Coupled or Uncoupled, Consciousness is Required

Let’s discuss Gwyneth Paltrow and her “conscious uncoupling” from husband Chris Martin.

She has been given a lot of grief for sharing this new-agey term for her break up, but I say there’s value in her perspective. Recently, the actress announced on her “goop” lifestyle website that she and her rock-star husband of 10 years were separating. The post was promoted to “goop” subscribers via an email with the subject line “A note from GP” and read:

“It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate… We are, however, and always will be a family, and in many ways are closer than we have ever been. We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children, and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time. We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and coparent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.” —via 

As explained in an essay that followed Paltrow’s note, Dr. Habib Sedeghi and Dr. Sherry Sami, the coiners of the now-ubiquitous term, explained that conscious uncoupling holds intimate relationships as spiritual teaching and learning experiences that have great benefit even if they don’t endure for the entire length of our ever-expanding lifetimes. Divorce isn’t a failure, they say, it’s a progression.

I don’t entirely get it, and the Internet community didn’t either, mocking the celebrities’ attempt to cast the difficult and heart-wrenching experience of divorce as a mindful occasion for personal growth.

Slate published a snarky Goop-ify Your Love Life” calculator (I’m meditatively enmeshed, how about you?).

Adriana Velez poked fun in her piece for The Stir titled, “8 Ways Gwyneth Paltrow’s Divorce Will Be Much Better Than Yours.”

Not to mention the explosion of derisive tweets, such as: “Conscious uncoupling sounds like something you explain to your overtherapized children at the gluten-free all-organic dinner table.”

Gwyneth has always had her critics. The holistic, exquisitely curated lifestyle she espouses on “goop” seems unrealistic for most of us regular chicks. But she’s right about the importance of being conscious as a couple, although I say it’s most important when you’re still together. If you’re not actively working on, thinking about and learning from your relationship, it’s at risk of becoming as moldy as the non-organic strawberries festering in the bottom drawer of my fridge. These days, there isn’t much else holding marriage together than our conscious intent.

Two or three generations ago, consciousness wasn’t required for a marriage to succeed. Marriages were based on respect, family and finances. Writes “Mating in Captivity” author Esther Perel, traditionally, “Love within a marriage might develop over time but was not indispensable to the success of the family. Marriage used to be primarily a matter of economic sustenance, and it was a partnership for life. Mating today is a free-choice enterprise, and commitments are built on love. Intimacy has shifted from being a by-product of a long-term relationship to being a mandate for one.”

I much prefer my intimacy-based marriage to the economic partnerships of yore, but intimacy and love are high-maintenance propositions. They require ongoing attention and tender care to flourish. Gwyneth’s advisors, Dr. Sedeghi and Dr. Sami, make the same point.

“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 is too much pressure for anyone. In fact, it would be interesting to see how much easier couples might commit to each other by thinking of their relationship in terms of daily renewal instead of a lifetime investment.”

Look, I wish Paltrow and Martin the best as they uncouple. Why not act mindfully, with respect and consideration— especially for the sake of the kids? But the lesson I’m taking from their split isn’t how to end an intimate relationship; it’s how to stay in one.