Conscious Uncoupling. This is the new buzz word that is getting lots of play due to the announcement of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin about their upcoming divorce.
This concept is actually the brainchild of Katherine Woodward Thomas, a licensed psychotherapist who coined it to describe how she approached her own divorce process.
I may not have come up with such a catchy phrase, but I’ve been preaching for years about successfully moving forward through your grief by making conscious decisions, which includes conscious uncoupling from a late spouse. In fact, the latter is a necessary step to take AFTER the loss of a spouse and BEFORE beginning the search for new love. I call this process Readjusting the Picture of Your Late Spouse, and it is an integral part of getting to know your “new single self” as you adjust your personal picture.
The state of being newly single, especially after a long marriage or relationship, is a strange sensation. If you keep in mind that attachments can be both positive and negative, you may notice that you still feel attached to your lost loved one. Due to this attachment, you probably don’t really feel single, and this fact can make you feel as if you are cheating when (and if) you start dating.
It’s also a natural tendency of a bereaved survivor to elevate his or her spouse to the position of a saint, once he or she is gone. Whether you had a good or bad marriage, death seems to erase all those annoying little habits that used to drive you up a wall! While it’s important to remember the positive things and not dwell on the negative, it may be detrimental to your progress in the personal development department to complete a sainthood application for your late partner. No one is perfect, and no relationship is without some strife. This doesn’t mean your loved one was a bad person — only that he/she was human and had human failings … just like the rest of us!
In the case of divorce, of which Paltrow speaks, the opposite may be true: the spouses may want to complete applications for devilhood for their soon-to-be exes!
However, no matter which circumstance you’re enduring (death or divorce), the result can be the same, which is that unless you detach, you’re stopped from moving forward.
Now, it may feel as if you are dishonoring your late partner, if you attempt to abandon some of the rituals/procedures that kept your marriage afloat. That’s just not the case. There’s a fine distinction here to keep in mind.
Readjusting only means realistically evaluating the relationship you had with your late spouse and coming to terms with this new picture. For example, you and your late spouse might have had a special way you dealt with finances, problems, children, etc. And it worked very well … when there were two of you. However, now you’re making decisions by yourself, and you may have limited time, energy and financial support. Consequently, you have to do what works for you in your new circumstances.
If you believe that your late spouse did everything the way it was “supposed” to be done and that there are no alternative ways of approaching an issue, then you will have a hard time feeling good about any different decisions you may make. This sort of negative attachment belittles your confidence in your ability to make your way in the world on your own.
Furthermore, as your life progresses, dating and possible remarriage may become a possibility. Keep in mind that it will be very hard for a new romantic interest to compete with a dead saint. Every person is an individual and must be evaluated on his/her own merits. Thus, it’s not fair (to you or to a prospective partner) to compare him/her to your late spouse, and always believing he/she comes up short. Instead, cherish the gifts your spouse bestowed upon you and keep them safe in your heart. Next, look for new ways of approaching life to enter your realm of consciousness. Believe you are a gift to everyone you encounter and that everyone you meet has a gift to offer to you.
Remember, nothing stated here is a feat you can accomplish in one day. Everything happens in baby steps, even if you are in a hurry to get through it! It takes time, hard work, and a lot of introspection to readjust the picture you hold of your late spouse. Moreover, it’s not disloyal for you to honestly come to terms with certain characteristics that irked you.
You can use this information to help you to grow and become more aware of how you approach and address diversity of thought. And, even if you are desirous of readjusting the picture you hold of your late spouse, I understand that doing so means letting go of a big part of yourself — and that is hard to do. As Anatole France said, “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we die to one life before we can enter another.”
So, although you may not be ready to look for new love, or you may have rejected even the thought of this idea completely, I do ask you to consider the following thought. An important way to honor your late spouse is to go on to fully live and love again. True partners always want the best for each other, and I’m sure yours is cheering you on as he/she smiles and watches you navigate the waters of your new world and, perhaps, find a new special someone to walk by your side.
The preceding is an excerpt from my book: Love After Loss: Writing The Rest of Your Story.
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“Conscious uncoupling” is a great descriptor, whether divorce or death. I experienced “unconscious uncoupling” in my first marriage and have seen this on occasion with spouses after a death. It nicely describes a long-term process of marital dissolution that is incipient in its manner and not consciously apparent until critical mass. I have been working with a client who had this process with her deceased husband and only after his death did she begin to evaluate how their relationship had deteriorated over the years. She was able to retain perspective of his good qualities to keep a balanced view. I suspect the last two years of his life when he was ill and dying and they were able to re-bond was crucial to her ability to come to terms with the reality of the marriage.
I do not idolize my deceased spouse. There was plenty that drove me crazy. But I love her. Still. You say she would want me to move on. Wonderful. But what about what I want? I don’t want to. Period.
I really get tired (no offense to you personally, as I am just venting here) of people telling me that she would want me to move on. So what? She wanted me to do things that I didn’t want to do when she was alive. What is the difference now? I don’t want to move on. To quote the great physicist Richard Feynman in a letter to his deceased wife:
“I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don’t want to be in my way. I’ll bet you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.”
That is how I feel, and if she is “on the other side” hoping for me to be with someone else, she is going to be disappointed. She will have to deal with that.