Here's What Gwyneth Paltrow Meant by 'Conscious Uncoupling'

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Five years ago, Goop CEO Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin announced their divorce in a now-infamous blog post titled “Conscious Uncoupling.” The phrase fascinated the public (resulting in many, many white people jokes) as much as it delighted the therapist who supposedly coined the term in 2011. But neither Paltrow or Martin really thought to explain their use of the phrase until now: On Monday’s episode of Armchair Expert, actor Dax Shepard’s podcast, Paltrow finally explained “conscious uncoupling.”

She reassured that she did not make up the term:

“It had been coined, I think in the ‘70s. It’s such a beautiful concept, right? You’re staring down the barrel of a divorce, your worst outcome possible. Especially, you know, my parents were married until my dad died. All my best friends, I’ve been friends with since elementary school, middle school, all their parents were married, they all married their college or high school person, they’re all still married. You know, I just didn’t come from a world where there was a lot of divorce.”

Placing onus on her two children, she continued:

“I just thought, as I looked around and knew this was happening, I thought, you know, I’m going to try and collect a little data around how children have been impacted by divorce. And, again, I’m sorry to overuse the word, but be intentional about avoiding those common pitfalls. What are the common themes here that we see? And the most common wound that I heard from children of divorce was, ‘My parents couldn’t be in the same room and couldn’t be friends. It took three years, it took 18 years, it took—you know, God forbid—the death of a close family member for them to sit at the same table.’

And I just thought, ‘I wonder if there’s a way to circumvent that, and just go directly to the point where we’re friends and we remember what we loved about each other, and constantly acknowledge that we created these two incredible human beings together.” We’re combing our DNA; we’re family, that’s it. So we can pretend we’re not, and hate each other, and drop a kid at the end of the driveway and not come in, or let’s try to reinvent this for ourselves. So, I think, at the time, honestly, I was in a lot of pain. It was so difficult. It felt like such a failure to me. And it was so hard and I was so worried about my kids. There was this whole other layer of the world turning on us about saying, essentially, ‘We just want to be nice to each other and try to stay a family. No wreckage.’ It was brutal. I already felt like I had no skin on.”

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So there you have it: “conscious uncoupling” is a nice divorce rebranding—but if it actually helps children who are affected by separation because it gives parents grounds to stay civil, so be it! I’ll add it to my own vocabulary.

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Maria Sherman

Senior Writer, Jezebel. Opinions sometimes my own.