Marilyn Stowe: Celebrity ‘uncoupling’ is not to be sniggered at

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“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.”

Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow have announced their separation and the wording of the celebrity couple’s statement has attracted just as much attention as their split.

There is nothing unusual about the fact that they have decided to part, of course. Couples and parents split up all the time and celebrity marriages aren’t exactly renowned for their stability. Paltrow and Martin have been married for a decade which, by Hollywood standards, is pretty good going. But their stated intention to “consciously uncouple” has drawn a good deal of comment, bafflement – and, it must be said, derision.

Critics have rolled their eyes at such New Age language and sentiments. The statement has been published on Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal website, alongside an explanation from her “lifestyle gurus” describing in more detail the “spiritual divorce” process and the “wholeness in separation”.

Then again, Gwyneth has never been one to follow the crowd. She parried similar criticism after choosing to name her eldest child Apple. She is known for her “out there” attitudes to everything from skincare to parenting.

But although divorce lawyers and New Age language don’t tend to mix, I actually rather approve of it as a concept. In their own words and in a manner representative of their relationship, Paltrow and Martin are simply telling the wider world that they’re separating amicably, with the best interests of their children at heart.

Although we don’t know to what extent the phrase reflects the reality of life behind closed doors, I can’t help but admire the sentiment. Few of us would dream of announcing to our families, let alone the wider world, about a decision to “consciously uncouple”. But, having worked with more than 12,000 clients over a 30-year career in family law, I firmly believe that each and every individual dealing with the breakdown of their relationship desires to do so as calmly and as rationally as possible. When the process of uncoupling can be “conscious” and firmly focused on the needs of the children, it’s easier on everyone.

A relationship doesn’t finish overnight. It takes years, if not decades, for partners to drift apart. It begins with a suppressed dislike towards the other partner, then a more open and public demonstration of those feelings.

I have long maintained that marriage is the “gold standard” for couples, particularly those who have children. What I don’t believe, however, is that a broken marriage can be held together. I believe children can be psychologically harmed if they remain with dysfunctional parents who loathe one another.

As a concept, uncoupling is not new: psychologists have been writing about it for years. Here’s how Gwyneth Paltrow’s gurus describe “conscious uncoupling”. They say: “When we understand that both are actually partners in each other’s spiritual progress, animosity dissolves much quicker and a new paradigm for conscious uncoupling emerges, replacing the traditional, contentious divorce. It’s only under these circumstances that loving co-parenting can happen.”

Perhaps the current media interest in this concept will make many people think twice about their own relationships. Have they started to uncouple already? Once the buzz and excitement of the early days together fade, routine can take over and there is a danger that boredom will kick in. Some wake up one day, only to realise they have heard all their partner’s stories before, know all their habits, views, likes and dislikes and no longer find any of this as attractive as they once did. Gradually a couple can grow apart, without really realising what is happening until a point of no return has been reached.

Couples will often say they can’t tell you why the marriage is over, only that whatever they had between them has simply gone for good, and that they weren’t even conscious of it as it happened. This is unconscious uncoupling. Which, to my mind, is more dangerous than conscious uncoupling.

So my advice is not to snigger at hip New Age terminology. Conscious uncoupling can help a relationship end with dignity, while unconscious uncoupling needs to be stopped in its tracks. I know which one I would recommend.

Marilyn Stowe is the Senior Partner at Stowe Family Law. She blogs at www.marilynstowe.co.uk.