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The Basics of Uncoupling

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So, what does the phrase “consciously uncoupling” even mean? Are they really over? And isn’t itjust a nice way to say “divorce?” The answer is yes—and no. Although many family therapists and divorce mediators are unfamiliar with the term “conscious uncoupling,” they agree that the concept is one that more couples are adopting as they try to untangle their lives together, and that it can be the best way to approach a looming divorce. Here, the five things you need to know about the phrase.

1. Technically, it’s a “good divorce”… and they do exist. Constance Ahrons, Ph.D., professor emirita at the University of Southern California and author of "The Good Divorce," who coined the term in 1990, says that in the 25 years since she’s written her book, she’s seen an increasing number of couples trying to work things out without getting nasty. “While I haven’t heard the term 'conscious uncoupling,' the phrase makes it sounds like Gwyneth and Chris’s separation was a well thought out decision the two of them arrived at together.”

2. It’s in the best interest of Apple and Moses. Divorce is tough for children no matter what, but by making a point of insisting that they will always be family, Gwyneth and Chris are clearly putting their kids first. “Deliberate and conscious dismantling of a relationship isn’t uncommon, especially if a couple has kids together and wants to keep their lives as settled and normal as possible,” says Talia Wagner, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles.

3. We likely won’t hear about any scandals. Chris and Gwyneth are both public figures, so they likely agreed to not air any dirty laundry. “When celebrities get divorced, they have their brands, business dealings, and images to protect, so it’s not uncommon to see a methodical and calm separation,” says Wagner.

4. They’ve probably been talking about it for awhile. Rumors have swirled for the past year that Chris and Gwyneth were on the outs, and while we can’t know exactly what was going on, Wagner explains that the decision to consciously uncouple is usually the result of a split that’s been a long time coming. “If there’s no inciting situation—like an affair or bombshell—and both parties are on the same page, then the conversations can be devoid of feelings and can focus on separating the nitty-gritty of everyday life,” she says.

5. It’s pretty smart and sensible. Whether it’s conscious uncoupling, a good divorce, or doing what’s best for the kids,the bottom line is both Gwyneth and Chris are taking the steps to ensure that their divorce will go as smoothly as possible. “It’s a mature perspective that recognizes that although two people may no longer be on the same page or path in life, there needn’t be negative feelings surrounding the split. It can be an incredibly beneficial choice for all parties, especially if you co-parent or run a business together,” says Wagner.

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