Conscious Uncoupling and Coparenting: Why Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin Have it Right!

Full disclosure

I am a child of divorce. It was not pretty. It was not healthy. It was not done with grace. I felt I had to choose a parent. I couldn’t have both of them. My siblings and I were too little (6 years, 5 years, 4 years) to do more than go where we were told to go, when we were told to go there, but it was clear to me, early on, that being close to our noncustodial parent was a disloyalty to our custodial parent. My noncustodial parent was ostensibly out of my life by the time I was 8 years old.

I swore I would NEVER get divorced!

My husband was a child of divorce. It was not pretty. It was not healthy. It was not done with grace. The hurt lingered. I will not tell his story.

He swore he would NEVER get divorced.

We swore WE would NEVER get divorced.

We GOT divorced.

Our Conscious Uncoupling

In July, 1998, I broke my promise to myself, to my children, to my husband. When together my husband and I told our 9 year old son we were planning to divorce, he said “wow, I never saw that coming”. His words broke my heart. Our 4 year old daughter didn’t understand. She just wanted to be sure we would both still be her mommy and daddy. We reassured her as best we could.

I knew that I didn’t want the model of divorce I’d inherited to be my children’s experience. My husband and I decided our most important responsibility was to continue to parent our children and that they needed this separation to be as painless and smooth as possible.

We decided to forego attorneys and to do the divorce ourselves. We didn’t want an adversarial break. We wanted to collaborate, decide together what was best for our family. We read Nevada law, child support guidelines, reviewed model divorce decrees, got the Nevada do-it-yourself divorce guide, and set to work. Together my husband and I negotiated everything. We both wanted what was best for one another and for our children. After our divorce, we continued to live in the same house for over a year. For many years, we continued to celebrate holiday together.

So, what is my point?

No couple’s conscious uncoupling will be the same as ours. Each couple needs to find their own way. However, far too many couples do not “uncouple consciously”. Out of social norms that tell us that divorce is wrong, that we have been wronged if a marriage ends, out of anger, loss, fear, hurt, frustration, couples lose sight of the fact that they once loved one another, respected one another,  cared for one another for a period of time. Many still do as they divorce. They lose sight of the fact that their children NEED them to separate as smoothly and painlessly as possible. They lose sight of the fact that they are the role models for their children and how they uncouple will resonate throughout their children’s lives, in their relationships, in their beliefs about commitment.

The dominant cultural narrative has it that divorce means failure, that the marriage was a mistake. We need to change that. Marriages are our commitment to our best selves, the selves we want to share with another. This desire for connection is a basic human drive. For many reasons, this commitment may not last a lifetime, but how we choose to end it, and make no mistake, it is a choice, matters.

Divorce doesn’t make a marriage a mistake!

It was not a mistake to marry my husband. We loved one another dearly. We were wonderful together for a long time. However, we started to grow apart. We started to desire different things. Being together quit nurturing us. To have the lives we wanted and needed to live, to have the lives we desired for one another, we could no longer do it together. It was as right for us to divorce as it was for us to marry in the first place. To divorce consciously was a gift to ourselves and our children. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t disagreements, animosities, frustrations. It means we worked through them with the knowledge that we would be co-parents for our lifetimes, that we had made that commitment to our children.

On Chris and Gwyneth

While tabloids speculate on the sins Chris and Gwyneth’s conscious uncoupling is designed to hide, the point is that it is the right way to separate, the good way to separate, the healthy way to separate. I hope they will be able to maintain this commitment in the face of social pressure that prescribes that divorces be ugly, petty, painful. I hope they refrain from airing any dirty laundry, and none of us is perfect, for the amusement of others. Divorces do not need to be that way. We are better than that. For our children, we NEED to be better than that!

 

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