about Peace, Love and Understanding.” And I would add, “What’s so funny about Conscious Uncoupling” if I could add a verse.

For more information about my psychotherapy practice go to:

PS As luck and serendipity would have it just, after posting this article, I came across the latest social trend in break up management referred to as “Ghosting” although I amn sure this was covered by Paul Simon in “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”

Drop a line if your are interested in my take.




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