Relationships

'Conscious uncoupling' or calling it splits? What Gwyneth Paltrow is talking about

March 26, 2014 at 8:56 AM ET

Video: Celebrity couple Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin is calling it quits after more than a decade of marriage. The couple is, what they call, engaged in “conscious uncoupling,” avoiding the word “divorce.” NBC’s Stephanie Gosk reports.

On Tuesday, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin introduced millions to the term "Conscious Uncoupling" when the couple used it to describe their separation after a decade of marriage.

In addition to using the term as the headline for the Goop.com post announcing the split, the actress and Coldplay musician also cited it as part of their plea for media privacy, saying, "We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and coparent, we will be able to continue in the same manner."

And they shared a 2,000-word article by husband-and-wife doctor and dentist Dr. Habib Sadeghi and Dr. Sherry Sami, delving into the meaning of the term, declaring that marital splits can have benefits.

"Divorce is a traumatic and difficult decision for all parties involved — and there’s arguably no salve besides time to take that pain away," Sadeghi and Sami write. "However, when the whole concept of marriage and divorce is reexamined, there’s actually something far more powerful—and positive—at play."

High divorce rates, the doctors write, should be viewed in the context of our "skyrocketing life expectancy." "Our biology and psychology aren’t set up to be with one person for four, five, or six decades," they write, though noting that couples who do reach those milestones are to be envied, and also writing that just because a marriage is long doesn't mean it's happy and fulfilling.

The article goes on to cite such eclectic concepts as insect exoskeletons and a theory of Russian esotericist Peter Ouspensky. The concept urges that humans rethink the idea of marriage, thinking of it in terms of daily renewal, not a lifetime investment. "The idea of being married to one person for life is too much pressure for anyone," they write.

Author and psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas has created a 5-week "Conscious Uncoupling" program

"The problem is that we’ve all been taught to end our relationships in ways that often guarantee ... painful results," Woodward Thomas writes on her site. "You must break the pattern that is the source of the suffering in your life . . . instead of allowing that pattern to break your heart."

The "conscious uncoupling" program states "there are no bad guys, just two people," although research has found that that in most couples, one person wants to end the marriage, the other doesn't, says William Doherty, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota and project director of Minnesota Couples on the Brink.

Seeking help to "uncouple" isn't a new thing, no matter what it's called, experts say. Therapists and counselors have long helped couples break up constructively once they’ve decided to split, often as a final stage of marriage counseling. 

“Some people call it divorce counseling, some people call it closure counseling,” Doherty said. “It’s not a formal model. A lot of therapists do it informally.”

Jeanne Byrd Romero, a California life coach, has been giving workshops on conscious uncoupling for the past two years.

“It’s really a way of moving out of blame and shame so people can transform the experience into healing and peace,” Romero said. “It can be done with just one of the partners are the couple.”

People learn what they might have contributed to the breakup, Romero said.

It’s particularly important for couples with children because, Romero said, “they’re going to be connected forever due to the children.”

Doherty says couples need education and support when they decide to break up. But promoting the "conscious uncoupling" program didn't endear users of social media to Paltrow and Martin, with the phrase alone coming in for its share of derision.

TODAY contributors Lisa Flam and Linda Carroll contributed to this report

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