A few days ago, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, married for a decade with two children, released a public statement on her website Goop saying they were “consciously uncoupling.” They have received quite a lot of ridicule and sarcastic jabs in the popular press, with writers claiming that as mega-stars they have tried to “pretty up” what others of us would simply call “divorce.” Paltrow, in particular, has suffered from negative coverage in the press as being aloof, prickly, and narcissistic, among other character flaws. From Facebook postings among my friends to well-respected publications, such as the Washington Post, the superstars have been made fun of, pure and simple.
While I had previously not been familiar with this term associated with the break-up of a marriage, I learned from a recent New York Times article by John Koblin that, this “ungainly phrase” is connected with Katherine Woodward Thomas, a psychotherapist who went through her own divorce, I was favorably impressed with the term. During a time where mindfulness is a constant buzzword (associated with everything from eating to improving personal performance at work), we should not be surprised to see these ideas integrated into discussions about divorce. The couple admitted they had ardently tried for a year to save their marriage—who can disagree with that? And given the consistent evidence of the difficulties children face when parents divorce, shouldn’t we encourage parents to present the dissolution of a marriage in the most gentle, amicable way possible?
As a Life-Cycle Celebrant, I’ve always been alarmed and dismayed with the hostility that seems inevitable with the end of a marriage, whether people have children or not. In fact, the press has rather gleefully described the outlandish divorce celebrations that some people host, once the decree is received in the mail. To my mind, they are akin to a reverse (perverse) bachelor/bachelorette party. I just think that’s gross, to be blunt. After all, at some point this couple loved each other, and one would imagine that they intended for their marriage to last ‘til death do them part.” I ardently believe that no matter the circumstances of a marital break up, it is a very difficult, life transforming experience. Why should we degrade this real loss?
Celebrants offer an often unheard of ceremony of healing around divorces. These are appropriately dignified rituals that recognize what, fundamentally, we all know is true: divorce is sad and hard. We think that it is especially beneficial when children are involved, solidifying the notion that both parents will remain committed to the kids, regardless of changes in marital status. Isn’t that another word for consciously decoupling. There is a German word, Schadenfreude, that represents the idea of people somehow relishing the misfortunes of another. This snarky attitude about a Hollywood break-up has that tone, at least to my reading. So, I would say to the A-list actor and her rock star husband, “Good for you…having the courage to admit that you sincerely tried and failed to save your marriage….and that you enter into this inevitably difficult transition with compassion for each other and concern for their kids. Maybe they would even consider a Celebrant ceremony to mark the loss they are experiencing.