TO many, the term “Conscious Uncoupling” sounds like a huge pile of psychobabble mixed with deluded New Age naivety. It left most media people and couples therapists shaking their heads when Gwyneth Paltrow used it to describe what she and her soon-to-be-ex-husband Chris Martin were doing.
But the term has been around for a few years when Katherine Woodward Thomas, an American family and couples therapist, started using it around the traps in LA, and was then adopted by other therapists.
If one were to ignore the cringe-worthy term for it, it’s in fact a powerful process.
A process where each partner takes responsibility for the role they have played in bringing about the end of the relationship and — most importantly — each stays aware of how much their own reactivity has fuelled the fire.
It also fosters empathy towards the partner’s plight, hence allowing couples to separate with love and friendship, or at least respect.
Long before this term hit the market, my former husband and I had a therapist who used this very technique when it appeared our relationship was beyond saving.
She never pinned a tag on it. She just believed that breakups happen, and they are often not necessarily “the end”, rather a change of structure of a relationship that probably had great qualities in order to have led to marriage or cohabitating. “You loved each other once,” She would say. “People can become supportive friends or lovers, or just stay close as parents. But you have to work at breaking up.”
She believed blame was a boring, unintelligent waste of time; and made our separation vital, challenging, a good opportunity to reflect on one’s own patterns so as to find greater personal happiness in the future.
What I’d termed “break-up therapy” was inspiring at a time when most people are incapacitated by rage and self-pity. Very quickly we left anger behind and could then reflect on the good times we’d forgotten; and rediscover our connection. As our sessions drew to an end, we found ourselves becoming more supportive of one another, happier within ourselves, and working together to make the divorce seamless for our daughter. We lost the marriage but saved a loving friendship.
Some relationship breakdowns are due to serious breaches of trust or violence, but many are just natural growing aparts that happen as things change so rapidly these days. No one is at fault; just not getting current needs met.
Blended families, where a divorcee stay cool with their ex and incorporate children, and new partner’s children, into current situations has only been possible through conscious uncoupling although (thankfully) no one had ever used the term. Paltrow writes: “We are closer [now] than we have ever been.” Her therapist must be as good as ours was.
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