What is conscious uncoupling?

The phrase “conscious uncoupling” hit the news way back in 2014 – and it’s gradually started to change the way that a lot of couples approach divorce.

In short, conscious uncoupling is all about reframing your marriage and divorce as a journey and a growth process and realizing that it’s okay that things didn’t work out. In the process, it’s often possible for couples to find closure together and transition from partners to friends – or, at minimum, part amicably.

There are five steps in the process

The theory of conscious uncoupling was created by marriage therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, and she laid out a five-step process:

  1. Finding emotional freedom: This is all about learning to use your emotions, especially the negative ones, in a constructive way – rather than allowing your emotions to rule you. If you’re angry at your spouse’s emotional neglect, for example, you allow that to teach you what you won’t accept in future relationships. That way, anger becomes a tool for positive change.
  2. Recognizing your own contributions: In what way were you complicit in your own unhappiness? Did you ignore red flags in the relationship? Did you stop communicating your needs when they were unmet? What do you need to change to reclaim your own power?
  3. Looking for patterns: People often repeat patterns in relationships, so you need to examine the relationship that’s ending and see if it’s part of an unhealthy pattern of behavior or “history repeating itself” in some way so that you can recognize the opportunity for healing.
  4. Finding forgiveness: You need to forgive your spouse for their failings by recognizing that they, too, have unhealed emotional wounds that have affected your relationship. You also need to forgive yourself for any mistakes you made. 
  5. Choosing happiness: This looks different for everyone, but it basically means approaching your divorce with all the kindness you can. That may mean being generous about the property split, actively working toward renewing your friendship with your ex so that you can be better co-parents or simply wishing your ex the best from a distance.

When you want an amicable divorce, mediation can help. Learning more about the options can make the path forward a lot clearer.