Like so many other people this past week, I've been contemplating the idea of "conscious uncoupling." Gwyneth Paltrow's use of this term seems to have sparked a wide range of emotions, but for me, it resonates so clearly.
When my first husband and I divorced, I was 38. We had two children under the age of three, and I was in the middle of getting my company up and running. At the time, the word "divorce" felt so decisive and painful. My parents divorced when I was 21 years old, and it took them 20 years to have a comfortable conversation with one another.
I was the first of my friends to go through divorce, and I felt ashamed, isolated, and too young for my new role as a divorcee. I had connected divorce with my parent's generation, but there I was I following in their footsteps. As a young mother, I felt I had failed in some way.
In truth, our divorce was a far more loving and gentle than the word implies. Of course, it was painful. I lost my appetite and 15 pounds along with it. I was embarrassed, and this made my social life much harder. I poured myself into my work, which was easy because I was in the middle of launching my company, Babo Botanicals. But through it all, we were very clear that our main priority was to help our two young children, understanding that there would be anguish, anxiety and loss, no matter how kind we were to each other.
Given our experience together, the term "divorce" always seemed overly harsh. While I didn't love the word, we didn't know another way to explain what we were doing. Even now, four years later, if I say "I am divorced," my stomach quivers.
It took almost two years to divorce, and that time was filled with the tension of lawyers and family expectations. My husband and I worked hard to be kind to each other throughout the process, but our lawyers and our families seemed intent on working against our intentions. No one seemed to understand how "divorce" could be gentle and loving. My family was overly protective and believed my husband was to blame for my unhappiness.
If I had gone to an "uncoupling" lawyer, perhaps she would have been able to understand that all we wanted was to make sure our our kids were happy, healthy and thriving. Instead, our divorce lawyers made our process so much more negative and difficult than it had to be. My lawyer pushed me to ask for more money and greater custody, insisting that I was not thinking clearly and I would want more in the future. She even wanted me to keep all our household property including a rug we had bought together in Turkey, which he treasured and I had given back to him.
I eventually let her go and hired a gentle, older lawyer who was able to move through the system very quickly. Even though we came out of the divorce with custody terms and rules, we've slid into a more fluid parenting relationship. We text each other every day to let one another know how the children are. When I travel for long work periods, he stays at my house with the kids.
If he has to change his days with the children because of work or travel, I accommodate him. We talk often, both on the phone and when the kids transition between their two homes. I feel fortunate that this is where we have landed. I know so many divorced couples who continue to fight and never find a peaceful relationship.
It's only now that I have a word for our process. I had never heard the term before, and I am thankful to Gwyneth Paltrow for bringing it into my vocabulary. An "uncoupled" partnership can include friendship, teamwork, and co-parenting, whereas "divorce" connotes a final ending. And as 50% of moms experience divorce at some time, I imagine I'm not the only one who finds the term to be overly-harsh and filled with blame.
Divorce is a negative. Conscious uncoupling has the potential to be a positive.
So why the uncoupling? Why not try to make things work?
We had met at school and were fast friends, but we would have done better to remain that way. As friends, we were a great team, but as soon as the relationship became romantic, it became toxic for both of us. We were incapable of supporting each other emotionally. Our values, passions and interests were not aligned. The chemistry was off and we both felt it. But once we began living apart and starting independent lives again, we are able to regain our deep friendship.
Now I am remarried to my soulmate. I am stepmother to two wonderful children, and my new husband and I have had one more child together. Families take so many different shapes, and I don't regret a moment of the story that has shaped mine. Of course there have been painful times, and I feel so fortunate to have met the right partner. But I love and respect my former husband. And looking back, I will happily exchange "divorced" for "uncoupled," as it feels just right for the partnership we share.