How to Consciously Uncouple

Several months ago Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin brought the term “conscious uncoupling” into mainstream consciousness.  They put a label to a very thoughtful and perhaps even, loving way of undoing a marriage or romantic union.  What I like about the word choice is the respect it pays the act of the undoing.  Marriage and partnership is a conscious choice, why should the end be granted any less consideration and respect? The uncoupling of the Paltrow-Martin marriage was quite timely with my own personal experience.  After an 11 year relationship, my wife, and mother of our children, and I found ourselves at a final impasse for which we simply had no more solutions.

Although we are each finding our own parallel paths, it’s been a time for tremendous personal growth, both individually and together.  Conscious uncoupling is not going to work for everyone, nor is it appropriate in every situation, however I am thankful that it’s been given a name and a face.

What I find most appealing about conscious uncoupling is the respect and humanity it brings to the way the end of a romantic relationship is treated.  Deep thought, consideration, and emotion were obviously given when the relationship began to bloom.  Despite the end of the partnership, or perhaps what society terms as the “failure”, it’s important to hold on to all that good stuff that happened in the beginning, middle, and even perhaps moments at the end.  Just because a partnership is ending doesn’t mean the laughter, love, and memories never existed or can’t be celebrated. These moments are your life.

Thinking of a relationship as an evolution rather than a linear path, might help people keep their eyes on what matters most.  People change, relationships evolve, and the world is a fluid place.  Many romantic relationships begin with a great friendship; keep your mind open to the possibility of the relationship going full circle back to a great, and perhaps even deeper friendship.

What Marriage Means

For obvious reasons our society celebrates the “coupling” of individuals.  Even though half of all marriages eventually end in divorce, like moths to a flame we keep lining up for more.  Aside from the multi-gazillion dollar industries devoted to every aspect of weddings imaginable, there is also the support of our social networks.  There are traditions for every step of the proposal, engagement, bridal shower / bachelor party, wedding and honeymoon.  Our friends and family shower us with love and attention.  But what rituals and support do we receive when we reach the end of the road?  Awkward interactions and well-intentioned (yet often off-the-mark) declarations of how “Maybe it’s for the best”, or “You deserve better anyway” are offered all too freely.

Our friends often don’t know what to do so for lack of a better idea they help us partake in self-destructive behavior.  They take us drinking and help us build up our defenses.  They get us ready for battle.

There are entire industries built on dismantling marriages and partnerships in the ugliest, most expensive, and dehumanizing ways possible.  The uglier the divorce becomes, more assets, or if there are children involved, the more money the ambulance-chasers reap.  The process if handled this way can be financially and emotionally ruinous.

Divorces, when placed in the hands of attorneys and courtrooms, bring out the most reactive, fearful, primitive parts of our brains.  Our claws are out and we say and do things that can never be taken back.  Conscious uncoupling is an alternative to this horror show.  It’s a sophisticated way to celebrate what was at one time the most significant and meaningful part of a couple’s life.  Celebrate the good times, hold on tight, and stay committed to not let the end of the relationship destroy what was once cherished.

How to Consciously Uncouple:

1. Create Ground Rules & Boundaries

This is new territory for both of you and it’s important that communication become very detailed since the path is unknown. Having a plan for common questions and daily interactions can help alleviate some of the awkwardness.

How will each of you respond to questions about the relationship? How will each of you interact with each other in public? Can you call each other? How often?

Can your partner stop by to fetch something for the children, even if you aren’t there? If yes, how often? This can be a difficult and bumpy task and requires creativity and patience as you navigate the road together.

2.  Do not disrespect each other.

This might seem like an obvious tip in light of trying to be mindful, however it’s importance can’t be stressed enough: Friends will follow your lead in regards to the end of your relationship. If you’re bad-mouthing your ex in a painful moment, your friends will remember that. It’s important to honor and respect who your ex was and what she meant to you. Keeping your words about her on a high, thoughtful note can help keep things conscious.

3: Take space, physically and logistically from each other

While you may have children to co-parent, make it a priority to ourselves to take space, helping to initiate the healing process.

4: Engage in your own self-care.

Exercising, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and make new friends. Reestablishing yourselves away from the relationship and creating new memories is important to the process.

5: Allow time for the grieving.

Mourn the loss of your relationship. That includes giving time and space to feeling the emptiness and awkwardness of your interactions with each other. Giving yourselves permission to grieve allows time for the emotional residue to ebb and something new and healthy to emerge.

If you are going through a break up, attempting to uncouple can make the transition a little less rocky and can help you both heal quicker. I know it has helped give my own process a lot of integrity and dignity and allowed both my partner and I to be present and mindful of the journey. I hope the sharing of my story inspires you to approach your break up with respect and love and allow your own healing process to evolve.


Dr. Frankie Bashan

Additional resources for navigating a break up:

Huffington Post: Is a Bucket List the Cure to Post-Breakup Depression?

Break Up Bucket List: Things to Do

Surviving Your Breakup, Psych Central

How To Get Over a Lesbian in 30 Days

This post originally appeared on lesbianlife.about.com in early September 2014.

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