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What is conscious uncoupling?

“Your breakup doesn’t need to ruin your life, damage your kids or define your future,” says Katherine Woodward, creator of the term ‘conscious uncoupling’. 

Journalist Tamara Oudyn from ABC Radio Life Matters podcast series ‘The Good Divorce’ spoke with the therapist about conscious uncoupling, a term made famous in 2014 with the breakup of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin.

Aiming to change the face of divorce in the 21st Century, Thomas claims for many  “it has never even occurred to us to try and do it better”.

So what exactly is conscious uncoupling?

At its core, the conscious uncoupling aim is to “bring you through one of the most difficult things you ever have to go through intact and with everyone set up to win”.

It works by limiting toxic and painful thought patterns and behaviour.

The Separation Guide Network Member and Lawyer, Susan Hewitt shared the following on conscious uncoupling: 

When Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced their “conscious uncoupling” in 2014 it caused some to question whether they had resorted to psychobabble to avoid expressions like “split up” or “separate”. In a candid article about the end of their marriage, Paltrow has now admitted that she also disliked the term when she first heard it.

“Frankly, the term sounded a bit full of itself,” she wrote. “It sounded painfully progressive and hard to swallow. It was an idea introduced to us by our therapist, who helped us architect our new future. I was intrigued, less by the phrase, but by the sentiment.

“Was there a world where we could break up and not lose everything? Could we be a family, even though we were not a couple? We decided to try.”

Paltrow said she was surprised by the reaction of her fans that greeted an announcement describing her break-up as “conscious uncoupling”.

Gwenyth said she was trembling before the announcement. “We knew that it would generate a lot of attention — a celebrity couple ending their relationship always does — but I never could have anticipated what came next. The public’s surprise gave way quickly to ire and derision. A strange combination of mockery and anger.

Frankly, the intensity of the response saw me bury my head in the sand deeper than I ever had in my very public life.”

She suggested that the public attitude to her was cyclical, and that people usually warmed to her ideas. “I introduce something unfamiliar, there’s a big reaction, before gradual cultural adoption,” she wrote.

Gwenyth said that she was still in love with parts of Martin, despite both their second marriages  “It’s OK to stay in love with the parts of your ex that you were always in love with. In fact, that’s what makes conscious uncoupling work.”

So, Tamara asked ‘How can we consciously uncouple?’

Thomas suggests “getting hold of your hot emotions”.

People will try to ‘rush to order’ but if you aren’t on top of your feelings, then you will make reactive decisions. The benefit is that you are able to benefit, not only yourself but your children as well.

“Set your kids up to win” and make sure that you can “love with an open free heart in the future”

Tamara also spoke with Emily, a child of divorce that impacted her entire childhood.

Emily explained that when she and her former partner decided to separate, they made a conscious choice to work through and retain positives from the family setup. They were determined to maintain the sense of stability that they had worked so hard to build.

“We had aspirations for our family life and a very clear vision for what we would like for our family moving forward”.

“There were certain things we enjoyed doing as a family like camping… so when we separated the idea was to retain those aspects of our family life that we cherished”.

“We also gave ourselves breathing space as individuals, as adults to move on, mature, have new romantic relationships”.

If you’d like to hear more about conscious uncoupling listen to the full podcast link here.


The Separation Guide aims to make separation and divorce simpler, more manageable and less stressful. To find out more about how one of our Network Members could support your separation, take our free 3-minute Q&A.

The information in our resources is general only. Consider getting in touch with a professional adviser if you need support with your legal, financial or wellbeing needs.