Many of you likely read about Gweneth Paltrow’s and Chris Martin’s conscious uncoupling on goop.com. Marriage and Family Therapist, Katherine Woodward Thomas, coined this phrase and defines it as, “a break up that is characterized by goodwill, by generosity, and by respect. It is a process that leaves both parties valued and appreciated for all that was shared. . .and it is where two people are really striving to minimize the damage they do to themselves . . . and then to each other. ” Family therapist Dr. Sonja Rhodes notes, “. . . couples confront their irreconcilable differences by looking into themselves instead of blaming their partners. Each partner takes a reflective, conscious stance toward what role he or she has played in the dissolution of the couple. This is actually a pretty radical point of view when you consider that when nearly all people talk about their divorces, there’s always some element of blaming their partner.” In the midst of feeling hurt, abandoned and rejected, it is all too tempting to cling to the ways in which our partners wronged us. The process of turning inward and acknowledging we made mistakes leaves us, particularly perfectionists, feeling terribly vulnerable. Kuddos to those who muster this type of courage.
Public comment disparaging Gweneth for not saying “divorce” angers and saddens me. The reality of divorce is excruciatingly painful even under the best of circumstances. I would have gladly welcomed a publicist to craft a meaningful, positively-framed statement (not to mention flattering photo) to distribute to my family and friends when my ex-husband and I decided to “consciously uncouple.” Given I was deep in the throes of perfectionism in my marriage, I worked hard to make it look “perfect.” We depicted a story-book picture on the outside despite a bed of molten lava bubbling up beneath the dreadfully shallow surface. My ex-husband and I loved each other, lived in an attractive home in a much desired area of town, had good jobs, belonged to an extravagant “sports resort” where I could swim in a sparkling, heated pool alongside former Olympic athletes, and spent our weekends on the beach. By societal standards we had “arrived.” Honestly, we arrived to a place where neither of us were growing and the fear that if either of us stepped towards a more authentic life the surface would open and the lava would swallow us whole. Eventually, the lava came with an undeniable force and power that neither of us could reign in. We fought for each breath while trying to continue the tasks of daily life. Given we painted a false picture to ourselves, family and friends (hell, we had all the happy couple pictures on Facebook) the news of our divorce shocked all those we cared about. I felt like a failure on so many levels and knew confessing my imperfection was the only way to save myself. I called my sweet sister (SS):
SS: Hi Amelia. How are you?
Me: (Violently sobbing) Not good. . . something bad happened with [ex-husband] . . . my marriage is over. I need to be with you. Can I come visit?
SS: Come . . . just come.
I flew across country to my sister and told her the true story of my marriage and wept and wept. Though the pain of this loss permeated every ounce of my being, I felt a weight lift. Now someone knew my anguish and imperfections and loved me deeply anyway. My sister’s love and support gave the courage to commence the daunting task of telling family and close friends about the death of my marriage. I encountered, “I can’t believe this” followed by “I’m so sorry you have to go through this. I love you. What do you need?” I feel incredibly blessed that those I so deeply cared about held my head above water, without judgment, when I feared I might drown.
At times, I still experience shame when I tell people I’m divorced. I try to practice self-compassion and remind myself that 50% of the population, including many people I love, trust and respect are also divorced. To be quite honest, the next person with whom I decide to “consciously couple” will gain a much better version of Amelia than the one my ex-husband knew. She is quicker to admit mistakes, laugh at them, and savor the present moment without worrying about when the sky will cave in. (She also has a splendidly imperfect blog!)