‘Consciously Uncouple’: Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow are Doing It. Should Anyone? Coldplay frontman Chris Martin and actress Gwyneth Paltrow announced yesterday that they will “consciously uncouple.” While they’ve been mocked on social media for this New Age verbiage (“Now that divorce is ‘conscious uncoupling,’ what else will Gwyneth Paltrow rebrand?” Time tweeted.), to us as divorce mediators (and former litigators), their terminology resonated. Indeed, we routinely work with couples who end their marriages with dignity and respect while continuing their relationship as parents and with extended family.
“Consciously” is an important piece, in stark contrast to becoming a passive participant in a court driven process. Rather than having one’s future completely decided by judges and lawyers, there is an active decision to reflect, and consider values and future goals, as the family goes through a jarring transition. That means that interests can be aligned, even in the midst of emotional turmoil and a life event that, in popular parlance, signifies all out war. “Conscious” calls to mind meditation and presence — not a place of despair, but an affirmative choice, not driven by anger but by awareness of wanting something else for your life.
For everyone—famous and not–the juncture of a divorce offers a moment in life to examine afresh how each ex-spouse wants to parent going forward. In the course of a marriage, the parties typically assume roles that can leave them feeling stifled or pigeon-holed. One parent may be pegged the disciplinarian and the other the fun parent. Post-divorce, with new schedules and space from the other, parents often break away from old paradigms and give more of themselves (or less) to the children.
Post-divorce budgets—for all but the movie star set — typically require a downward adjustment in lifestyle. Couples may need to earn more, spend less and even carry some debt. They want to make the most of the tax code and struggle together with hard financial choices, because of the mutual imperative of supporting two households while creating a blueprint for financial independence. Money is often the most contentious issue in a marriage. So too in a divorce negotiation. Thoughtfully dividing assets and expenses leads the way to autonomy over budgets and bank accounts.
So far at least, Paltrow and Martin appear to have examined how they can lay the foundation for a future in which they and their two children can thrive as the family takes a new shape. Their bond as parents could continue to connect them even if their love affair has ended.
Conscious uncoupling also takes place among those whose children are long grown and even among those who did not become parents. For older couples, a sensitivity to a life lived together often motivates them to make compassionate compromises. Couples who may never have become parents also uncouple consciously – ending the marriage does not have to mean not caring.
Conscious uncoupling is an outright rejection of the conflict paradigm, the War of the Roses, winner-takes-all mentality that tends to permeate the culture of divorce. What is proposed by the very phrase, New-Agey or not, is a mature, deliberate and mutual decision to part ways with decency, without blame, and to make the best choices for all involved. Paltrow and Martin are icons in movies and music, respectively. Is it too much to hope that they become the new faces of “the good divorce”?
Abby Tolchinsky and Ellie Wertheim are attorneys, mediators and partners in Family Mediation LLP in New York City