TODAY   |  March 31, 2014

‘Conscious uncoupling’ creator speaks out

Psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, who created the concept, “conscious uncoupling,” used by Gwyneth Paltrow in announcing the end of her marriage to Chris Martin, joins TODAY to explain the phrase.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we are back at 7:40. conscious uncoupling was thrust into the public eye last week when gwyneth paltrow used that term to describe the end of her marriage to chris martin . well, in the moment, we're going to talk to the woman who coined that term. but first, why it's causing such a fuss. celebrity coupling, conscious or otherwise always gets people talking. but last week's split between actress gwyneth paltrow and chris martin is getting more attention for the way it was described conscious uncoupling rather than the split itself.

>> i think people are seeing this term conscious uncoupling as a nice term for bad behavior.

>> the phrase coined in 2011 is supposed to represent a no-drama approach to separation. one that protects the kids and avoids finger pointing. but because paltrow has often made headlines for what some deem her new age lifestyle, the term itself seems to be creating all the buzz.

>> this idea that somehow they're doing divorce better or differently than mere mortals does a disservice to the truth.

>> paltrow's announcement and the term she used immediately became a punch line . but jokes aside, some think that term is here to stay.

>> i think it could be the term of the year. because everyone was making fun of it, social media 's going crazy for it. and i do think that the vocabulary of divorce is about to change.

>> well, katherine woodward thomas coined this now famous phrase. good morning to you.

>> good morning.

>> not even a week ago, you're minding your own business, yes, you have this concept. you were doing seminars on it. gwyneth puts it in a statement. and what happens? what's the last week been like?

>> oh, it's been amazing. you know, first of all, i want to say how sorry i am for gwyneth and chris they're going through this. i'm so grateful to them. they took their time of personal heartache and used it to really introduce a whole new way to end relationships that's healthy and less contentious and i'm very grateful to them for that.

>> i want to ask you about the concept in a moment. but first of all, did you know gwyneth? did you help them through this time in their relationship?

>> no, but i teach online at courses. and i never really know who is taking the courses or not. the company that produces my courses is very careful to protect the anonymity of the clients who come in.

>> what is conscious uncoupling? what does this mean?

>> i think most of us, you know, think of -- are pretty familiar with contentiousing ing antagonistic way of ending a relationship. it doesn't have to be this way. a conscious uncoupling is a breakup characterized by good will, by generosity and by respect. it is a process that leaves both parties feeling valued and appreciated for all that was shared. and it is where two people really are striving to minimize the damage they do to themselves, to their children, if there are children involved, and then to each other.

>> some people hear this and think, this is a fancy term for something that's been around for a while. maybe not as common as it should be. but a friendly divorce. is this a fancy way of describing a friendly divorce?

>> well, i'm sure people who manage to create a friendly divorce end up finding their way to some of the practices and principles i'm teaching in the conscious uncoupling process. and yet, most people, truthfully, are pretty overwhelmed by the very big emotions that can take us over. and in many ways, take us out. but we want to remember that the decisions that we're making in those moments, you know, are going to be living with us in many, many years to come. the choices we make and actions we take. we want to actually have our feelings but not let our feelings have us.

>> now, do you take any offense to the fact that some people are treating it a little bit as a punch line ? that they think this phrase and term is kind of like a goofy new-agy term?

>> well, no, because people aren't quite aware yet of what it is. and, you know. they're kind of stunned to hear it. it's new language. people are getting used to it. i think the thing about conscious uncoupling, it opens up, just in the language itself, opens up a new possibility for how we might do this better. and i think we're really ready for that and that's why it's taken off so much.

>> well, thank you so much. by the way, have you ever heard of unconscious uncoupling?

>> yes, i treat people in my private practice as a psychotherapist with unconscious unc uncouplings all the time.