Everyone understands that a divorce is almost always an emotionally exhausting process, but is there a way to make it less painful and less emotionally exhausting? Katherine Woodward Thomas says there is. She is the author of the non-fiction bestseller Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After. The book was cited in news stories last year when actress Gwyneth Paltrow announced that she and her husband, rock musician Chris Martin, were “consciously uncoupling.” It sounds overly New-Age and “holistic” but what exactly is Conscious Uncoupling, and why should couples, married or unmarried, want to learn about it?
Conscious Uncoupling is “a new way of ending a union,” according to the bestselling author. “To see people be warm, respectful and inclusive, to go out of their way to create a sense of family – that’s important.” Ms. Thomas explained to The Telegraph that she comes from a background where respect and inclusivity did not happen. When she was born in 1957 in Niagara Falls, “No-fault divorce didn’t exist. If you were going to get divorced, you had to attack your spouse. That’s what got my parents off on the wrong footing.”
The book has been well-received by most readers and critics as a warm, knowing, and insightful guide to ending a marriage or any serious romantic relationship with maturity and respect that enriches rather than damages the parties involved. The book is a printed, self-help version of the Conscious Uncoupling process and course that Ms. Thomas has developed and successfully taught to thousands around the world since 2009.
HOW CAN “CONSCIOUS UNCOUPLING” BE DESCRIBED?
Ms. Thomas describes Conscious Uncoupling as “a proven process for lovingly completing a relationship that will leave you feeling whole and healed and at peace.” If you’re not a book reader, you can complete the five-week online Conscious Uncoupling course, which is marketed as a way to “heal your heart, rediscover your joy and transform your life, how to turn breakup grief into personal breakthrough.”
Ms. Thomas says that while Hollywood, television, and most of our experiences and friends teach us that separations are supposed to be painful and destructive experiences. She instead claims that breakups should be perceived as a challenge and as an opportunity to turn the emotional pain into “a catalyst for making a breakthrough in the way you show up in your life … and in your next relationship.”
HOW DID “CONSCIOUS UNCOUPLING” EMERGE?
The concept of Conscious Uncoupling emerged for Ms. Thomas as her own marriage of ten years was breaking apart. She met Mark, a news director and broadcaster – who was divorced, with a daughter – in 1992. She knew he was interested, but they didn’t get together for more than six years. When her marriage to Mark began to deteriorate after a decade, “It was overwhelming, very humbling. I had embraced a philosophy that my life was about becoming a more mature, more loving person. So the decision to get ‘un-married’ had to be brought back to that: how do I get un-married in a loving way?”
What’s persuasive about the book is that Katherine Woodward Thomas is no ivory-tower academic theorist. Without denying the rage that is, at its core, a primal response to rejection, Ms. Thomas was dedicated to acting generously, warmly, and maturely after her divorce. While she and Mark were settling their finances, for example, he became unemployed. She agreed that he could contribute less until he found employment, and she worked extra hours herself to make up the difference.
Katherine Woodward Thomas loves to help couples who seek her advice about ending their relationships instead actually stay together. She’s a huge fan of romance and marriage. But equally, she says, the idea and ideal of lifelong monogamy is hopelessly out-of-date. She’s researched the myth of living “happy-ever-after,” and she argues that it developed hundreds of years ago and “had a lot to do with the life conditions of the time – many people died before the age of 40.”
HOW IS “CONSCIOUS UNCOUPLING” PURSUED? WHAT’S THE GOAL?
Conscious Uncoupling is a process that a couple can pursue together or that someone can pursue as an individual. The goal of the process, Ms. Thomas says, is not to achieve some “spiritual superiority” over those who are stuck in acrimony or in litigation. Instead, the goal is simply to conduct one’s self with decency and dignity, to find freedom, to “process” the pain, and to recover your sense of self-worth and your individual autonomy.
No matter how the other person behaves, Conscious Uncoupling teaches that dignity is always the right option. “Nobody else,” Ms. Thomas assures, “has the power, ever, to determine who we are going to be. That means not playing the victim.” But Conscious Uncoupling is also like sailing, “you set a target and you’re a little to the left, a little to the right, you’re always bringing it back. I don’t know anyone who’s done it perfectly.”
Conscious Uncoupling reaches for noble ideals, and it requires humility, but that doesn’t mean letting yourself be used, disrespected, or exploited. Ms. Thomas says, “Divorce is a legal process, it’s important to have [someone] who can explain your rights, who has an ethic, who aspires to a more peaceful, solution-orientated divorce as opposed to an attorney who is primed for war.”
WHAT HELP IS AVAILABLE IN CALIFORNIA?
If someone is serious about pursuing Conscious Uncoupling during a divorce procedure, California is perhaps the best place to do it. An experienced San Jose or Long Beach divorce attorney, for example, will be familiar with a number of options in California that allow couples to divorce amicably, including mediation, arbitration and “collaborative” divorce. There’s no shortage of public and private agencies, counselors, advisors, therapists, divorce coaches, and other professionals offering help to those who are seeking to obtain a divorce in California.
Divorce is never pleasant, but it does not have to be a battle. Whether it’s Conscious Uncoupling or some other process or method, when people are divorcing, it’s almost imperative for them to have some process or discipline that provides emotional strength. Whether it’s yoga, meditation, prayer, Conscious Uncoupling, or some other method, people must get the full help they need – and not just legal help from a Sacramento or Long Beach divorce attorney. For some who are choosing divorce, Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After by Katherine Woodward Thomas might be just the help they need.