March 28, 2014
Most of the world knows by now about actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling.” What it means, of course, has come under intense scrutiny since Paltrow announced on Tuesday that she and her husband of 10 years were separating.
Bloggers scoffed at what was clearly a feel-good attempt by the celeb couple to “rebrand” their separation. Twitter mocked the term mercilessly, with a few pointing out that it was probably better than “unconscious coupling.”
Paltrow’s Goop newsletter explained the newfangled term as a more elevated, spiritual way of having a breakup — then embarked on a tangent about endoskeletons, exoskeletons and whether insects may have been nature’s failed attempt at a higher consciousness. Not very clear, in other words.
But couldn’t we benefit from a kinder, gentler way to end a relationship? In an age when divorce ends so many marriages and breakups are as common as hookups, we have no accepted way of saying goodbye. Much as we may be loath to admit it, Gwyneth and Chris could have a not-so-terrible idea in their perfectly coiffed blond heads — even über-cynical Vice magazine wrote as much this week.
Conscious uncoupling is a term coined in 2010 by U.S. therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, who is currently penning a book about it. She invented the five-step process of leaving a relationship after her 10-year partnership ended.
“There’s very little information out there about how to navigate the ending of a relationship,” says Janet Webber, a Nova Scotian who is the leading certified conscious-uncoupling coach in Canada. She studied under Thomas, who is the author of the 2004 how-to-start-a-relationship book Calling in The One: 7 Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life (meaning she is now something of a one-stop romance self-help shop).
Conscious uncoupling is “a more cohesive and kinder way of ending unions,” says Webber, who is also a life coach. “We can choose to separate in a way that allows both people to thrive and maintain the love and respect that they had together.”
Webber knows this all too well. The 56-year-old went through a breakup so bad years ago that she almost swore off relationships.
“I looked for help, I really did,” she says, but she found little support for people mourning a long-term partner who hadn’t died. If conscious uncoupling had existed then, she says, “it would have changed the amount of time that I was in grief.”
The problem is that living happily ever after is still the yardstick society uses to measure a successful intimate relationship, says Webber.
“We have a myth that the culture of a relationship is based on its longevity,” says Webber. That is at complete odds with modern society’s other values. “Our culture values change, it values growth.” Moreover, our lifespans are far longer than they were when lifelong marriage became the ideal.
As Paltrow’s newsletter points out, not all partnerships are meant to last forever — and that doesn’t mean those that end were not successful.
But surely we already have adequate breakup coping methods. What’s wrong with the time-honoured tradition of eating a tub of ice cream, drinking two bottles of wine and obliterating the memory that you and your ex ever met?
“It just doesn’t work,” says Webber. “Chances are we’re just going to go on and repeat the same relationship with another person.”
And those supportive friends who try to help us by trashing our ex? They may actually be doing further damage, she says.
“Often people make it worse,” she says. “They say things like, ‘Oh, he wasn’t worth it, he was a loser.’ Those things really aren’t helpful.” That’s because they make the dumped gal or guy feel like they shouldn’t feel sad or bereft in the first place, and that causes them to bury their grief rather than confront it.
Each step of the course helps couples accept shared responsibility for the breakup, avoid blame, let go of old patterns and shield children from toxic feelings and actions, she says.
Even more, however, it aims to transform the dumpee, readying him or her to find and accept love in the future.
This is all well and good for all those meditation-loving, yoga-practising couples. But what if someone wants to separate using the program and has an ex who wants nothing to do with it? Individuals can take the course and benefit from it too, says Webber. She has taught the course to singles and couples in the U.S., Switzerland, Canada and elsewhere since 2010.
The concept of seeking therapy before, during or after a breakup is nothing new, of course. Family mediators often get involved post-separation to help with practical conflicts over child visitation and division of assets.
And, of course, there is an industry devoted to relationship counselling. But couples don’t usually seek out therapy when the goal is to dissolve the partnership — though the focus may shift during therapy from saving the relationship to accepting it’s over.
The program’s fee — $297 (U.S.) for a digital course — has drawn some criticism. But Webber points out there are options, from a free online seminar to taking the course alone to a live-coached online program. For one-on-one guidance, Webber will coach individuals through each of the five steps.
“That’s $595 for a whole new life,” she says. “It’s a pretty sweet deal.”
Pricey, to be sure. But of the many ways to leave your lover, perhaps this isn’t the most costly.
Reprinted from Toronto Star, in the "com.smg.cq.components.page.SectionImpl@7799e81e" section.
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