04/01/2014 08:47 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Not Murder Your Ex

Simple rules we live by. Basic laws we insist upon.

Zucchini is pointless. Orchids are fantastic. Politics will mutilate your soul. If you are not frequently complaining of overworked exhaustion and sort of resent your job and your life, you are a failed American.

Conversely, if someone asks, "How are you?" and you smile warmly and say, "I feel great and life is amazing," something is clearly wrong with you and you should be shunned. I mean, obviously.

Breakups? Divorces? Vicious. Maybe even sociopathic. Ex-husbands/wives/lovers are, with rare exception, monsters, liars, destroyers of worlds. If you break up right -- that is, adhering to the fine American traditions of victimhood, jealousy and mistrust -- then you surely despise your former love, or at least secretly wish them a violent genital rash or a highly unpleasant death.

It's true, no? Divorce in particular, we've all been trained to believe, is nearly always malicious and stained with lawyers. We're Americans, after all: We relish emotional bloodshed. Animosity is essential. Cruelty, even better. It says so on TV.

2014-04-02-breakup.jpgDon't believe it? Want to try something different? A kinder and more thoughtful, conscious way through? Good luck with that. You're an idiot and a fool.

Or, you're Gwyneth Paltrow.

Did you hear? Turns out Paltrow and her husband, Coldplay singer Chris Martin, are separating after a decade of marriage and two perky kids. What a shame. And so on.

But this is not the news. The news is that Paltrow dared to unleash a hateful new phrase upon the wary world in her announcement of the split, indicating the modality, the way in which she and Martin are going about their celebrity separation.

She said, "I am right now chopping up my two children with a chainsaw." No, wait -- that's not right. That's just what it seemed like she said, given the outpouring of bile she received. She actually said her and Martin's split was to be a "conscious uncoupling."

And thus did rain down upon her pretty blonde head a thundering bout of collective eye-rolling from here to the British tabloids, a firehose of disgust and vitriol not seen since, well, the last celebrity dared say something not to acceptable script.

The reaction was swift and bizarrely nasty. The nerve! It's not enough to be rich and famous, marry a rock star and have two perfect kids and a touchy-feely website and an Oscar and get to kiss Robert Downey Jr. in blockbuster movies all the time. Now even your divorce is better than anyone else's? How very precious.

This was the savage outcry. Thankfully, the New York Times stepped in to unleash its awesome powers of investigative research to locate the sweet pop psychotherapist (Katherine Woodward Thomas, chilling out in Costa Rica at the time the story broke) who coined "conscious uncoupling" a few years ago, borrowing it from her ex husband when they divorced; it was then apparently swiped by two of Paltrow's "spiritual advisers" on her website,, who say they got it from a flower petal unicorn daydream orgasm goddess workshop. Or something.

Doesn't matter. Go read about it if you like. Thomas' book deal is already pending and the phrase can take its own path to fame and imminent overuse.

But let's just admit one thing outright: Regardless of source -- and let's be clear; the practice of compassion and consciousness in love and relationship far precedes self-help/pop psychology -- I found "conscious uncoupling" completely fantastic, refreshing, contrarian, a big F-you to the inherent toxicity "breakup culture" lives by.

Roll your eyes all you want. But to separate with something resembling awareness, respect, love? To try and remove victimization and whiny, poor-me-ism from the equation? To see the other for their humanity and their offering? Yeah, sounds terrible.

Hey, it ain't easy. I know the prickly fun to be had wallowing...

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Mark Morford is an award-winning columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate, the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, and the creator of the Mark Morford's Apothecary iOS app. He's also a well-known yoga instructor at San Francisco's Yoga Tree, and the creator of the Yoga for Writers series of workshops and retreats. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...