Have you heard the phrase “conscious uncoupling”?
Do you know what it means, other than avoiding a toxic divorce?
I thought I understood the concept … until I read a story about it yesterday on Goop – a website run by the most famous face of conscious uncoupling, Gwyneth Paltrow.
The article by Dr Habib Sadeghi & Dr Sherry Sami notes: “To change the concept of divorce, we need to release the belief structures we have around marriage that create rigidity in our thought process. The belief structure is the all-or-nothing idea that when we marry, it’s for life. The truth is, the only thing any of us have is today. Beyond that, there are no guarantees. The idea of being married to one person for life, especially without some level of awareness of our unresolved emotional needs, is too much pressure for anyone.
“If we can recognise that our partners in our intimate relationships are our teachers, helping us evolve our internal, spiritual support structure, we can avoid the drama of divorce and experience what we call a conscious uncoupling.
“Conscious uncoupling is the ability to understand that every irritation and argument within a relationship was a signal to look inside ourselves and identify a negative internal object that needed healing. Because present events always trigger pain from a past event, it’s never the current situation that needs the real fixing. It’s just the echo of an older emotional injury. If we can remain conscious of this during our uncoupling, we will understand it’s how we relate to ourselves internally as we go through an experience that’s the real issue, not what’s actually happening.”
Most of the article was a little too hoopy froody for me, but there were parts that I found illuminating now that I have enough distance from the pain. It’s difficult to be self aware when you are in the midst of a distressing break up.
Since I’m so not the new age type, I thought I’d write four practical tips for consciously uncoupling. None of them are revolutionary, but I see so many people doing exactly the opposite … and creating so much unnecessary heartache as a result.
Admittedly, my tips rely on both people acting like grown ups. It’s hard to move forward if one or both parties are regressing to irrational toddler mode.
By following these tips, I guarantee you’ll be a much happier in the long run. And so will your kids. I reckon it’s worth the effort for them.
Tip no 1: Treat each other respectfully
Yes, I know you’re upset and angry about your marriage failing, but being nasty will just make you feel worse.
It’s human nature to lash out initially. I went to town on my ex when he left. I wanted to emotionally eviscerate him so he’d hurt as much as me. But I realised that I wasn’t gaining anything from tearing him down. He was gone, he wasn’t coming back – being vicious about it was pretty pointless.
From day one, I chose not to paint him in a bad light with the kids. He’s their dad, they love him, he’s a great parent. Damaging their relationship would be a selfish, mean-spirited act.
If you truly care about your kids – and your ex is a loving parent – then try to “consciously uncouple” your feelings from theirs.
It can be tempting to revel in gaining preferred parent status or to fail to discourage your kids from taking sides. But don’t treat them as prizes or pawns to be won in the divorce battle.
And – unless their safety is at risk – actively work to preserve their relationship with your ex.
Your children will be far more emotionally healthy as adults if they have a good relationship with both of you.
Treating each other respectfully means reflecting before you send a vicious text message or saying something ugly that can’t be unsaid: are you sure it’s worth the bad ju-ju?
Of course your ex is going to irritate you, that’s one of the reasons you broke up. But escalating petty squabbles is a losing game.
Tip no 2: Acknowledge it takes two people to end a marriage
Sometimes it only takes one sociopathic shell of a human being to destroy a relationship, but usually there are faults on both sides.
I was filled with righteous anger when my husband left, convinced I was a blameless victim who’d been cruelly abandoned in her darkest hour of need.
I was furious that my ex wouldn’t make more allowances for my health and career issues and the devastating impact they had on me. I expected his compassion to be endless, despite having withdrawn from him physically, mentally and emotionally.
I can see now that my stubborn refusal to meet him halfway, or even a quarter of the way, was a major factor in the death of our love.
Accepting that I played a role in our break up lessened the anger I felt towards him. I also learned from the mistakes I made and became a better person for it.
Tip no 3: Let go of the hate
People often ask me if I think my ex is happy in his new relationship. For a long time I wished he wasn’t – I didn’t think he deserved happiness.
I even fantasised about ensuring he and his partner were placed in separate nursing homes in their dotage, so they’d die alone.
But when people ask me the question now, I tell them I genuinely hope he’s happy. Not only because it would be a shame to have gained nothing by leaving our marriage, but because an unhappy ex partner is a burden on both you and your kids.
The bitterness, misery and angst will rub off on your kids and you run the risk of them becoming depressed and anxious as a result.
Co-parenting is also easier with a happy, balanced ex partner – they’re more reasonable and likely to make better decisions.
And finally, as the conscious uncoupling doctors noted, acknowledge that it’s hard work staying happily married. If you weren’t prepared to be a 50% contributor to that labour and didn’t try to meet your partner in the middle, then still hating them for years after your divorce shows a lack of self awareness that requires therapy.
Tip no.4: Try to be friendly
Being friends with your ex is way too much to ask if they’ve done you wrong.
But being friendly makes life easier for everyone.
For example, greeting your ex politely when they collect the kids for the weekend helps diffuse tension. Your children don’t want to feel nervous every time their parents are near each other.
Admittedly, my ex and I have managed to be more friendly than most. We’ve made it a priority for the sake of our children. We go to parent-teacher nights together, we sit side-by-side at our children’s performances, we have dinner as a family on the kids’ birthdays.
It also means I celebrate my kid’s milestones and achievements with the only person in the world who loves them as much as I do. That’s a precious bond to maintain.
Making the effort to do those things with my ex doesn’t take anything away from me because we never use the occasions to snipe at each other. If we have an issue, we deal with it away from the kids.
I believe the unity we have shown in separation has been a huge contributor to how well our children have coped with our break-up. They feel safe and loved in both our homes and also when we come together as a family.
Our co-parenting relationship isn’t perfect: I still have zero interest in meeting my ex’s partner. EVER.
But as long as she’s nice to my kids, the pragmatist in me can tolerate her existence.
And, four years after my ex left, I can honestly say I’ve mended. Avoiding a toxic relationship has been a big part of that.
Now I just need to get the damn divorce.
Song of the day: Taylor Swift “Never ever getting back together”