Sad news: Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin are separating. But they're not doing it in the old-fashioned way. The couple, who were married for over 11 years and have two children together, announced in a post on Gwyneth's blog, GOOP, that they are undergoing a "conscious uncoupling."
So, what the heck is a "conscious uncoupling"Ã¢â‚¬”and why is it different than a traditional divorce or serious breakup? Two relationship experts who wrote a related entry for GOOP explain it as something that "brings wholeness to the spirits of both people who choose to recognize each other as their teacher." They say it's basically the opposite of the blame game, and it's a way to dissolve animosity and make co-parenting easier. This tactic isn't just reserved for divorces and separations, either; it also applies to long-term relationships and domestic partnerships where you have children together, or otherwise share a life together with joint assets, finaces, or property.
It sounds almost too good to be trueÃ¢â‚¬”is it really possible to endure a divorce or serious split without the process being a miserable and traumatic experience through and through? To find out, we asked our own experts to weigh in on "conscious uncoupling"Ã¢â‚¬”what it is, how it works, and why it might be worth your time, if divorce is in the cards for you.
What It Is
Don't feel left out for not recognizing this term on the spot; until today, "conscious uncoupling" wasn't a term that most couples therapists were aware of. The term may have been coined by relationship expert Katherine Woodward Thomas, whose five-week program of the same name promises to "release the trauma of a breakup, reclaim your power, and reinvent your life."
According to relationship therapist Rachel Sussman, author of The Breakup Bible, conscious uncoupling takes place when a couple believes that they have both tried to work through problems in their relationship to no avail. And together, they decide that it's best to end the relationship or marriage in a way that causes the least possible damage to themselves, their integrity, and their children.
Conscious uncoupling also refers to the way in which a couple goes about getting divorced. "It is a conscious choice to avoid adversarial attorneys," explains Tammy Nelson, Ph.D., a licensed relationship therapist and author of The New Monogamy. "Choosing instead mediation, where both parties meet with a mediator to work through a parenting plan, a financial agreement and any details that need to be settled before going to court for the final divorce." Essentially, everyone involved is committed to getting through this experience as a better, more complete personÃ¢â‚¬”without the fighting and drama that can often come with divorce.
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Pros and Cons
Wouldn't it be nice if every serious uncoupling were as civil as this? While conscious uncoupling may sound like a cakewalk compared to the bitter custody battles and arguments over shared assets that you usually associate with a divorce, it's sometimes easier said than done, and it may not always be the right solution for every relationship.
On one side, conscious uncoupling can prevent your split from impacting others in a negative way, particularly your kids, if you have them, says Nelson. And in terms of your own happiness, a conscious uncoupling could help you come to terms with your split in a healthy, productive wayÃ¢â‚¬”allowing you to turn divorce into a "growing, learning opportunity and experience," says marriage and family therapist Jane Greer, Ph.D., author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship.
So where could this dream divorce go wrong? Some people may not be equipped to leave a relationship this way, says Greer. For instance, if you're getting out of a verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive relationship, separating in an amicable way just might not be an option. Still others may not be able to do the self-reflection needed to split with peace and goodwill. And let's be honest, not all relationship dissolutions are mutualÃ¢â‚¬”some partners may want to continue fighting when the other is ready to call it quits. And there's always the very real possibility the one or both of you has serious conflicting emotions and feelingsÃ¢â‚¬”shame, grief, feelings of failure, for exampleÃ¢â‚¬”about the idea of divorce.
MORE: 6 Rules for Getting Over a Breakup the Healthy Way
How To Achieve It
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin explained in their post that they have spent the past year doing serious work to try to fix their relationship, but have found that it's better to split than to stay together. If you find yourself in the same spot after much effort to save your marriage (like through counseling), and once you make the incredibly hard decision that your marriage can't last, Greer suggests having a hard but honest conversation with your partner and explaining that you've reached the end of the line. This is also a time to get introspective and look at why the relationship went wrong. The goal is for both parties to come out of the relationship with an accurate and non-blaming understanding of what went wrong, as well as how they can improve their lives going forward.
Obviously, divorce is a traumatic and extremely emotional event, but this tactic shows it doesn't have to mean the apocalypse, either. If you're willing to take a page out of Gwyneth and Chris' playbook, conscious uncoupling could be the least damaging way to make a very difficult life decision like this one.