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What Is 'Conscious Uncoupling'? Experts Unpack Gwyneth Paltrow's Split Announcement

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GWYNETH PALTROW
Gwyneth Paltrow arrives at the premiere of "Thanks for Sharing" at the ArcLight Hollywood on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP) | Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

Even when it comes to divorce, Gwyneth Paltrow is an aspirational lifestyle brand.

When the actress announced her separation from husband and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin on Tuesday, she described it as a "conscious uncoupling." The phrase conjures up that en vogue mindfulness trend of the moment and frames divorce as simply a matter of gentle unlinking, as opposed to a hostile break.

The announcement, posted on Paltrow's lifestyle site Goop.com, ran alongside an essay about "conscious uncoupling" written by Drs. Habib Sadeghi and Sherry Sami, who specialize in integrating Eastern and Western medicine. Sadeghi and Sami argue that expectations for a lifelong marriage need to evolve along with humans' expanded life expectancy, and that a successful marriage could be redefined not by how long it lasts, but how meaningful and fulfilling the relationship is for both partners.

Divorce and legal experts say that the phrase "conscious uncoupling" could also signal a non-combative, collaborative way to think about the divorce process, especially as it relates to children.

To psychotherapist M. Gary Neuman, a Florida-based marriage expert and creator of the Neuman Method, "conscious uncoupling" acknowledges that the couple is the center of the family and is often seen as single unit to the children. Uncoupling from your partner is essentially de-centering the family -- an act that will have a profound, lifelong effect on children, no matter how it's done, Neuman said.

"Children don't necessarily see their parents as two individual entities attached by the institution of marriage," said Neuman in an interview with the Huffington Post. "They come to see their parents as one parental unit -- mom and dad as one collective team."

Paltrow and Martin have two young children together, whom the couple committed to "coparent" in their separation announcement. Neuman isn't affiliated with Paltrow's family and does not know about the details of their relationship, but he praised the couple for what seemed to be an early effort to consider their children's feelings above all else.

"You can't do better for your child than staying happily married," Neuman said. "Nonetheless, when people 'consciously uncouple,' it means we're going to have a clear awareness about how this is going to affect the children going forward."

From a legal standpoint, "conscious uncoupling" could also signal Paltrow and Martin's desire to engage in a collaborative, not combative, divorce, said Toronto-based family lawyer Nathalie Boutet, who does not know the couple but commented on their case to HuffPost.

"Collaborative law is not new at all," Boutet said. "It's a very evolved, mature way of resolving disputes." More and more people are opting for amicable, collaborative divorces because they want to avoid unnecessary conflict and the kind of legal combat that only prolongs and makes public the negotiations, explained Boutet. Indeed, privacy was an expressly stated wish in the celebrity pair's separation announcement.

But "conscious uncoupling" could go beyond the legal process, said Boutet. For Paltrow and Martin, it could mean a commitment to refrain from trashing each other in the newspapers or social media. Above all, it's about respect for each other's well-beings, careers and reputations.

"[Conscious uncoupling] is simply thinking about the consequences of your actions," concluded Boutet. "It's making plans rather than reacting to emotions like fear, anger or revenge."

Only time will tell how Paltrow and Martin's decision to "consciously uncouple" will pan out. But if they're successful, those details won't make it to the online pages of the Huffington Post.

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