More Thoughts on “Conscious Uncoupling”

I wrote a post a few weeks ago titled, “Some Thoughts on ‘Conscious Uncoupling” –  because despite the flak Gwyneth Paltrow has received in the media for coining it, I really like this term. And I wanted (particularly as the flak annoyed me) to speak to the subject.

Admittedly, I got a bit verbose with it! (The post is here, in case you feel like wading through it.) I couldn’t help it; it’s a subject close to my heart. My ex and I have approached our divorce similarly and have ourselves been the recipients of a fair amount of raised eyebrows and other subtle (and not so subtle) criticism. So it irked me to watch that playing out in the media.

The truth is, there simply isn’t much cultural support for amicability in matters of marital-breakup. The sad reality is that it’s much more acceptable to despise your ex. And if you don’t? Well then maybe you didn’t work hard enough to fix the marriage. That’s the prevailing wisdom – and it drives me crazy!

So I wrote that post – and I couldn’t not be wordy! But the wordiness has bugged me a little since. Surely there could be some way to approach the subject, to make my point, in a more succinct fashion??

Maybe by replacing some of the text with pictures?

Once that idea came into my head, it stuck.

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The question is: how, exactly? How does one visually illuminate “conscious uncoupling” (or, in other words, an amicable divorce & post-marriage)? Do I have any pictures, or could I take any pictures, that would actually accomplish that?

I wasn’t quite sure. So then it became a challenge!

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I don’t know that I’ve satisfactorily met that challenge yet. I rather think that I’m on the right track maybe, but not quite there yet. But I did snap a picture today that inspired me to give it a shot regardless.

The look on my daughter’s face, as she leans into her piggy-back with her dad and looks at her mom taking the picture, is definitely in the right direction:

Mae and her dad. (And you can see me and Henry in the glasses!)
Mae and her dad. (And you can see me and Henry in the glasses!)

The peacefulness on her face? That right there is why we made the effort (and at times it was an incredibly hard effort) to “consciously uncouple.”

That’s why we work (and at times it’s still a little challenging) to sustain a real friendship.

It’s because we want our two kids to have us both – whenever they want us, casually and naturally, and in a way that is imbued with cheerfulness.

Ultimately, we want them to understand that just because something doesn’t work out the way you thought it would or the way you wanted it to, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something positive that can be salvaged. Relationships (and life) are rarely cast in black and white. And somewhere in the shades of gray is the potential for positive things: for compassion, for kindness, even possibly for friendship.

Putting our sights on that when we split up (and keeping our gazes concentrated on it even when we really, really wanted, selfishly, to turn away) has meant, for example…

...that we've been there, both of us, for the kids when they've been scared or troubled (by the waves, or the metaphorical waves!)
…that we’ve been able to be there, both of us, for the kids when they’ve been scared or troubled (by the waves, or by metaphorical waves!)

And we’ve been able to focus on the parenting without the added burden of dealing with an ex who (purposely or not) is screwing with our emotions. We “consciously” worked hard not to step on the other’s feelings as we “uncoupled” and became separate entities again. Not that we always succeeded – but we really tried hard at it.

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It’s enabled us also to be there, both of us, for the little things too – which in childhood are often just as important as the big stuff.

Getting the kids on their bikes this Spring, for example, was a group project.

From choosing Mae's first helmet...
From choosing Mae’s first helmet…
...to getting Henry's bike cleaned up and ready to go...
…to getting Henry’s bike cleaned up and ready to go…
...to taking Mae on her first ride.
…to taking Mae on her first ride.

What it comes down to is that the kids have a lot of stability. They know they can count on us to be there for them and to make them feel secure and safe and loved.

From a piggy-back ride...
From piggy-back rides…
...to a helping hand, both kids are really secure in us. They know we're here for them, they get that the four of us work together for the benefit of everybody - that we're a team. That's what family is to them.
…to helping hands.

They know we’re there for them. They get that the four of us support each other and work together to make sure that everybody (all four of us, as individuals) has what he or she wants and needs. That’s what family is to them. It’s not about some 1950s, traditional definition.

And I don’t think it needs to be. What makes that the superior way to be? Who says?

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The fact that they do have this security, and that they view family the way they do – that is quite honestly one of the things I’m most proud of in my life. Because it embodies how I want them to move through life: I want them to be good to people, to be kind, to be compassionate. And I want those things to be the focus of their interactions. I don’t want them to be preoccupied with checking off societally-dictated boxes. I don’t want them to make decisions based on “that’s what everybody does.” I want them to be individual thinkers – and more, to be good, kind people who leave the world better than they found it. And I want them to surround themselves with other good, kind people who are preoccupied with doing the same. I want them to know and understand themselves, and to honor themselves. I want them to fulfill their potential – and, again, to align themselves with others who are aiming for the same.

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I believe in reaching for the sky and the stars – truly. I believe in aiming to live a rich, full, deeply experienced life. I want that for myself, and I want that for my kids.

I want them to understand that they have a responsibility to do right by others to the best of their abilities – but that they also have a responsibility to do right by themselves. Martyrdom is a pretty awful solution to an error (as in, “I married the wrong person. I guess I’ve made my bed.”) I believe very strongly in honoring your promises, in doing the very best you can do to make a situation you’ve committed yourself to work. (Like, say, a marriage.) But if you simply can’t? If you’ve done everything you can possibly do…and it simply isn’t fixable? Maybe because the reality is that it’s not right for you…or not right anymore…or not right in its present form (perhaps it’s not sustainable as a long-term partnership)? Then what do you do?

A lot of people determine to accept their lot. But what a shame that is! What a waste, to spend your precious time and energy and life trying to force yourself to accept the bars of a cage.

I don’t want either of my children to ever do that.

Much, much better to expend your energy (mental and physical) on searching for four-leaf clovers.
Much, much better to expend your energy searching for four-leaf clovers.

Or giving love to people who mean something to you.
Or on exploring why you’re drawn to certain people or art or experiences. (This picture was taken at a  moment in time when Mae’s two favorite people were Eleanor Roosevelt and Firestar [of Spiderman and His Amazing Friends renown].)
In other words, I want my kids to explore life – not yoke themselves to a bad situation because they (with the utmost good faith and positive expectations) gave their word. I don’t want them to limit themselves like that.

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And no, that’s not a free pass to do whatever you want. It’s not about being selfish.

It’s about living your life in the free air and sunshine – which in turn enables you to be fresh air and brightness for other people.

(That’s part of what I meant above when I spoke of meeting your full potential.)

It's about being light enough inside that you can actually breathe and maybe look around a little. Who knows what you might see?
It’s about being light enough inside that you can actually breathe freely – and with that be capable of looking around you. Who knows what you might see?
I feel (three years after we split up) that my life is wide open...that anything is possible.
It’s about looking at the trees and the sky and the sun and feeling – even just for a moment – that anything, just ANYTHING, is possible. That your life is yours and you can make something of it. Something AMAZING.

That feeling wasn’t possible for me when my ex and I were together as a couple – because that path (coupledom, marriage) wasn’t the right path for us…for either of us. Forcing myself to stay in it constricted me in ways that were killing something inside of me.

Facing the reality of that was one of the most wrenching things I ever went through. But facing it and accepting it – that was the prelude to asking: “So how do I make this better?”

And that question opened the door to so much that is good!

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“Conscious uncoupling” is hard work – it really is. It definitely would be easier in many ways to give in to the bitterness and all the rest and just turn your back on this person who has caused you so much pain – particularly in the beginning (and “the beginning” for us encompassed the first year at least.)

And it doesn’t help that most people (in my experience) would be much more supportive if you did do that (turn your back.) It shouldn’t be like that – but it is. My ex and I have faced raised eyebrows and suspicion and even sometimes downright hostility as we’ve embraced our own “conscious uncoupling.”

But you know what?

Life's a long road, right? Some potholes are inevitable...some storms. But there's so much beauty too!
Life’s a long road, right? Some potholes are inevitable…some storms. And there are always going to be people to knock you down or knock you off track. The trick to getting through? While you’re lying there – look up! Because there’s so much beauty too – and it’s all around you. In the trees and the sky if nowhere else.

I read a really beautiful tweet that spoke directly to this recently, from Yoko Ono. (I can’t embed it for whatever reason, but it was from May 6th if you want to view it on Twitter). It’s:

“All my life, I have been in love with the sky. Even when everything was falling apart around me, the sky was always there for me.”

That’s a really powerful thing to remember.

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The worst thing, I think, is to allow your life to compress to the point that you can’t stay open to that beauty. And that’s what you’ll do if you don’t do for yourself what you know you need. If you’re not acting because you’re scared, you’re clipping your own wings – and if you’re not acting because you’re scared of other people’s disapprobation or judgements, you’re handing over your own power. The second is worse – but both will constrict your life.

Creativity is the answer…at least, it was for me. Being open to creative solutions. Just being open! To art, to music. To the sky and growing things.

Even that celebrity who’s being eye-rolled by a supercilious media just might voice the words that connect the dots in your head and lead you to the path you need to follow.

That’s something I try to remember.

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Wow…I got wordy with this post too! Maybe it’s not possible for me NOT to be wordy on this subject.

(Perhaps I’ll try a “part 3” sometime and make another attempt at succinct-ness!)

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140 thoughts on “More Thoughts on “Conscious Uncoupling”

  1. I love your post and I think what you are doing is wonderful. My parents got divorced when I was a teenager and it was dreadful, the fighting and the anger. You’re children are lucky to have such wonderful parents who don’t make them choose whose side they want to be on. Great parenting!

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  2. Thank you for beautifully articulating what I have been feeling since my separation (a year ago,) and divorce (about 6 months ago.) Unfortunately, it takes both parents to have a conscious un-coupling (I think,) but my ex is not on board. Our children are in college now, but there are still many times when it would be in their best interest for their parents to cooperate and be in the same place at the same time and acknowledge the existence of the other. My ex told me, long before we separated, that divorce would “Fuck them up for life.” And now, I feel that he’s making it his business to see that all four of us (the kids, himself and me,) suffer. And accompanying that suffering, is the underlying message that “this is what your mother wanted.” Then again, if he were the kind of man that were conscious enough for a conscious uncoupling, I probably wouldn’t have left him. This is my angry side speaking. Deep down, I feel very sorry for him and I think he just doesn’t know what to do with the hurt. I hope that he will soon be able to rise above it.

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    1. Conscious uncoupling is really no more or less than civil mediating. There are two ways mediation take place. When children and other things which need professional assistance to sort out for the health of everyone, a legal licensed and experienced mediation attorney is key. This is a separate attorney from the one which represents the legalities of the divorce. In the process of going through legal mediation, a couple by nature will have to sit down, communicate and go through their own personal mediation process as well. When kinks get involved, that is where the legal mediator will help discuss, give insight and gather your wishes in legal format. If one or neither of you can do this together, it does not work. For someone such as yourself in your own experience, perhaps, the best option is to clearly take care of yourself first, which helps to take care of the kids, then understand, regardless of your soon to be ex-spouses negative approach, only you can be responsible for your actions and how they relate to a positive relationship with your kids. It is going to be a triangular relationship with your ex-spouse in and out at times. You cannot be responsible for his or her actions. What you can be responsible for is your own. This will make the difference for your kids now and in the future. Peace.

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    2. Judy, thank you for your comment.
      I’m so sorry for your difficulties! If it helps at all, I can tell you that in the early days of my own breakup, I didn’t anticipate at all that my ex and I would actually consider ourselves friends at some point – real friends. We were shooting for polite amicability – and even that was a challenge at times. There’s just so much hurt and bitterness and resentment swirling around when a marriage ends (as you’re well aware.) But we split up over three years ago now – so you’re definitely still in the early stages according to my timetable. It DID get better! The rough edges smoothed out, the hurt became less pronounced. It got easier.
      I wish you the very best of luck as you continue moving forward!

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  3. Well said. I love the Picts thought. As a child growing up after my parents divorce my mom was not like this and talked mad about my father ever chance she could. My dad never did say one bad word about my mom. My best friends parents were divorced, however remained best friends. I’m now in a new relationship and he and his ex wife are very close and I love the fact that they are. It makes our relationship much easier knowing she only wants happiness for him and supports him w/o having a hidden agenda. Thank you for this post well said

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    1. Thank you so much for your insight! I absolutely love the fact that you’re comfortable with your significant other’s relationship with his ex-wife. That kind of positivity and good feelings all around – that’s what I want!!
      I appreciate reading that!

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  4. Yes, yes, yes. My ex and I have been separated for three years. Signed the divorce papers, but haven’t yet filed (any day now). Our ability to be there for the kids and work together has made a world of difference. Dealing with friends and family who want “a better reason” that we split up after 23 years (and no, there’s no smoking gun) has been less fun. Thank you for this.

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    1. I had a friend go through the same questions from family, e.g. wanting a better reason than ‘we just do not want to be a couple anymore’. In the end she got so angry at a family BBQ that she made an announcement and said she had told them all she wanted to on the subject, if their break up wasn’t good enough for them that was too bad, but it was really none of their business anyway 🙂 She didn’t get asked again I don’t think hahaha.

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      1. ditchthebun – That’s FANTASTIC!!! I wish I had the guts or spine or whatever it takes to just tell everybody what’s what! Something to work on, I guess. It would definitely make life easier in many ways!
        Thanks for commenting!

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        1. I know! I think there was some Dutch courage involved 🙂 A few days later she told me about it and said she wanted to apologise. I told her it was her decision, but that she should think about it seriously because I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I suggested that if she did apologise she should add a ‘but’… e.g. I’m sorry I was so outspoken at the BBQ, I was very upset and overreacted, BUT I really need you to understand that I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I think she apologised to some of them and said something like that.

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    2. Cassandra – you’re so welcome!
      I certainly know what you’re saying (DEFINITELY less fun.) I wish very much that the kneejerk reaction to the lack of the smoking gun wasn’t criticism and judgment!
      Oh well. The fact that it IS the kneejerk (for SO many people) is one reason why I’m so happy WordPress promoted this particular post to Freshly Pressed: it’s been very, very, very nice to touch base with people who really do understand and support this sort of approach to divorce.
      Thanks so much for commenting!

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  5. When you say it, it sounds exactly like what my parents did, which I credit with being the reason I’m a happy, well-adjusted, healthy adult. I think Gwyneth generally sounds a bit lofty and certainly out of touch, so I disregarded “conscious uncoupling” as another Hollywood fad…but you described it perfectly. It’s the reason I am who I am today!
    http://www.newlywednotdead.com

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    1. Wow…thank you much! Hearing the thoughts of someone who’s been through it…from a KID’S perspective. That means A LOT. “Happy, well-adjusted, healthy adult(s)” – that’s what I want for my kids! I think we’re doing okay (so far, so good!) But this really helps with the optimism!!!
      I really appreciate your weighing in…thanks again!

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  6. I think the idea of conscious uncoupling is great, especially when kids are involved, but it definitely does not seem easy. To be honest from what I am reading here and have seen from a friend of mine in many ways it seems more difficult than ye olde we hate each other’s guts divorce. Props to everyone who is subscribing to this method.

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  7. So right!
    A huge part of parents’ life is dedicated to making sure that their children grow up into commendable human beings and a secure, happy and normal childhood is very essential for that. What you do for your children is beyond anything that can be put into words.

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  8. This hit close to home for me …. if you dont mind me asking why did you and your husband decide to divorce? it seems like if it was a mutual ” i just dont love you like that anymore” thats one thing but if there was abuse or hurt of a different kind do you think this approach always works ?

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  9. I really enjoyed reading this. While I am happily married, I have watched friends and family go through divorces or separations in which they seemed hell bent on damaging each other. I have seen their children hurt in ways I’m not sure can be repaired. I can only hope if my husband and I ever arrived at that point in our relationship, we could make a decison to prioritize our daughter. Even if we couldn’t remain “friends” we could sepearate our relationship from our parenting responsibilities.

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  10. Oh wow I really loved your post and it is so perfectly timed for my life at the moment since my husband and I are reevaluating our future together. I guess past experience with my ex has made this time more stressful since my ex was so negative and believed that when you break up you cannot be friends – in fact you cannot even be in the same room for birthdays…separate all the way. Since I love my husband I don’t want it to end that way if that is what we decide. Glad I stumbled onto your blog – thankyou

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  11. Great to post like this. It is absolutely possible to split up and keep kids happy. My ex and I get on better than ever and we focus our energy on our children. I wrote a book for men about what women need in relationships and what they need to feel supported. Funny thing is that there are more women reading it. (www.nakedwithadele.com) What counts is that conscious relationships are needed in or out of marriage. Once there are kids there is always a relationship. Thank you for this blog post.

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