by Jon Kramer, LCSW
Editor’s Notes: Jon Kramer, LCSW is in private practice with an office in Santa Monica, as well as a founding Partner of the Collaborative Center of Southern California in Hermosa Beach, CA. He is also a member of a collaborative divorce group called “A Better Divorce Group”.
Isn’t it kind of fun when we are trendy and we don’t even know it? Thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, when a couple who have decided to end their marriage inquires with a non-litigating attorney, they are officially trendy. OK, before you roll your eyes, let me explain further. Paltrow and Martin’s recent decision to end their 10-year marriage and “consciously uncouple” was all over the news. The term, coined by LA- based Psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, suggests the idea of divorcing and still holding that a family is still a family. Collaborative Divorce and Mediation are specific examples of conscious uncoupling. The common instinct when a couple decides to end their relationship is to act impulsively, largely out of fear and anger. This usually leads the couple into a financially and emotionally expensive litigation and courtroom process. Chaos rains on their family and creates all kind of anxiety, usually for their children and themselves. Conscious Uncoupling on the other hand suggests a calmer, more deliberate and respectful process. And it protects children.
As a Couples Therapist, I am in the business of firstly, assisting couples to stay together. And then secondly if they decide, assisting them to separate or divorce. The cross-roads of either are one of those “big decision moments” in a person’s life. It is 7:15 on a Thursday evening in my office, and I am seeing Steve and Mary (names have been fictionalized). We have been at the work of their marriage for several sessions. Not surprisingly, their emotional intensity has swayed from sadness to anger to disappointment and back again. It is on this Thursday night that the tone changes in the room. A metaphorical hurricane is brewing and I have been here before. Mary speaks up, “we have been trying Steve and it is just not working. I want a divorce!” I immediately assess Steve’s reaction. I can see it in his eyes. He is thinking the following: “How could she do this to me?” “I want to emotionally punish Mary.” “Should I sweep in with a litigating family law attorney to protect my financial assets before she takes them from me and our children? I can see the anger and fear roll over Steve and I focus my attention on managing his flight into “unconscious uncoupling.” I focus on slowing Steve and Mary down. This means encouraging them to sit in their fear and at least initially not make any decisions about their seeming path for divorce. It is at this point that I introduce Collaborative Divorce as an option for conscious uncoupling.
Trendy or not, how a couple decides to end their relationship has long standing consequences. Unconscious uncoupling will usually lead both parties towards ultimately feeling bitter and emotionally wounded. And their family in pieces. Conscious uncoupling on the other hand, in the form of collaborative divorce or mediation, stands a good chance of leaving the couple transformed and able to hold onto their own personal as well as their family’s dignity.
The somewhat vague sounding term, “Conscious Uncoupling” recently made headlines when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin decided to end their 10-year marriage. This article explains what the term means and how it is different from the conventional and often chosen combative divorce litigation process. Experienced Couples Therapist and Divorce Coach, Jon Kramer, also describes in this article one of his sessions and how he assists his clients to consciously versus unconsciously uncouple when they decide to end their marriage but hold their family intact.