Paltrow’s ‘conscious uncoupling’ gets tongues wagging

2014-03-27 12:36

New York – Like any world unto itself, Hollywood has its own lexicon. But Gwyneth Paltrow’s use of the term “conscious uncoupling” to describe her break-up with Chris Martin this week had even Hollywood veterans scratching their heads and reaching – metaphorically at least – for a dictionary.

Of course, there was snark, too. And, on the other hand, some real appreciation for the message and the way it was delivered – in a joint post from the actress and her rock-star husband on Paltrow’s lifestyle website, goop. (Which crashed from the traffic.)

But before we get to that, let’s start with the basics: What the heck does “conscious uncoupling” mean?

“I’ve never heard it, but it sounds like a phrase used by marriage therapists in Malibu,” quipped Janice Min, editor of The Hollywood Reporter.

Pretty close, actually. The term was coined by a Los Angeles therapist and author, Katherine Woodward Thomas, who has created a five-step “Conscious Uncoupling” online process – to “release the trauma of a break-up, reclaim your power and reinvent your life”.

Speaking from Costa Rica, where she travelled to write her second book called, not surprisingly, “Conscious Uncoupling”, Thomas said her goal was “to create a map for a couple to consciously complete a relationship – to have an honourable ending”.

Thomas said the assumption that people will have only one lifetime partner – and that anything else is a failure – comes from a time long ago when the lifespan was much shorter.

“I’m a fan of marriage, but I recognise that most people in their lives will have two to three long-time relationships – which means one to two break-ups. And so we need to learn how to do this better,” she said.

Thomas said she doesn’t know Paltrow, but applauded what she called her and Martin’s courage in the way they announced their break-up. “They’re modelling this for the world,” she said.

Not surprisingly, though, the reference evoked some snark in Hollywood and in Britain, where the couple is also based.

“What deluded tosh,” headlined a column in The Guardian, using slang for rubbish or nonsense. (Tosh perhaps, but the phrase actually made it to the House of Lords, Britain’s upper chamber of Parliament, where a Labour Party legislator referred to a political disagreement over university fees yesterday as “yet another example of the coalition’s conscious uncoupling”.)

Others, though, were touched by the message while noting how expertly it was managed from a public relations standpoint, with the news released late on a Tuesday after the celebrity weeklies had all closed their issues.

“It was very smart,” said Min, who is also a former editor of US Weekly. “By next week, there will be other news and they probably won’t be on the cover at all.” And the fact that the couple made the statement on Paltrow’s website gave them message control.

On the other hand, Min said: “I was touched, it really felt sincere. And it gave us more information than you normally get in these situations – revealing they’d been separated for a while. There was a sincerity here that you rarely see.”

Paltrow and Martin, the Coldplay frontman, have two children – Apple (9) and Moses (7) – so they have a strong reason to control the message.

“No child wants to see news of their parents’ break-up on the supermarket shelf,” Min noted. “It’s clear they love their children.”

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