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You Need To Be Aware Of The Hidden Danger In Conscious Uncoupling

conscious uncoupling


You Need To Be Aware Of The Hidden Danger In Conscious Uncoupling

Just be mindful of the irrelationship landmines in conscious uncoupling.

“Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you” 
Coldplay, “Fix You”(link is external)

Termination is a normal phase of many relationships. Deliberately ending a relationship without explosive anger and recrimination would probably be viewed by most of us as preferable to destructively acting out the feelings that often accompany breakups or divorces.

Katherine Woodward Thomas’ book, Conscious Uncoupling (2015) describes parameters for a well-considered alternative to “ugly divorce,” proposing instead a separation model that affords “a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a complete spiritual awakening” (p. 10).

Thomas elaborates:

Conscious uncoupling is a breakup or divorce that is characterized by a tremendous amount of goodwill, generosity, and respect, where those separating strive to do minimal damage to themselves, to each other, and to their children (if they have any), as well as intentionally seek to create new agreements and structures designed to set everyone up to win, flourish, and thrive moving forward in life (p. 45).

Thomas’ model for a “happily-even-after” seems to make sense. Our concern, however, is conscious uncoupling practiced by couples affected by irrelationship(link is external) could unintentionally segue into an ongoing refusal of intimacy. Participants may shuttle aside bad feelings as part of irrelationship’s defense against emotional investment. One may even reasonably ask if they weren’t genuinely invested in one another the first place, and aren’t likely to allow intimacy to develop in future relationships.

Thomas’ technique for uncoupling asks the couple to choose kindness, goodness and generosity toward one another. On the face of it, who could object, in light of the legendary and costly retaliation characteristic of many divorces? But in Thomas’ model, each party takes responsibility for her or his part in having come to an impasse. (She suggested that use of the term “we-vorce”). The potential problem we see is that this may lead to consensual care taking corresponding with our description of irrelationship because many couples remain unconscious that true connection and intimacy were never achieved in their relationship.

Chris Martin, lead-singer of the band, Coldplay, and his ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow are the poster-children for conscious uncoupling (in fact, they used the term “conscious uncoupling” when they announced their separation last year). His song, “Fix You,” released in 2005, is laced with irrelationship. Conscious Uncoupling, however, wasn’t released until 2015. Coldplay’s “Fix You” could very well be irrelationship’s theme song because fixing you protects me (from you), while—ironically and less consciously—it is also the overt inverse of conscious uncoupling whose primary task is to fix me (by unloading you).

In her book, Thomas suggests considerations to be taken prior to proceeding with the conscious uncoupling process:

  1. When unsure about staying or leaving, work with a professional counselor to develop a firm grounding for whatever you decide.
  2. Instead of reactively deciding to leave, find courage to share your feelings with one another without using them as points of blame. This creates space for a chance to amend and rescue your relationship.
  3. If your partner demonstrates investment in finding a solution by taking concrete actions to figure out what’s wrong and change it, do your best to match that effort with your own. Commit to focusing on saving your relationship before initiating an uncoupling process (pp. 67-69).

In addition to Thomas’ suggestions, we urge that couples consider the following:

4. Prior to making the decision to terminate your relationship, challenge yourselves to find out whether or not you’ve been avoiding anxiety by minimizing the risk of intimacy with one another by acting like you really care about one another.

Coldplay’s hit song neatly unpacks the problem of irrelationship:

When you get what you want

But not what you need…

Or, more explicitly, when you choose a low-cost solution to loneliness that doesn’t deliver human connection, well, what then?

The answer, well known to couples invested in irrelationship is, “I’ll fix you.”

The song neatly delivers the message of the first rule in irrelationship: the couple agrees not to expose themselves to one another as they really are. Thereafter, opting not to take our fourth suggestion, above, puts them at risk of doing the same thing again indefinitely.


Thomas, K. W. (2015). Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After. New York: Harmony Books.

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[Mark Borg]

Mark B. Borg, Jr., Ph.D. is a community psychologist and psychoanalyst, founding partner of The Community Consulting Group, and a supervisor of psychotherapy at the William Alanson White Institute. He has written extensively about the intersection of psychoanalysis and community crisis intervention. He is in private practice in New York City. Grant H. Brenner, MD is a psychiatrist in private practice, specializing in treating mood and anxiety disorders and the complex problems which may arise in adulthood from developmental childhood trauma. He works from a humanistic and integrative perspective, recognizing that each person requires an comprehensive assessment and individualized treatment plan, and that often different types of treatment are sometimes necessary to explore before finding an approach which works. At the same time, he values evidence-based approaches and stays current with new developments. He uses various approaches including talk therapy, medications, and interventional psychiatric approaches such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and neurofeedback. He is a volunteer and Board member of the not-for-profit organization Disaster Psychiatry Outreach. He teaches and supervises, and is a faculty member of the Mount Sinai Hospital and Director of the Trauma Service of the William Alanson White Institute. He is an editor of and author in the book Creating Spiritual and Psychological Resilience: Integrating Care in Disaster Relief Work, and the author of several papers and book chapters. Daniel Berry, RN, MHA has practiced as a Registered Nurse in New York City since 1987. Working in in-patient, home care and community settings, his work has taken him into some of the city's most privileged households as well as some of its most underprivileged housing projects. He is currently the Assistant Director of Nursing for Risk Management at a public hospital serving homeless and undocumented victims of street violence, drug addiction and severe traumatic injuries.

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