Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin shocked the public this week by announcing their intention to dissolve their decade-long marriage. What may have been most shocking of all was the use of the term Conscious Uncoupling, that many people had simply never heard before.

While there is arguably more help available to people going through divorce than ever before, including family law lawyers trained in negotiation and/or collaborative practice, etc., the term ‘conscious uncoupling’ is relatively new on the scene.

Divorce is an uncomfortable subject, and many Canadians continue to enter into marriage without really turning their minds to the possibility that the marriage may one day end. If that day does arrive, most people find themselves adrift, and can suffer from a range of emotions, including confusion about how exactly to extricate from the emotional and financial ties that are a marriage, and even to depression as they face one of the most challenging aspects of adulthood. A divorce has often been compared to loss of employment, even a death, in terms of emotional severity and shock that is experienced.

To try and mitigate those feelings, our society has developed laws intended to guide people, and government websites that are intended to educate people as to their rights and obligations upon marriage breakdown.  There are lawyers who are specially trained to aid people during this time, and one tool among many in their toolbox is negotiation. This successfully keeps thousands of potential litigants out of the family law courts each year across Canada.

Conscious Uncoupling actually resembles the practice of negotiated settlement in that the separating spouses are working together, even collaboratively, to end their marriage without some of the things that can derail a low-stress decoupling, such as not assigning blame to the other for the breakdown of the marriage, working positively to move forward toward resolution, and considering the other’s viewpoint and feelings throughout.

Where conscious uncoupling begins to chart new territory is by having the participants look within themselves to focus on the relationship with themselves and consider that as a factor in the marriage breakdown. Conscious uncoupling goes further and asks participants to consider that it may not have been ‘natural’ for partners to expect to come together for a lifetime in the first place[1]. It seems that in order to adopt conscious uncoupling, one must be open to the idea that there can be many ‘life’ partners along the way, and that each relationship, though valuable, is not meant to be permanent.

It begs the question then if marriage itself may be irrelevant under the theory of Conscious Uncoupling.


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