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What is 'conscious uncoupling,' anyway?

Gwyneth Paltrow Denies Cheating on Chris Martin

NEW YORK (AP) -- Like any world unto itself, Hollywood has its own lexicon. But Gwyneth Paltrow's use of the term "conscious uncoupling" to describe her breakup with Chris Martin this week had even Hollywood veterans scratching their heads and reaching - metaphorically at least - for a dictionary.

Of course, there was snark, too. And, on the other hand, some real appreciation for the message and the way it was delivered - in a joint post from the actress and her rock-star husband on Paltrow's lifestyle website, goop. (Which - surprise! - crashed from the traffic.)

But before we get to that, let's start with the basics: What the heck does "conscious uncoupling" mean?

"I've never heard it, but it sounds like a phrase used by marriage therapists in Malibu," quipped Janice Min, editor of The Hollywood Reporter.

Pretty close, actually. The term was coined by a Los Angeles therapist and author, Katherine Woodward Thomas, who has created a five-step "Conscious Uncoupling" online process - to "release the trauma of a breakup, reclaim your power and reinvent your life."

Speaking by telephone Wednesday from Costa Rica, where she traveled to write her second book - called, not surprisingly, "Conscious Uncoupling" - Thomas explained that her goal was "to create a map for a couple to consciously complete a relationship - to have an honorable ending."

Thomas said that the assumption that people will have only one lifetime partner - and that anything else is a failure - comes from a time long ago when the lifespan was much shorter.

"I'm a fan of marriage, but I recognize that most people in their lives will have two to three longtime relationships - which means one to two breakups. And so we need to learn how to do this better," she said.

Thomas said she doesn't know Paltrow, but applauded what she called her and Martin's courage in the way they announced their breakup. "They're modeling this for the world," she said.

Not surprisingly, though, the reference evoked some snark, in Hollywood and across the pond in Britain, where the couple is also based.

"What deluded tosh," headlined a column in The Guardian, using slang for rubbish, or nonsense. (Tosh perhaps, but the phrase actually made it to the House of Lords, Britain's upper chamber of Parliament, where a Labour Party lawmaker referred to a political disagreement over university fees on Wednesday as "yet another example of the coalition's conscious uncoupling.")

Others, though, were touched by the message - while noting how expertly it was managed from a public relations standpoint, with the news released late on a Tuesday, after the celebrity weeklies had all closed their issues.

"It was very smart," said Min, who is also former editor of US Weekly. "By next week, there will be other news, and they probably won't be on the cover at all." And the fact that the couple made the statement on Paltrow's website gave them, of course, message control.

On the other hand, Min said, "I was touched - it really felt sincere. And it gave us more information than you normally get in these situations - revealing they'd been separated for a while. There was a sincerity here that you rarely see."

Also, Paltrow and Martin, the Coldplay frontman, have two children - Apple, 9, and Moses, 7 - so they have a strong reason to control the message. "No child wants to see news of their parents' breakup on the supermarket shelf," Min noted. "It's clear they love their children."

Longtime Hollywood public relations expert Howard Bragman agreed, applauding the couple for their honesty and civility.

"Listen, I've been involved in a LOT of Hollywood divorces, and I have to say, this is refreshing," said Bragman, who is vice chairman of reputation.com. "You can roll your eyes at the purportedly New Age language, but the broader message is, `We're gonna do this together.' I give them a lot of credit."

So does Jen Singer, New Jersey mother and mom blogger. Singer found the message especially meaningful because she, herself, went through a divorce last year, and sought her own version of "conscious uncoupling."

"I called it my `unengagement' from marriage - the process of preparing for life on my own," Singer said.

"Sure, Gwyneth has a reputation of being a little bit woo-woo, so we kind of giggle at the phraseology," she said. "But the concept is solid."

Singer added that she and her husband looked for a marriage counselor that would help them, well, uncouple. "But nobody would do it if we weren't willing to commit to trying to fix the marriage," she said. "But we were beyond that. We wanted help in carefully unraveling the husband-wife part of the family while supporting the parents-and-children part. We had to wing it instead."

What will this do for Paltrow's image? Min says she doesn't think that image will change one way or the other - for either avid fans or detractors.

"Maybe if you don't like her, you'll say, `Even her breakup has to be precious,'" she said. "But if you do like her, you'll say, "Bravo. Well thought out."

Join the discussion

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bwaymike March 27 2014 at 10:46 AM

Oh that Gwennie-speak. That's what becomes of someone who eats the s**t they cook.

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Your Majesty! March 27 2014 at 12:03 PM

What a pant load....lol

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1 reply
Mrs.Hylton Your Majesty! March 27 2014 at 1:04 PM

Something is wrong here I did not comment on this garbage.

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1 reply
Mrs.Hylton Mrs.Hylton March 27 2014 at 1:05 PM

I am not Your Majesty! But I agree.

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robertdrake777 March 27 2014 at 12:05 PM

I use to think that if you got married that was it you made your bed now you lie in it. apperently one can bail at any time and it no problem today. I going to start asking now that anyone of us can leave the marriage, there is no fear.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
Trouble March 27 2014 at 12:33 PM

I think Chris should be a good father, play music, and leave her alone. . . rumors of her infidelity have been around a long time, whatever chic term she wants to use.

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gstev75035 March 27 2014 at 12:40 PM

Where did this over-rated actress get her "royalty " attitude from? Good luck Chris....you are far better off.

Flag Reply +9 rate up
Gus March 27 2014 at 1:11 PM

I thought "conscious uncoupling" was what happens at the end of sex".

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1 reply
stephen284 Gus March 27 2014 at 1:49 PM

Well with exceptional sex you could wind up unconscious; unfortunately it hasn't happened to me, but I'm working on it!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
snsaddler March 27 2014 at 9:31 AM

Regardless of what they label it, keep it civil and as private as possible for your children's sake. Tosh happens.

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S321Saint March 27 2014 at 1:13 PM

Sad to see a so called "professional" give up on marriage. Saying that you cannot have a lifetime partner is simply put...a lie. The problem isnt the finding of the lifetime partner..its WAITING for them. Too many people think that just because you have fun dating and living together..that suddenly marriage is in the wings. Marriage is, and should be, a serious proposition entered into by BOTH mand and woman with the idea of being for a liftime. Anything less and you have simply what is going on with society today...serial relationships...with no real commitment...and what is scary is that people bring children into the world in these unstable relationships. Sad.

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1 reply
Jvogelsang21 S321Saint March 27 2014 at 2:05 PM

You were programmed to believe the way you do - I will assume that you are from a generation that made you get married if you became pregnant. Well those days are no more. We do not have shotgun weddings anymore. I have been in a few long term relationships in my 40+ yrs . I have a high standard for marriage, to the point I never did it. When you are young, you have this misconception of how life will be and then that day comes and it is a total disappointment. Now just to ease your mind a bit, I have one son from someone I thought I would marry only to discover what an abuser he ended up being - Dodged a bullet there. Then later in life I meet a good man who died 5 yrs into that relationship. I have since met another good man and 5yrs into it we are stronger than ever. He has 3 daughters from first marriage, I my one son. So whats the point in getting married now in life????? So there are many reasons for why or why not. Marriage the joining of two people for building a family as one entity. Lifetime together all though I hope for this in any relation, there is no guarantee that it will last forever, a piece of paper, witnesses, ceremony will never guarantee that

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Jvogelsang21 March 27 2014 at 1:52 PM

Was never a fan of hers, until I seen her in Glee ! I changed my opinion of her. She is very talented and she is a Hollywood kid, being her parent where big names back in their day. So she has a way of coming off like a snob and maybe she is, this just doesn't matter to me. She is very privileged, all her life and instead of hating her for it, I just don't care. I wish no harm to her and hope her and Chris are able to do what they need to for their family. The fact they are together on this speaks volumes. So maybe WE can just not hate on her for trying to do this with ease.

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1 reply
mrscrutty Jvogelsang21 March 27 2014 at 4:23 PM

There are plenty of Hollywood kids, who grew up in wealth and privilege and act nothing like her. Yes, she has some great moments in acting, but, for me, her attitude kills it. I saw a comment yesterday, where someone compared her to Martha Stewart. I thought that was an excellent remark.

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senfoghorn1 March 27 2014 at 1:54 PM

"Thomas said that the assumption that people will have only one lifetime partner - and that anything else is a failure - comes from a time long ago when the lifespan was much shorter." But...how would that theory explain Hollywood marriages that last only weeks, or months, or a few years?

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