Your Opinions: Conscious Uncoupling
Sub-Editor’s Note: Here is the next piece in our new ‘Your Opinions’ series, where a topical story from the week’s news is blown open for discussion. Comment below.
Last Wednesday, celebrity A-couple, Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, announced that they are to be separated, in a move that they have called ‘conscious uncoupling’. But what is conscious uncoupling and is it all just empty, obscuring mumbo jumbo?
The announcement, made via Paltrow’s blog, was intriguingly accompanied by a 2000-word essay written by her spiritual advisers, Dr Habi Sadeghi and Dr Sherry Sami. The essay’s title: On Conscious Uncoupling. It has been provided to help explain why they have decided to ‘remain separate’ even though they ‘love each other very much’. We try to decode this essay, demystify the terminology, and ask you which of its bits, if any, you “buy”.
Spoiler alert! Before we commence, here is a spoiler alert of the sorts of ideas and jargon that you can expect from this piece: relationship evolution; constructs, projections and idealisations; exoskeletons and emotional injuries; commitment problems; co-parenting; wholeness in separation; and masculine and feminine internal energies.
Evolution and longevity. According to the essay, our couple-in-question’s problems started in the Paleolithic period of human history. This was approximately 50,000BC to 10,000BC. Then, the average life expectancy at birth was 33 years. Nowadays, it’s about 80 years for those living in so-called ‘developed’ countries, like the UK or US, where our couple are from. The piece points to social research that suggests that ‘most people will have two or three significant long-term relationships in their lifetime’ and the statistic that ‘50% of all marriages end in divorce’. It suggests this evidence means that separation is inevitable because we’re living longer than relationships are supposed to last. It suggests it is inevitable because of hidden evolutionary forces that are outside of our control and argues that more life means more relationships - not more time in one relationship. So, is breakup inevitable? Are we designed for ‘one true love’? Were lives and relationships meant to be shorter than this?
Constructs and the aim of marriage/relationships. The essay argues that the narrative of life-long marriage is constructed by us, humans, and is outdated. It refers to what it calls the ‘honeymoon’ period of a new relationship or marriage, when the participants idealise one another and project only positive things onto them. It suggests that when ‘reality sets in’, we not only see that we had an unrealistic grasp of who they are, but we also realise that we were never suited to one another in the first place. It suggests that we are fooled by love’s intensity into thinking that we will love them forever and that we should be together forever. However, how come some couples remain happily married after 50, 60, 70 years? Some might say they have a deeper love than just ‘honeymoon’ love - is this constructed? And why would we construct it? Do we convince ourselves that a specific person is ‘right’ for us just to satisfy our general need for relationship, intimacy, and even reproduction? Religious groups might disagree, arguing that marriage was no human invention but God’s intention. What if they’re right? To conclude this section, do our relationships and love have any value at all in reality?
‘Failed’ relationships. The essay revolves around the idea of success and failure in marriage/relationships. It asks, what is a ‘failed’ relationship? If it exists, how does it come about? Following on from above, it argues that if the narrative of life-long marriage is a constructed fallacy, then there should be no such thing as a ‘failed’ marriage. It argues that if separation/divorce is inevitable, then how can it possibly be seen as a ‘failure’? If the aim of life is to live it as fully as possible and marriage is holding that back, is it a positive - a success - to separate? So, we ask you, is there such thing as a ‘failed’ relationship?
Separation ‘wholeness’. The essay assumes that no couple in this world is truly matched because our destinies are ultimately separate and so suggests that the pain and the messiness of separation is largely unnecessary and can be reduced by ‘wholeness in separation’. This is whereby the couple accept their differences and the inevitability of separation - the ‘conscious’ bit of ‘conscious uncoupling’. This might be the reason that Paltrow blogs, ‘in many ways we are closer than we have ever been’. Of course, many would probably agree that an accepting, relatively un-messy divorce is better than a messy one, especially if a couple isn’t truly destined for one another, but how do we know if we’re meant to be together? Again, what if we have just accepted the construct of inevitability? What if life-long partnerships can happen, but we just don’t accept the short-term hiccups? So, this article asks, could ‘failure’ be letting go of someone who was ‘right’ for us because we couldn’t let go of the differences between us?
Meaning. Perhaps a more potent question is to ask, why do the differences mean so much? This is an issue only lightly touched by the essay but it may have implications for separation. Is it just because we over-react when our partners fall short of our idealisations? The essay talks a lot about the problem of ‘constructing’ perfection, but is the real issue the constructed problem of imperfection? Is only perfection acceptable in our eyes? Do we begrudge our partners for their imperfection and blame and punish them for failing our constructed ideals? Although we may kid ourselves of our partner’s perfection, do we also kid ourselves that imperfection is a reason to give it all up? Relating back to earlier points, idealising something means making it better than it actually is, but does that mean we’re fabricating the whole thing? Is it that ‘until death do us part’ is flawed or that we’re flawed and we should accept it?
Inner turmoil and exoskeletons (1). The essay devotes a lot of time to discussing why some relationships fall apart. It suggests that we embody one of two modes: we either project positive things onto our partners or we project negative things onto them. This means, they say, that when the honeymoon period ends, rightly or wrongly, we construct a negative image of our partner. They argue that this negative image feeds off our ‘negative internal objects’, such as our deepest traumas and emotional injuries, which means there is a ‘boomerang’ effect at play, where every negative projection triggers our negative internal objects and weakens our relationships. Instead of exposing these internal vulnerabilities, the piece suggests that our automatic reaction is to construct an exoskeleton - a defensive wall - very much like the shell of an insect. It says that as soon as ‘up goes our armour it’s all-out war’. Is this an experience you can relate to? Who is ultimately at fault?
Inner turmoil and exoskeletons (2). So, the piece argues two main reasons for breakups: we’re living longer than relationships are supposed to last and we project negative images onto our spouse that trigger our deepest hurts, fears and betrayals. Do they interrelate? Is the former the ultimate reason why we don’t remain together and the latter just how this inevitability manifests itself in everyday life? Is the moment that our so-called perfection construct gets dented the same moment that we start feeding our negative internal objects and never look back? Can we move forward with negative energies or do we have to split up? The piece talks about balancing our internal masculine and feminine energies, which crudely refers to our aggressive and compassionate sides, respectively. Do we just find it too hard to forgive, too hard to say sorry and too tiring to make an effort? The piece argues that marriage or commitment itself can be a strain on long-term relationships, to which many couples testify. It seems that couples change overnight as they marry but not necessarily for the better, as we might hope as we clap and sing during the wedding. The authors suggest that it is the weight and pressure of marriage or long-term commitment itself that splits us apart. But is commitment a pressure at all? If it is, why don’t we tolerate it? Others see mutual commitment as a security, but once achieved, do we stop working at it? Is it simply that when ‘hitched’, we stop making an effort for the relationship and we start working for ourselves, instead? Can we be bothered? Should we be bothered?
Solutions, conclusions and relationship evolution. The solution that the authors suggest is to build an endoskeleton – internal strength, which breeds flexibility. This way, we let go of our exoskeleton and our fight, we can deflect ‘attack’ without it upsetting us or feeding on our negative internal objects, and we can adapt to change – relationship evolution. Is this solution realistic? Does it just cover up the underlying ‘cracks’ in a relationship? If it works, what does that mean for our so-called pre-destined separation, our inevitable split? Can we feed our internal objects in a more balanced way to gain a more realistic impression of our partner? Is it possible to reserve judgement altogether? Paltrow says that ‘it’s only under [conscious uncoupling] that loving co-parenting can occur.’ Do you agree? What is your verdict of ‘conscious uncoupling’?
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Photo Credit: Paltrow's blog post entitled 'Conscious Uncoupling'