I love words, learning all of their subtle nuisances of meaning. Sometimes they burst on the scene like a Roman candle flashing in the night sky, and fade just as quickly. I suspect “conscious uncoupling” may be one of those, so I have to act quickly before it is gone.
The phrase suddenly appeared in the media when Gwyneth Paltrow, whoever she is, described her divorce as a conscious uncoupling. It was buried in a bunch of incomprehensible Hollywood psychobabble to give a positive spin on a rather nasty human situation, but this phrase grabbed the public’s attention who tried to decipher its meaning by parsing its two words that individually seemed understandable enough.
Digging into it, I found she is not the first to use the phrase. It was first coined by Katherine Woodward Thomas in 2010 in connection with a theory of three “power bases”—your relationship with yourself, with others, and with life. “Conscious uncoupling” is the application of these principles to divorce and breakups so that you can grow from the experience. You learn all of this in a 5-week course that is longer than some of the relationships.
Followers of the theory say that the high divorce rate is not a sign of failure, but simply a result of our longer life span. Marriage-for-life was reasonable as late as 1900 when the average lifespan was only into the late 40s. Today, with much longer lifespans, most of us can expect to live through two or three significant long-term relationships. Our biology and psychology are just not made to stay with the same person for many decades. We are not the same people we were 20 years ago. Since change in partners is almost inevitable, the change should be, in theory, free of rancor and an opportunity for further growth.
Note, these are not my views. I am only the reporter. And now it gets weird.
Insects, they observe, have a shell, an exo (outer) skeleton to support the body. This does not permit flexibility. Any misstep spells doom, and this is why insects do not rule the world (but they do). Animals, however, as a result of their spirituality have an endo (internal) skeleton for support, and this allows for a wide range of adaptability. As infants, we are as if we have an exoskeleton that we have to discard as we develop the flexibility of an endoskeleton; that is, we must develop the ability to adapt to different situations. (I think the skeletons are only metaphors, but I am not sure.)
“In marriage, our original exoskeletons prevent us from adapting if our intimate partner doesn’t behave the way we think they should. Everything is then perceived as a personal attack and an attempt to upset us. Up goes our armor and it’s all-out war.” But the gift of being human is that we can switch to an endoskeleton. The price for this gift is vulnerability. Our soft outside is completely exposed to hurt and harm every day.
(Phew! Are you getting all of this? Gwyneth Paltrow referred to this exo- endoskeleton stuff. I am trying to understand something that may not make sense to begin with. All quoted material here comes from a website that may be ghosted by Gwyneth. I quote directly because I do not really understand the philosophy.)
“If we can recognize that our partners in our intimate relationships are our teachers, helping us evolve our internal, spiritual support structure, we can avoid the drama of divorce and experience what we call a conscious uncoupling. A conscious uncoupling is the ability to understand that every irritation and argument is a signal to look inside ourselves and identify a negative internal object that needs healing. . . . It’s conscious uncoupling that prevents families from being broken by divorce and creates expanded families that continue to function in a healthy way outside of traditional marriage.”
And that is the crux of “conscious uncoupling.” I am going to bed, suddenly feeling very old.