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.
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!
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:
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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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!
“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?
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.
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.
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!)