A few years ago when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced they were “consciously uncoupling”, many rolled their eyes at what felt like pretentious language.
While “uncoupling” sounds a little strange, in truth, it may be a more precise way to describe the demise of a marriage and the subsequent unraveling of intertwined lives, then just saying “we are getting divorced.” Divorce is a legal process that culminates with a bang of a gavel. Uncoupling is the emotional process of ending the marital/romantic relationship. It extends far beyond mere legalities.
Unlike divorce that clearly defines the practical division of financial assets and legal responsibilities, uncoupling rarely has clear boundaries or a definite end. Especially when there are children; the relationship doesn’t end so much as morph into another kind of relationship.
Do not assume “Relationship” always refers to one of civility; while that is the ideal, in truth many couples continue their post marital relationship by bickering, fighting and power struggles. These adversarial marriages, while legally over, are not really uncoupled; there is simply too much energy (albeit negative energy) that goes into keeping a heightened emotional connection. Couples who twenty years after divorce cannot even be cordial to each other at their child’s wedding have not uncoupled, they are stuck in a merry go round of resentment, blame and anger.
Uncoupling problems are not only of the explosive kind; sometimes in the desire to “not hurt the other person”, one party attempts to keep the couple’s life (and the children’s) the same; they may continue to live together, vacation together and remain each other’s primary emotional confidante. While this may sounds like an ideal way to proceed, it is not. In many cases, the choice to end a relationship is not mutual. What appears to be civility, is often covering the guilt of the party who wants out. Meanwhile, the rejected party scrambles to “be better” and to prove the marriage still has traction, yet feels as if they are receiving mixed messages. In this case, no uncoupling can occur because change is avoided.
Everyone, including the kids, will just be confused by these mixed messages and will not be able to move forward in their own process. People who stay are locked into old behaviors are doing just the opposite of what they hope to do; rather than protecting those they love, they are simply confusing them by inhibiting the transition process from moving forward. In truth, when we are not honest with the other or we act as if our partner is fragile, we are not treating them with respect. Neither partner can move forward and embrace a new life (nor can the children), when we hold onto the status quo out of guilt, fear, or a misguided sense of not hurting anyone.
When our goal is to not “rock the boat”, how can change occur? Ending a relationship does hurt, but we exacerbate the pain when we resist change. There are hurts in life that cannot be avoided. When we refuse to act in a way that is consistent with our words, we may think we are being kind, but we stymie the process of healing for all parties involved.
© 2015 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986.She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.