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Published: Sunday, 3/30/2014 - Updated: 1 year ago

‘Conscious uncoupling’ raising some eyebrows

Gwyneth Paltrow popularizes new term in announcing her divorce

Paltrow Paltrow

PITTSBURGH — Sandwiched between posts on midcentury modern recycled plastic side tables and the best sugar wax treatment in San Francisco, Gwyneth Paltrow dropped the news of her marital separation last week on her lifestyle Web site, Goop.

Martin Martin

Ms. Paltrow, known as much for promoting juice cleanses as her Best Actress Oscar, characterized the end of her marriage to the British rock star Chris Martin as a “conscious uncoupling” — a term that drew more than a few eye rolls.

But what some see as pretension, others see as practicality. And marriage experts believe she might be onto something.

“I’ll admit that given it was Gwyneth Paltrow, my first instinct was snarky,” said Deesha Philyaw of Forest Hills, Pa., co-author of Co-Parenting 101 with her ex-husband, Michael Thomas. “But conscious uncoupling is a real thing. It’s an approach to separation and divorce that’s really child-friendly.”

In her blog post “Conscious Uncoupling,” Ms. Paltrow included a lengthy essay by one of her mentors, Habib Sadeghi, and his wife, Sherry Sami, defining conscious uncoupling.

The term was coined by Los Angeles therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, who offers a five-week online course to “release the trauma of a breakup, reclaim your power and reinvent your life.”

The end of a marriage should be viewed less as a personal failing than as an opportunity for growth. “From this perspective, there are no bad guys, just two people, each playing teacher and student respectively,” they say.

Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage: A History and a faculty member at Evergreen State University in Washington state, believes that there needs to be more emphasis and education on the process of divorce.

“I don’t know that particular phrase, but those of us who study family history and family outcomes have been saying that how you divorce is just as important as whether you divorce,” she said. “We have to create an environment where you have just as high an expectation about divorce than we do about marriage: that we expect you to behave well.”

As divorces have become an established part of American life, there has been a growing emphasis on friendlier separations, she said.

While Ms. Coontz does not necessarily believe that there is a biological impulse making it harder for humans to “mate for life,” she does think that longer lifespans and changing expectations make marriage harder.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Anya Sostek is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

She can be reached at: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.

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