Almost this time last year Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin hit the front pages of the news with their wacky idea that they were ‘consciously uncoupling’. They were not ‘getting a divorce’ instead they had made a conscious decision to bring their marriage to an end in a positive way. In fact they had untangled their marriage well before we were even aware of it.
This idea of ‘conscious uncoupling’ took the world of divorce by storm but very few were critical of their decision. Instead, many were amazed that this could even be done. But is it so amazing? Is it really so strange that two people who took the time and energy over many months to gradually fall deeply in love, could choose, together, to fall ‘out of love’ with just as much care? I don’t think it is wacky at all. In fact it makes perfect sense. However, for more of us to be able to fall out of love with grace, it is time to rethink our understanding of the word ‘divorce’.
The meaning of a Divorce
Divorce is and will always be one of life’s significant challenges. To divorce really just means to legally end a marriage- it is a piece of paper that records the legal change in your relationship status. But the word ‘divorce’ is associated with so much more than simply a certificate. It is a word that conjures up the strongest of emotions- guilt, betrayal, fear and loss and perhaps, most overwhelmingly, failure. Divorce is said to be the second most significant grief event many of us will ever experience. With a divorce comes not only the personal grief, but in addition the social perceptions that a divorce is something negative, something to be ashamed of and something that might even be associated with deep personal or moral failure.
Is it time to rethink all that we know about Divorce?
But what if ‘divorce’ was not such a scary word? Imagine if it was not even a dirty word or something we were embarrassed by. Imagine if the word ‘divorce’ signified instead the respectful end to a significant relationship? What if we instead considered the breakdown of a relationship as part of our marriage that, if managed well, we could later look back on with some pride? As a divorce lawyer I have the privilege every day of assisting many men and women through some of the most challenging days in their lives. These days are filled with grief and deep emotion. They are the sorts of days where most of us would wish we could simply curl up in a warm bed, pull the doona up over our head and shut out the outside world in the hope that we will wake up tomorrow and everything will be ok again. The difficulty of course, as with so many challenges in life, is that we cannot lie in bed forever. At some point we have to roll out from under the covers and face the world. Divorce is one of those challenges. And the key to tackling any challenge in life is just that- to ‘tackle it’! Jump up, run at it and keep running and tackling until you feel like you have won the match. The thing with relationship breakdown is that there is no manual, no rules and no script and not really even a match. We seem to spend no end of time learning how to fall deeply into love and yet so little time understanding how to fall back out again. So, to tackle the challenge that is your divorce there are two things you will need to accomplish- acceptance and understanding.
The importance of acceptance and understanding in rethinking divorce
Acceptance is not the allocation of blame or the act of taking responsibility. You will need to come to accept the path that lead to the end of your relationship. To truly find acceptance you will need to experience understanding. If you can understand how and why you have found yourself where you have, you will have the best chance at moving past your divorce to start the next chapter of your life. It is this combination of understanding and acceptance that will allow your family the best opportunity of a positive divorce- the type of divorce where you can look back in a few years time and say ‘I am proud of how I handled myself in the face of that significant challenge’.
You chose to get married, you can choose how to divorce
As a divorce lawyer I get to see it all I guess. I get to see the damage that heartbreak and divorce causes to families- the financial damage is one thing but the emotional damage is something else. We know, thanks to countless studies, that children who experience the divorce of their parents are at risk of significant harm- not because of the divorce, but because there is a very good chance that their parents will then commence a cycle of conflict that will never end. That conflict ensures that those children will never reach their true potential in life. Chris and Gwyneth showed us all how it can be done- privately, calmly and with great respect. They chose to not even use the word ‘divorce’. Instead (with some help from their personal guru) they coined a phrase that perhaps is a bit of a mouthful, but sums it up perfectly- ‘conscious uncoupling’.
It is time we rethink our understanding of the word ‘divorce’- it should not be a scary word, a dirty word or something we are embarrassed by. A divorce should be seen as a part of a marriage that, when managed well, we can look back on with some pride. It can be done, you just have to choose it. A key I guess is for you and your former partner to choose it together. That doesn’t mean that your heart won’t still break, that you won’t want to yell, and scream or hide under the doona for days, but the choice you are making is that no matter what, you will together find a way to consciously fall out of love with respect, dignity and even some grace.
So if there was only one thing that you could do to give you, your children and your family the best chance of surviving your divorce I would say it is this- Change how you think about your divorce. It doesn’t have to be a dirty word. It can be part of your marriage, a part that you should be able to look back on with some pride.
This article was first published by IAMWOMAN Magazine in September 2014 here-
I am proud to be part of the writing team for IAMWOMAN Magazine which is part of the IAMWOMAN project. You can read more and join the IAMWOMAN community here at www.iamwomanmagazine.com.au.