In 2014, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin filed for divorce after 11 years of marriage. Situations like this are not new. Although the divorce rate in the United States has been declining, it is still 2.9 people for every 1,000.
What made it interesting—and perhaps what caused people to raise their eyebrows—is their separation process. It seems, for the first time, the public heard the term “conscious uncoupling.” In their interviews and Paltrow’s stirring essay in Vogue, they mentioned it over and over.
Is this a new way of getting divorced?
The Uncoupling Theory
The concept of uncoupling isn’t new. In fact, its history could be traced back to Diane Vaughan when she defined the word in the 1970s. More than a possible alternative to divorce, it’s all about how relationships could unravel unevenly between partners.
In her book aptly called Uncoupling and in the article in the New York Times back in the 1980s, Vaughan shared that when couples get together, whether through marriage or any loving relationship, the individuals become interdependent and even develop identities with the other.
But in her idea of uncoupling, there’s always one who initiates the separation process even if both can already feel that the relationship is falling apart. That can leave the other person deeply hurt once the bomb goes off, so to speak, although it doesn’t mean the initiator doesn’t feel the same way. As Vaughan said, the pain and all the other negative emotions just came early for them.
The whole situation can become a problem as one seems ready to move on while others have to deal with the news and think of ways to cope with it. Worse, sometimes, when one has already uncoupled but has a hard time saying it, they may resort to tactics that could make the whole separation more acrimonious. An example is when the initiator deliberately humiliates the other, hoping the latter will kick the former out.
According to Vaughan, a dire relationship isn’t hopeless if couples realize it is happening. It is even the best time to seek help like couples therapy to fix it, especially the miscommunication that might have started everything.
But what happens when it can no longer be saved? The goal then shifts into untangling the interdependency and ending the identity the person developed with the former partner, so he can be a separate individual again. This is where conscious uncoupling can be helpful.
What Is Conscious Uncoupling?
Conscious uncoupling was a term created by Katherine Woodward Thomas, a licensed family and marriage therapist, in 2009. Some people believe it is another word for an amicable divorce, but for its believers and practitioners, it does have a deeper meaning:
- It recognizes that relationships can change. They can end, and both parties may love others again.
• It believes that a relationship doesn’t have to come to an end. Instead, it can be completed. Both parties can then bring the lessons they learned while they’re together to be better people for themselves and their future partners.
• Conscious uncoupling is resolving difficult emotions like anger and feelings of revenge. This way, the person can move forward with their integrity intact.
Conscious uncoupling doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, couples go through a five-step program:
- Gain emotional freedom —In any breakup, emotions are high and can control the individuals. In the first step, couples learn to recognize these feelings but never giving them power.
- Reclaim life and power —It’s normal for people in a broken relationship to put the blame on somebody else and experience humiliation. But the point of this second step is to help one get past that. Unless they can stop the idea of victimization, they will never learn from their mistakes, make themselves whole again, and ultimately develop the confidence to love another individual.
- Break old patterns and heal the heart —People are likely to find themselves in the same situation and over because of past traumas or self-limiting beliefs. This process helps someone achieve liberation from these self-destructing thoughts and patterns.
- Become a love alchemist —The first three steps are about healing oneself to allow the individual to proceed with 4, which is to help build a loving relationship with the former partner. This way, they may be able to retain the friendship or at least co-parent harmoniously.
- Create a happy ever after — On the other side of grief could be a beautiful life, which is what the last step aims to teach couples. It helps them make life-affirming, well-supported decisions that will allow them to find happiness outside the relationship while ensuring that all others involved in the past, like the children, continue to thrive.
The beauty of conscious uncoupling is that one can do it alone, but this doesn’t mean the process is great for everyone. Couples who find themselves at a crossroads can benefit from getting professional support to help them determine the path they are willing to take from here on out.