I will admit to not following Gwyneth Paltrow, or her brand Goop, enough to hate her, but I will also admit to clicking on quite a few articles about her recent “conscious uncoupling.” As a linguistics major, I find semantics and word choice really fascinating, and I was very interested in the fact that Gwyneth Paltrow seemed to have invented a new phrase to stand in the place of “divorce”; clearly she wants to change the way she, and others, view the dissolution of her marriage.
I don’t begrudge her that, nor do I begrudge her request for privacy during what must be a difficult (even if it is conscious) time. I do smirk a little at the whole thing. The phrase itself, the announcement on her website, with the airy, sunlight photograph below said announcement, the bazillions of articles that have been written about it. I get what she is trying to do. And I get why so many people hate it (hate her for it?). Mostly I just found the whole thing mildly amusing–not thought-provoking, just a diversion.
That is, until I read the actual article about conscious uncoupling on her website. Under the announcement, if you scroll past the beautiful photograph, there is an piece (with a significant word count) in which two doctors give us a little lesson in human history and social science, explaining what conscious uncoupling is, and can be.
The article explains that our definition of marriage as “until death do us part,” is antiquated. They argue that until 100 years ago, our lifespans were halved; being married to one person until you’re 47 is one thing, sticking with one person until you’re 78 is quite another.
During the upper Paleolithic period of human history (roughly 50,000BC to 10,000BC) the average human life expectancy at birth was 33.[i] By 1900, U.S. life expectancy was only 46 for men, and 48 for women. Today, it’s 76 and 81 respectively.[ii] During the 52,000 years between our Paleolithic ancestors and the dawn of the 20th Century, life expectancy rose just 15 years. In the last 114 years, it’s increased by 43 years for men, and 48 years for women.
I will admit, I found the statistics rather shocking. I knew our longevity was greatly increased, but I don’t think I realized by how much, or how quickly. As I read the rest of the piece–getting significantly lost during the long winded bit about giant insects and exoskeletons–I wondered quietly if they had a point. Is it asking too much that we stay married to the same people for 30, 40, even 50 years? If so, what does that mean for the institution of marriage?
I’m somewhat ashamed to say it, but I didn’t get married this past January assuming that my partner and I would make it for the long haul. My commitment to him was to do my best to nurture our relationship. I would love for us to be happy together for the rest of our days, but I don’t presume that will be the case. I could see us growing apart, succumbing to “irreconcilable differences.” And I don’t really think I’d see our marriage as a failure if it ended some day.
And that is really the whole point of the article, and the idea behind “conscious uncoupling.” If you view your divorce as a failing (on your part, or your partner’s), you come to the dissolution of your marriage with shame, anger and resentment. All this negativity will make it hard for you to stay present and make the best choices for yourself and your family. But if you don’t view your divorce as a failure, if you accept that humans were not meant to spend the entirety of their now long lives committed to just one person, you can learn from your partner (and teach them in turn) and you can come out of the process of “uncoupling” more whole than you were to begin with.
I’m not saying I agree with all this, but I find it interesting. I want to think more about it. I want to consider the possible implications. The article suggests that changing the way we think of marriage could be renewing, and maybe it could be, if we thought about it in the right way.
The idea of being married to one person for life is too much pressure for anyone. In fact, it would be interesting to see how much easier couples might commit to each other by thinking of their relationship in terms of daily renewal instead of a lifetime investment. This is probably the reason why so many people say their long-term relationships changed overnight, once they got married. The people didn’t change, but the expectation did.
I don’t think my expectations changed much when I got married. I’ve always been a realistic person. Some might say, pessimistic. When such a large number of marriages end in divorce, I don’t presume to be half of a more perfect union than so many others. I do like that idea of a “daily renewal,” and might try to think about my own marriage that way. Lord knows that the weight of “forever after” can feel crushing at times.
Honestly… I have a hard time writing about my marriage. I believe the parameters of socially acceptable discourse on marriage is narrow: We are invited to speak glowingly of our partners, and simultaneously encouraged to vent about the ways in which they frustrate, or even disappoint us, but anything veering outside of those two topics is frowned upon.
There are times when I wonder how much I love my husband, if it’s “as much” as other women love theirs, or if it’s “enough” to keep us together for the long haul. I have never been in another relationship, so I have nothing to judge my love for him against. I know that I love him, but I also know that it’s not the kind of mad love that is written about in books or portrayed in movies. Does that kind of love exist? I’m assuming so, or it wouldn’t be the subject of so much of popular culture. That’s not to say I believe everyone experiences it, or even believes themselves to. I guess I’m just not sure of what I’m experiencing, and that makes me wonder where we’ll end up.
The only thing I am sure of is my commitment to my husband. I may not know how to quantify or qualify my love for him, but my commitment to making a life with him is very, very strong. I’m nothing if not committed (some may even consider me stubborn) and I have every faith in my desire to make our family work. I hope we’re together, and happy, for as long as we can be, as much for my children’s sake as for my own.
I guess only time will tell if conscious uncoupling is in our future, and if it is, whether or not I’ll use that term.
What are your thoughts on “conscious uncoupling?” What do you think about society’s view that marriage should be a lifelong commitment?