Gwyneth Paltrow used the term “conscious uncoupling” to describe her divorce process from Chris Martin. They were married for 11 years, and Paltrow used the phrase in her announcement about their separation.
While it’s a term that has been making the rounds for a while, it didn’t really hit mainstream derision and scorn until Paltrow put it in the spotlight. Part of that is due to the generic Paltrow-bashing that seems so popular, but part of it is due I think to the slightly warped ideals of romance that we perpetuate in our society.
We really push the “One True Love” (aka OTP, “One True Pair”) and “happily ever after” paradigms of romance, but those ideas rest on the notion that there There Can Be Only One, and Only With That One Will There Be Happiness, with the obvious result that any relationship that doesn’t match those terms is by definition Wrong in All the Ways.
But that is not life as we live it. Most relationships start with lots of happiness, mutual pleasure, and high hopes for the future. The fact that the majority of them actually end should not take away from the joy we experienced while things were good, but generally that’s how people react. Why? Because they feel like they failed by not choosing the correct One True Love. The “proper” reaction is scathing words of anger and disappointment.
Putting aside the raft of issues that could lead to a breakup, some more catastrophic than others, I think it’s worth-while to look at why an idea based on a maturely handled, mutually beneficial divorce process received such sanctimonious scorn while breakups that seethe with toxicity and hatred are considered “normal.”
My marriage ended in a very “conscious uncoupling” way. My ex-husband and I, after 14 years of marriage, managed to end things amicably and easily. Granted, we didn’t have kids in the mix, but on the whole I’m not sure that would have mattered. He’s an honorable man who lives up to his word, and while I’m a mess of a human being I always try to do the right thing. Together, we went through a divorce process that ended with us as friends. (Yes, I’m still bitter that he got the LotR Extended Version DVDs, but then I kept Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so nah nah nah!)
And it SHOCKS people to find this out.
We are so used to stories of marriages ending in explosions of anger and betrayal that the idea of people being friends after a divorce is laughed at as unnatural.
Sometimes, sure, it’s not possible, when lying and cheating and betrayal are the sparks that started the fire. But a lot of times I think the opportunity to salvage at least that much is thrown away due to the feelings of one or the other or both that the very act of ending a relationship “proves” that it was never good to start with. They chose the wrong “One True Love” and therefore, the whole relationship is viewed as a failure.
There are times when the ending is more important than the process — say, during an Olympic competition. But generally relationships are not a good thing to rate by dint of how they ended. Oftentimes, relationships encompass a lot of positive, important parts of peoples lives. It seems to me that knowing a relationship can end without it reflecting on the worth or value of those involved might save a lot of heartache.
I think if people took ideas such as conscious uncoupling more seriously, they might avoid the degradation of their relationship to the point where anger is the only commonality the two people involved have left to share.
Was my divorce painless? Honestly, it was. What was painful were the two years leading up to it, where we progressively made each other more and more miserable, which resulted in a very dysfunctional relationship. Instead of carrying on that way until one of us did something unforgivable, we simply owned up to the fact that things were not working anymore. That was excruciatingly painful.
But doing so saved our friendship, and for that I’m eternally grateful, because for many of the years we were together, we had a relationship that was very fulfilling for both of us (not perfect, but good). Were we fortunate? Yes, I think so; not all situations can end so amicably. But perhaps a lot more could, if conscious uncoupling was seen as a valid way for a relationship to end, and if we did not collectively invest so much of ourselves into romantic ideals that do more harm than good.