Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

April 4, 2014

Divorce: Grieve while unwinding

— — Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and singer Chris Martin recently announced in an unusual statement that they were consciously “uncoupling.” The statement was released on Paltrow’s lifestyle website, Goop, before the entire family went off to seclusion on the other side of the world — which was a smart move done for the kids, really the most compassionate move made since naming their poor daughter Apple.

Look, I approve of the concept of conscious uncoupling — a kinder and gentler way of separating or divorcing. I think parents who’ve decided they can’t be married should play nice. According to a New York Times article, the phrase was reportedly coined by Katherine Woodward Thomas, a 56-year-old psychotherapist and author, who has never met Ms. Paltrow and doesn’t know if she enrolled in Thomas’ $297 five-week online course about how to consciously uncouple, a phrase created and given to Thomas by a friend.

According to the article, the process of conscious uncoupling involves breathing exercises and a lot of self-reflection to “break up victimization,” as Ms. Thomas said. I like the sound of breathing, self-reflection and aspiring “to a better way in ending their unions.”

However, my problem is with Paltrow, who fancies herself a sophisticated lifestyle guru, media maven and “Glee” guest star. She appears to be marketing a pleasant, New Age phrase while soft-selling the serious act of dismantling her marriage and family, a life-altering decision, as if it’s an attractive lifestyle tip for Goop subscribers also looking for the best yoga pants or healthy chicken recipe. Please, simply call it what it is — a separation or divorce, which will likely bring unavoidable pain and hurt to all involved — and honor it in those traditional Old Age terms. A spoon full of sugar won’t make this Goop go down any easier, Gwyn.

When I write about grief and mourning, I hear from many readers who can relate. Some have lost a child (to suicide, accident or disease), others have lost another loved one, and still others are dealing with the aching loss of the family they planned, created, and saw end in divorce. “It’s not the same thing...” the reader begins apologetically as they briefly share the pain of their broken family. I always say, don’t apologize ... your loss is your loss, your grief is your grief. That marriage and the family you pictured has also passed away, so don’t apologize for my grief resonating with your grief. I understand you are mourning, as well.

There is no doubt a child’s death puts a unique strain on a marriage and family. In a blog article called “The Effects of the Death of a Child on a Marriage,” licensed marriage and family therapist Jean Galica describes it as if each family were a “huge ball of yarn, each member a different colored strand woven and wound together. When one member dies, the entire ball must be unwound, the strand removed, and the ball then needs to be put back together and rewound.” Galica says the ball can never be recreated exactly as before because “the members feel as if they have been ripped apart, unwound, which creates tension and conflict. Crisis begets crisis and the greatest stress is put on the marital dyad.”

One can find a lot of misinformation and incorrect statistics about marriages dying after a child does. The Compassionate Friends (TCF), an international support network for parents and families who’ve lost a child, conducted a 2006 survey that determined the divorce rate among bereaved parents is much lower than statistics published in the 1970s and 1980s and may actually be lower than the general population. According to the TCF survey, among the 12 percent of parents who divorced, only one out of four of them felt “the impact of the death of their child contributed to their divorce.”

My husband and I have made a very conscious decision to walk this very difficult journey together — while also allowing each other to walk separately on our own grieving schedule with our own style — but we are always, always, in the trenches together. We will continue to wind together that ball of yarn, using the tools we’ve consistently relied on — honesty, communication, respect, compassion and intentional fun. We will continue to rely on love at the very core.

A family going through divorce may be another kind of ball of yarn — less drastic than death, obviously — but still unwinding and then rewinding. I have seen some couples handle divorce or separation beautifully. Especially notable are those people who choose to have a “family home,” where the children stay full time while the man and woman who decided they didn’t want to live together anymore don’t. They move in and out, swapping weekends or over-night visits, instead of moving the children. I’m sure there are complications and downsides but, at least during the transition, this is a compassionately brilliant way to “consciously uncouple.”

Gwyneth and Chris have plenty of homes to choose from so I hope they employ this practice but I also hope they can be realistic and honest with their children, allowing everyone in the family to grieve its unwinding.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

 

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