A Look Under the Hood of Conscious Uncoupling

For the first time in my life, a “royal couple” of the media industry is separating in a way that appears to be truly newsworthy: with a conscious commitment to their children and each other at their epicenter.

This is what every divorcing parent is striving for ultimately, isn’t it? Peace with their ex. And the ability to co-create a family system that honors and protects the children.

Yet when Gwyneth Paltrow declared her breakup with Chris Martin to be a “conscious uncoupling”, this seemed to inspire a great deal of condemnation. The media reports that her friends are laughing at her and “bemoaning Paltrow’s insufferable satisfaction” with the evolution of her life.

What’s going on here? Are we collectively more invested in watching people’s lives self-destruct in the tabloids?

I see this couple’s “conscious uncoupling” as a reflection of the new paradigm that is taking root powerfully and undeniably one family system at a time. Without fanfare or media coverage in households all over this country and all over this world, couples are struggling to preserve their families through a carefully respectful and intentional divorce process. As they uncouple, these parents’ hearts aren’t any less broken than anyone else’s. They aren’t any less angry or exhausted or terrified than people who do divorce unconsciously.

They’ve just made a decision that changes everything. They’re committed to finding a way to embrace the broken and reclaim the whole—of themselves and their families. They’re going to do this mess of a life change with intention and integrity. They’re going to focus on the children and what they need, and steer themselves toward that light, instead of getting mired in their own personal darkness. They’re going to honor themselves and their hearts. They’re going to expect the best from their co-parents, no matter what events have led them to this precipice. They’re going to pay attention. And do what needs to be done.

In my experience, “conscious uncoupling”—or as I call it, radical divorce—is a process that requires completely unraveling the fabric or ourselves and our lives before we can weave it all back together again. What I suspect about Gwyneth and Chris is that they may now be in the last trimester of their marriage. Making the decision to separate can actually be a very sweet time. The pressure is off. The good intentions are ripe. We are full of appreciation for how hard we tried, for how fiercely we loved. And there is this sense of optimism about what can be possible on the other side. The unraveling has yet to begin.

I was like Gwyneth: dead-set on having the best divorce ever. I was going to be grateful. I was going to be kind. I was going to be just fine. Except that, as it turned out, I wasn’t.

Seven months after we’d made our decision, four months after he moved out, Pete spoke a sentence that tripped the wire of my inner explosives, and all hell broke loose inside of me. And I’m so grateful it did.

There is no substitute and no shortcut for feeling what we feel throughout the process of divorce. And this can be tidal. Waves and waves and waves battering our shores. For me, conscious uncoupling involved being lost at sea for almost a year. And then piecing the shards back together for the next two years. I’m still sanding off the edges, arranging the shapes. Maybe I always will be.

Allowing my feelings, then setting my intentions, and eventually learning to tell new stories about where I’ve been and where I’m headed has become my practice. This is how I discovered my path toward deeply rooted gratitude, authentic compassion for my co-parent and for myself, and toward the acceptance that our enduring friendship is built upon.

I wish this freedom and peace for Gwyneth and Chris and their family. I hope they have enough space and privacy to meet what they meet along the way and let themselves be conscious of the light and the shadow as they unpack their past and suit up for the marathon of co-parenting.

And I wish this freedom and peace for you.

What does conscious uncoupling mean to you? What kind of self-care and family-care practices are you establishing to get you through?




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