In 2014, Gwyneth Paltrow announced her separation from her husband, calling it a “conscious uncoupling.”
The person who actually coined this term is American psychotherapist and relationships expert Katherine Woodward Thomas. When Gwyneth Paltrow “broke the internet” with her now-infamous media release through her Goop website and newsletter, Katherine was in Costa Rica finishing the manuscript to her book Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After released September 2015.
Uncoupling, as an alternative to a nasty and revenge-fuelled divorce, has been around since the 1970s. When the phrase “conscious uncoupling” hit the media, it (and Gwyneth Paltrow) received a lot of negativity, rather surprising considering what a positive term it is. People seem to think it is another overly-optimistic invention, another California export.
Perhaps it was because Gwyneth Paltrow introduced it. Seen as an out-of-touch elitist, she seems to always elicit backlash and ire. No matter what your personal feelings are about Gwyneth Paltrow, if you think about it for a minute, “conscious uncoupling” is a wonderful, subtly nuanced, and multi-layered concept and process that is sorely needed.
Divorce, and the end to any relationship, is often seen, and even expected to be, full of animosity, bitterness, blame, anger, and many other overwhelming emotions. We are hurt, sometimes betrayed. We are rejected and left behind. It makes us feel “less than” and often leads to questions like “what went wrong?” or “what did I do wrong?” It makes us feel like a failure, even when the relationship itself had brought immense happiness. Wrapped up in all of that is our entire life, and the whole history of who we are. The way we define success, and successful relationships, needs to change.
Adele’s song, Hello, powerfully captures the feelings we can have, even years after the end of a relationship that has remained unhealed. When we are unhealed. While this song can be interpreted as Adele reconciling with her former self or an ex-lover, the grief and remorse are palpable.
Imagine if we can say sorry when it matters the most, when the emotions are raw, when everyone is hurting, and allow generosity to engender the unfolding of the end of something once beautiful. At some point, this person meant the whole world, the one person you wanted to spend every waking hour with, forever. This is the person you loved, for real.
Sincere sorries any time, of course, can help heal wounds and bridge gaps across time. The video of Hello was viewed 25 million times over a 24-hour-period, showing how many people connected with these feelings of loss and broken heartedness, and of course Adele’s beautiful voice. This is one reason why Conscious Uncoupling is needed in our society.
In her book, Katherine Woodward Thomas not only explains in detail her five steps to conscious uncoupling. This includes suggestions for self-care (super important!) and the implications of a conscious decision to end a relationship in an amicable way. She is taking the long view, not the short term gains and potential emotional release that people seek with vengeance.
She also explains that we are fighting some powerful biology to override these very common reactions to being betrayed or losing a very important attachment. She does acknowledge the difficulty of this process, one that is fraught with fear, as we stand (or huddle or curl in a fetal position) between the old world we had heavily invested in and a new world not yet dawned. We are suspended. Not a comfortable feeling for many people.
Love withdrawal perfectly mirror drug withdrawal, and is often accompanied by the same reckless and destructive impulses as the ones that land drug addicts, desperate to get high, behind bars.
Conscious uncoupling means choosing to be happy over being right. It means forgiving all the hurts and being grateful for the good times, and healing so that the next relationship or other current relationships can be grounded in wholeness. Conscious uncoupling leads to conscious couplings. The idea is to allow everyone to thrive, even if initially some hard decisions and adjustments need to be made. Conscious uncoupling is about being free.
Heartache has you upside down and is furiously shaking loose from the crevices of your psyche every life you’ve ever lived with. Every fear you’ve ever swept under the rug, minimized, or denied is now staring you straight in the face. Every way that you’ve given away your power, denied your own deeper knowing, put someone else’s feelings and needs before your own, stayed embedded in a victimized story, or settled for less in life – all of it is now up for review.
What Katherine is advocating is using this time to really look at and take responsibility for the patterns we have been living and perpetuating and to “catalyze your own awakening and propel you to become the person you were born to be.”
Her five steps are
- Find emotional freedom
- Reclaim your power and your life
- Break the Pattern, Heal Your Heart
- Become a Love Alchemist
- Create Your Happily-Even After
She suggests doing this process in your own time and to take your time. While some of her clients, through this work, have decided to remain married, she suggests going into it without expectations. It can be done alone or with your partner (if willing), and for a current separation or an unhealed end many years ago.
Katherine Woodward Thomas’ book Conscious Uncoupling has a lot of information, including research on how the brain behaves, having support, and compassion. Whether you are going through a divorce or the end of a long time friendship, check out this book. This is for anyone needing or wanting to heal a broken heart, rediscover their self-esteem, or simply uncover their strengths, generosity, and passion. No matter when it happened.