Who says that marriage has to end in a maelstrom of hatred and vitriol? Can we be loving, mature adults about it?
When the news broke that actress Gwyneth Paltrow and lead singer for Coldplay, Chris Martin were changing the course of their 10 year marriage, commentary from the world round was offered as if this was of monumental import. In many ways, it is but not for the reasons you might think. Celebrity relationships exist under a microscope, highlighted by a glaring spotlight, from the first hint of romance, to sadly, at times, the last invective shouted. Curious and sometimes snarky minds want to know the juicy details….was there infidelity or violence in the relationship? How will it effect children? How will it impact on their careers?
In this case, Martin and Paltrow both seem to have taken the moral high ground, using two words that were not, until this point, part of the common vocab used to describe breakups. It was coined by relationship expert and psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas. “Conscious Uncoupling” is a much kinder term that carries with it the idea that those who were once gloriously in love, need not despise the person with whom they planned on sharing the rest of their lives. Woodward Thomas is the author of Calling in ‘The One’: 7 Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life.
From what I have read, the couple has been working on the issues that exist in every relationship, as well as those unique to stardom. As the statement was released, that their marriage had “gone through great times and terrible times,” I thought of many of my therapy clients over the years whose own marriages were blowing apart and wishing that they had the ability to let go as graciously. Co-parenting is a crucial concern and these parents of 7 year old Moses and 9 year old Apple are determined to maintain family bonds by continuing to share their living quarters, albeit in separate wings.
Her parents, Blythe Danner and Bruce Paltrow had a 3 decade marriage that sadly came to an end when he died in 2002. Curious about how they made an in the spotlight Hollywood marriage last for so long, she inquired of her father: “How did you and Mom stay married for 33 years?” And he said, “Well, we never wanted to get divorced at the same time.”
Chris added, by way of explaining why he and his wife were making a different choice: “When two people throw in the towel at the same time, then you break up, but if one person’s saying, “Come on, we can do this,” you carry on.”
In my own circle of friends are Monique and Nathan Darling who were sweethearts since childhood and were married for 19 years. Last year, in the presence of their 12 and 14 year old sons and their community that they consider family of choice, they held an ‘unwedding ceremony’. Officiated by their friend Joy Phoenix, it had elements of a ceremony that joins two people. The difference is that this ritual lovingly unwound the traditional bonds of matrimony and freed them to move forward.
This is what Monique later wrote about their experience:
We gave each other back our wedding rings with these “unvows”.
“We have gathered here today to be witnessed as we unbind our two souls from the shackles of societal expectations, from the bondage of unconsciously agreed upon vows, from the oppression of parental hand me down values. To allow the relationship space to grow beyond the confines and definitions that have been handed down from parents, church, society, our own inner voices, to allow it to grow and breathe and open to the truth it can be. To reframe the word “loyal”, and our metric of duration of time together, our “conviction” that we had to stay together, to BE together, and to not fail each other or our children. To recuse ourselves of the role of “crutch” “enabler” “excuse” in hopes of offering the other the freedom to blaze our own trails independently, to be on the same page, without resenting one another, for not being the parent that we ourselves are not. To be able to relate from an objective, safe space. To keep the wisdom and history, and intimate knowledge we have gained over these 19 years of marriage, while releasing the baggage and expectations that have never served us. We offer each other the greatest possible gift, our freedom.”
“And then community stepped in to hold space as Parents, Society, Church, God, and our children, stood in as Nate and I consciously asked for each of their blessings to let go of the bonds and vows we had once made to each of them, so that we could begin anew relating from the place we are, the people we are now. It was soooo beautiful to take back that piece of us that felt we had “broken” our promises, gone back our own word, to our promises/vows of “for time and all eternity” in our old Mormon faith. To re-center ourselves, to open space for heaven on earth, instead of enduring to the end for our promised reward. There were many tears, many hugs, and so much support!! Ronan (our 14 year old) held out a joined candle at the wick, he lit it, and before the whole community “gave us back to each other,” proclaiming “They are the best parents and I love them.” As the wick came apart, Nate and I felt free for the first time in 19 years, free to see one another, to choose anew in every moment what/how relating can look like.”
As a minister who has married over 300 couples, I honor those who choose to stand before a partner, stating intention to love with all that they are, even if they need to step away and to:
“Allow him/her to be your most ardent admirer, while letting love be the stone with which you polish yourselves, smoothing away the hardened edges. May you bring out the shadow side of each other and then consign it to the light. May you bring out the highest in each other and celebrate it to the fullest. And may your love be a glorious example to the world.”
Photo: diametrik / flickr
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