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Conscious (Re) Coupling: What remarrying my ex taught me about anger, forgiveness, and redemption.

by Meagan Francis on March 30, 2014

Every Sunday morning I share a moment from my week and something it illustrated about motherhood, family life, or simply being human. I invite you to set aside a moment out of your weekend for reflection and join me for Sunday Morning Tea. -Meagan

holding hands

This week the world was abuzz with the news that Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband Chris Martin are divorcing, announced in what many folks on my social networks seemed to feel was the most obnoxious divorce announcement of all time. The actual notice was brief, vague, and, I thought, classy. But Gwyneth’s choice to title the post “Conscious Uncoupling” – and to follow the announcement with a lengthy description of what conscious uncoupling is and why it’s better than plain-old divorce – definitely rubbed people the wrong way.

I clicked through to the post expecting to be irritated, but reading the accompanying article – which I think it’s important to point out, was written by Dr. Habib Sadeghi & Dr. Sherry Sami, not Gwyneth herself – I actually was surprised by how much of it resonated with me.

I’m not sure I can get behind the idea they seem to be presenting that the human race has evolved past lifelong monogamy – I believe we are more adaptable and capable of long-term commitment than the article suggests – but I definitely agreed with their premise that much of the anger that surrounds divorce is caused by shame and guilt, that we lash out at the other person so strongly because we believe the dissolution of a relationship must equal failure. And the deeper we retreat to protect ourselves from a perceived battle, the more bitter and angry and even meaner we get. 

I certainly experienced that when Jon and I separated and divorced. If you know the end of the story, you know that we eventually reconciled, remarried – recoupled, if you will – and have been back together now for over a decade, with more children, strong, solid, and with all the promises of “happily ever after” that this uncertain life can offer.

dad, mom and new baby
But not as many people know the middle of the story – what happened in the relatively brief, intense window between the final court date and the moment we decided to recommit, once and for all. I may never write about some parts of it: it’s not only my story to tell, and as a writer, finding that balance between telling the whole story and being protective of myself and the people in my life is tricky and takes time to suss out. But suffice it to say, it was ugly. Ugly and angry in all the most clichéd ways, and some surprising ones, too. 

So when we decided to get back together, Jon and I had to make a choice of sorts. We could either go to therapy and spend hours hashing out what we did to one another and why, or we could recognize that we both knew why, close the door on that period of our lives, and move forward with the unspoken promise that it would never happen again.

We chose the second path.

It’s not that I had anything against therapy, mind you. I’d benefitted from the wise words and sometimes, quiet listening and endless tissue box of several counselors over the years, and I have no doubt that being able to talk – and talk and talk and talk – about how things had gone wrong: exactly where my life, and his life, and our lives together had derailed, was extremely helpful.

And though Jon’s never exactly been the therapy sort, I know he’d done his own talking, and listening – whether to friends or his parents or his pastor – and had his own Come to Jesus moment, just like me. 

So we chose another path. Though we didn’t verbalize it at the time, it soon became clear that our road to relationship recovery was built on a kind of radical, no-holds-barred forgiveness.

Radical forgiveness meant wiping the slate clean. It meant knocking down all shaky foundations and re-building. It was a sort of collective, affected amnesia about all the awful things we’d said and done in the fallout of our breakup. And because we had been divorced, and because divorce makes people do all kinds of crazy things, there was plenty to forgive and forget.

No, of course we didn’t actually forget. That would be foolish. We need to have it there, somewhere in the recesses of our minds, as a reminder that there are places we will never again go. 

And in some ways, the knowledge that it happened and the process of moving past it made adults of both of us, gave us more compassion for each other and those around us, forced us both to recognize that we are deeply flawed and yet worthy of love. It was the most painful time of my life. But I wouldn’t trade it for a smoother breakup or an easier dissolution. It made me who I am – made us who we are. 

Sure, it would be lovely if everyone facing a breakup could go through it “consciously” as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin are attempting to do. And you know what? I think it’s admirable, honestly, to try to find a new way to see through the end of a relationship, without clinging to defensive anger and treating the court room as a battleground.

For many couples facing divorce, though, I just think it’s not terribly realistic. We go about our lives, we feed the kids, we go to work, we pay the bills and get the oil changed in the car, and sometimes at the end all we have time and energy for is feeling the way we actually feel, not the way somebody else tells us we should.

I look back to the day I took the kids, piled them in our little red station wagon, and drove 500 miles across four states so that we could move in with my sister. I was angry. I was hurt. I was uncertain about my future. And if somebody, at that point, had suggested to me that I be more “conscious” in my uncoupling, that person might have gotten a sharp kick in the shins.

But I’ve seen how relatively simple it can be to dissolve that anger and hurt later, when both people want to. When you’re too exposed, too tired to keep up those walls and defenses. Or when it’s just been so long, you’ve forgotten why you put them up in the first place.

You can go to the point of wondering whether an alien has replaced the person you loved, and later, love that person again. You can get to the brink of the end of a marriage, stand on the end of that pier with your toes dangling over the edge, and still manage to dodge the wave that would have knocked you off. 

Jon and I didn’t manage a “conscious uncoupling.” We were too busy trying to keep our heads above the water to even think about doing it another way. But we created a very conscious re-coupling, based on forgiving and rebuilding. I like to think that, even if we’d not decided to recouple, we still would have “reconciled” by forgiving and moving on as friends.

We all find our own paths. Some people spend hours learning how to “consciously uncouple” and let a marriage end peacefully – at least from the outside looking in. Some hunker down when the going gets tough, riding out the rough parts with gritted teeth, drawing their commitment from the seriousness of marriage vows when they’re having a hard time feeling committed to their actual partners.

And some of us just light a match and toss it over our shoulder as we walk away, bridges exploding in the background. 

But no matter who we are, no matter what we choose or how consciously we “uncouple,” at some point we all hurt the people we love. At some point we all make mistakes. And while not all relationships can or should be rekindled, I’ve learned that you can behave badly and still find redemption. You can find it in your heart to offer redemption to those who’ve behaved badly to you. Even if you blew up the bridge, you can find a way to move forward, whatever “forward” looks like to you.

To me? That’s true romance, and about as conscious as it gets. 

Thanks for spending your Sunday morning with me! If you’ve missed them, you can catch up on more Sunday Morning Tea posts right here.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Stefanie Taylor March 30, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Thought this was a really well thought out, beautiful article. Just the right amount of sharing :) although I’d love to hear more.

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Kathy Weir March 30, 2014 at 2:25 pm

I am crying. It’s new, it’s real, like your other writing. It’s smarter than the experts, it’s honest and rational and has a wisdom usually acquired over 50 or 60 yrs. It taught me, it moved me. That picture is so beautiful. I agree with you 100%. I hope you can share this with as many people as possible. Society suffers so much from the lack of peace in the home.

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Samantha Sophia March 31, 2014 at 3:24 am

Radical forgiveness, the husband and I know something about that. When we decided to do that, it saved us and the people we became were beautiful, in deeply love and happy.

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Heather March 31, 2014 at 8:21 am

I have a wonderful therapist who has helped me get through my own in-process -the state where I live has one of the longest waiting periods in the nation. Are you sure? Did you really mean to do this? No really, you should think about this more- divorce.
I was so terrified of how it would play out that I was miserable far longer than I should have been, but as we all know, there is no undo button. Life decisions of this magnitude are harder than we can imagine, but at the same time there isn’t always the intense, unbearable drama media has taught us to expect. But then, as my sister’s death taught me, sometimes there is.
I think what matters is that we have a say in how our life story unfolds. Taking control and making conscious choices doesn’t ensure an easy or happy life, but it seems it makes finding the path a bit more certain than drifting with the blows handed out by fate.

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Carla March 31, 2014 at 10:47 am

I hadn’t heard of the Paltrow conscious uncoupling until I read your blog. I’m fascinated that there is actually a name for how I’ve been trying to navigate my separation from my husband. Ours is more one sided, I’m consciously uncoupling & he on the other hand is choosing to be bitter & angry. I pray that someday he can get past it & we can be friends.

Your blog continues to amaze me… The topics you cover so often hit on exactly what is going on in my life. Keep up the great work!

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Kristen Forgione March 31, 2014 at 5:01 pm

This is SO well written, honest and admirable! I am in a loving and happy relationship with my hubby and hope and pray I will never need to reference this, but should it occur, I certainly will! WELL DONE! Let’s support, rephrase and reestablish our views and CHOICES as humans, specifically in relationships and get stronger! Again, bravo! I certainly enjoyed this read!

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Liz April 2, 2014 at 7:47 pm

Thank you for being so open, raw and giving by sharing your story. Such power and grace within your words. We can all benefit by being a bit more forgiving and making clear choices. This piece is full of great reminders, thank you for sharing!!

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