"Conscious Uncoupling" a/k/a Creating a "Happy Divorce"

Just because the idea of “Conscious Uncoupling” hit the news via a celebrity divorce doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.  Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin may be making headlines with their divorce, but couples have been creating guilt-free, drama-free transitions that serve their greater good for years.

In 2005, I coached a woman who was avoiding a divorce because she didn’t want to displease friends and family.  Both she and her husband had acknowledged they weren’t interested in continuing the relationship.  They had deep differences and very divergent ideas of their future.  (I tell her story with her permission.)


“I’m only avoiding it because I dread the reaction of everyone else.  I dread the trauma.  I fear we’ll be stigmatized as losers.  The truth is, we’re very happy when we are apart.”

“So, what are you going to create from these facts?” I asked her.

“I wish we could acknowledge our wins, respect each other, tell everyone else to go to hell with their judgment, and….” Her face came alive, her eyes brightened, and she leaned forward.  “…and make a happy divorce!  That’s what I want.  A happy divorce!”

Once she hit on the idea, we began to work on making it happen.  She brought her husband into coaching sessions.  As they separated themselves from the idea that they were broken or failures, they began to see their situation differently.

They had married a quarter century ago, neither of them with a clear idea of what they wanted to do in life, individually or as a couple.  Why should they label their entire marriage a “mistake?”

I was privileged to watch them actually grow from the experience.

(Is it unusual for someone who coaches many weight loss clients to also coach relationships?  No, a big factor in excess weight is often a primary relationship issue.)

Little did I know, as I coached them, and subsequently coached other couples towards the same result, that I would one day need a “happy divorce” too.

But, in 2012, my husband and I created a divorce filled with respect and love.  We vowed to support each other as parents, and honor our part in the upbringing of our precious son, who was 20 years old.  We separated out our own disappointments, let go of resentments, and vowed to learn from every step along the way.

You know you married the right man when you can create a happy divorce together.

We collaborated on our divorce agreement and designed it to be fair and to take care of each other.

We supported each other emotionally as we moved apart, though our basic disagreements and fundamental beliefs had not changed.  We agreed to disagree, forever.  We worked through any sticky points and negotiated and compromised, and we could do this because we’d been doing it for years and we recognized this was one of our strong points.

We treated each other with kindness.  We chose kind words.  We appreciated what each of us brought to the tasks ahead:  selling a home, moving, legal work. We kissed after the judge formally ended our marriage.  We thanked each other for 24 years of a shared life.

We moved on.  We are both passionate about our lives.  By letting go of the weight of another person’s expectations, when those needs and expectations were never going to go away, gave us both the freedom to create new opportunities, conquer new goals, and create the next segment of our lives.

What we didn’t do:

We didn’t tear each other apart because we wanted different things at this point in our lives.  Who knew we’d grow in the disparate directions we did?  No one can predict these things.  What most couples do is blame each other, create drama and trauma, build resentments and spew their venom on the entire family.  Who is helped by that reaction?  We are good friends and family… why should we tear apart valuable aspects of our relationship because we have grown into poor life partners for each other?

We didn’t “awfulize” our situation.  We had seen too many of our friends throw gasoline on their fires, hellbent on destroying each other, putting their children through unbearable conflict, forcing their friends to take sides, and dividing families.

We created boundaries, not letting anyone outside ourselves get involved.  No one’s opinion but ours mattered.  We knew how our marriage had grown, been challenged, and how it supported us.  We knew what it had meant to us.  No one outside a relationship can understand it.  Being apart today in no way diminishes any good aspects of our marriage or the things we shared together.  But we also knew that living distinctly separate lives, no matter how respectful, isn’t a true partnership, and we needed to move on, or risk pretending for the rest of our lives.

We spoke the truth, gently.  All through the unraveling of our relationship, we managed to find a way to gently share our own true feelings, and accept them.  This made it easier to ride the sometimes difficult roller coaster of emotions without blaming or shaming each other.  This was one of the great lessons divorce taught us.

We taught our son adults work like hell at a relationship, but, when it’s obvious it’s no longer nurturing or growing, you work just as hard at uncoupling as you tried to make it work out.  It’s always possible to respect each other as human beings.  As parents, we have tried to teach him to treat every human being with dignity and this was no different than any other situation in life.

Finding Grace

To our surprise, support showed up.  Quite a few divorced friends confess they wished they had made different choices during their own divorces.  Others admitted they felt great relief after making the major decision to end their marriage, and the feeling of relief drove their divorces into a more collaborative event.  They also reported fewer ill feelings and resentments lingered when they could see, share and accept the inevitable end of their union as the final chapter in the important book of marriage.

Personally, I found it uplifting to move on with lighter baggage.  I also discovered staying true to my deeper self and my values of truth-telling, respect, positivity and love reaped sweet unexpected rewards when grace showed up, taking us to higher ground.


(If you want to create a conscious, respectful conclusion to a primary relationship, contact Pat here.)

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