We all remember reading, not so long ago, about a certain couple and their impending divorce, which they referred to as “Conscious Uncoupling.” Not having heard the term before I googled it. It sounded remarkable — and of course it sounded, literally, incredible — which is probably one of the reasons why it was so roundly mocked at the time. My understanding is that it goes something like this: through the process of “Conscious Uncoupling,” the divorcing couple look deeply into themselves to understand what role they each had in the failure of the marriage; they can then let go of their anger towards one another and, in its place, build a relationship that is better and healthier, even though they are no longer together.
Wow. Extraordinary. Noble. Also, unimaginable. It made me feel not only envious, but also quite awful about my own divorce and how it was playing out. A better phrase for what was happening in my life would more accurately be termed, “unconscionable uncoupling.”
The word unconscionable means not guided or controlled by conscience, or not in accordance with what is just and reasonable. Or, as defined on vocabulary.com, unconscionable is something that is, “…almost unimaginably unacceptable. Think of it as being something that no reasonable person would even think of doing or saying — something unbelievable, outrageous and often horrible.”
That would be the prevalent behavior in a lot of divorces — it sure is depictive of mine. I received emails and texts that contained missives I never thought a “reasonable person,” let alone my husband of more than 20 years and the father of my three children, would see fit to say to me — or to any human being for that matter. To this day, even though the marriage is officially terminated, he sends me outrageous and offensive messages full of venom. Not only that, but the whole divorce process took three years and cost us each a bigger part of our financial assets than I would have thought possible; every issue seemed to be an incitement to battle.
Uncoupling sounds so much better; sort of gentle and passive — “releasing the link” or “letting go.” How many of us believed, when our divorces had just begun, that the process would in fact be one of unhitching and moving on? Of course there would be “issues,” but we would work them out in a reasonable and conciliatory manner. Yes, we had all heard or read about other people’s divorces, and the acrimonious and hostile clashes that consumed them. But that would never be us. I know, at least, that’s what I thought.
So back to conscious uncoupling. Why can’t we have more considerate divorces? The key hindrance that I see is that self-reflection is the basic tenet. Two of it’s best known adherents have explained conscious uncoupling as, “the ability to understand that every irritation and argument was a signal to look inside ourselves and identify” something negative or unresolved, within us that needs to be healed. Of course, self-reflection is great, yet like any issue in marriage, it takes two. If one party chooses not to look inside to appreciate what issues they brought with them into the marriage, to see their role in the marriage dynamic, and their part in its demise, then a more amicable resolution can’t happen. If someone is intent on blaming and reviling they will never be open to true self-examination. Conscious uncoupling sounds so good — and as real to me as a castle in the sky.
So what can you do if the “uncoupling” is one-sided and achieving any kind of emotional resolution seems hopeless. These are four steps you can take to help you to heal.
1. Evaluate your part in the relationship dynamic — not to blame, but to understand what you brought into it. What were you looking for and what did you feel it would fix or heal inside you? What are your own flaws and foibles? Then, decide what you can change, and what you want to work on going forward. It’s up to you to look deeply within yourself in order to learn and to grow.
2. Look at your anger. Appreciate why you feel it — it is a natural reaction to feeling attacked, blamed or misunderstood. Anger is a legitimate and prevalent feeling after a breakup. Identifying the sources of our anger helps us to understand why we feel so much rage, pain and/or disappointment. But anger does not help us heal. To the contrary — it keeps us frozen and entangled in a place of connection with our exes. Once you have examined your anger, work on letting it go.
3. Acknowledge your powerlessness. Recognize what you thought you’d be able to change in your spouse, or in his or her role in the marriage, or about the relationship itself. Of course, we cannot control anyone’s behavior, or how they perceive or judge us. Give up the illusion that you could have fixed things if you had ‘just tried harder’. We are powerless to change anyone but ourselves — it’s up to us to initiate new responses to our exes’ old behaviors. If we keep using the same steps we will never change the dance.
4. Figure out how to let go of the shame and self-blame. So many people feel (whether actual or not) an acute sense of stigma and judgment from family, friends and/or society due to “the failure” of their marriages. And then there is the self-blame that you carry with you — the ” should haves” and “maybe ifs.” As in, “If only I had been more…” or “If only he had or hadn’t done…” So the shame we feel comes from both deep within ourselves as well as from what we believe others are thinking about us. Don’t accept the feelings of inadequacy that might rear up. Appreciate that you did the best that you could at that time. Chose to be gentle with yourself.
Back to the chimera of “conscious uncoupling.” Supposedly there are couples who are able to unbind is this ideal manner — I just know it was not to be my destiny. So, the solution, if your divorce is more of the unconscionable kind, is twofold. First, do not feel badly about the messiness of yours, or believe that you are somehow not doing it “right.” Do not compare your own divorce to your perceptions of anyone else’s. Instead, allow that this happens to be your path for right now. Lastly, the key, in the absence of comity and good will from your ex, is to have compassion for and generosity towards yourself. This is how you will be able to uncouple.
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