Stop Making Fun of Gwyneth and ‘Conscious Uncoupling’: Sexual Healing


ColumnI enjoy a good laugh at the expense of GOOP and Gwyneth Paltrow as much as the next person; it’s fairly irresistible material. After GP announced her breakup with Chris Martin this week, terming it “conscious uncoupling,” there was a viral pile-on of inevitable Paltrow-bashing  — but this is one bandwagon I’m not hopping on.

The now-infamous GOOP post about Martin and Paltrow’s impending divorce is embarrassingly New Age-y and steeped in various Chopra-isms, but before we throw “conscious uncoupling” out with the Italian Sparkling Mineral Water, let’s unpack what it really means. Of course, all the talk of insects and exoskeletons in the post made my exoskeleton crawl. Question for another day: Why do people insist on trying to fit everything they feel, do, see and experience into a version of the Paleo diet?

I know its hard, but let’s stop cracking jokes at Paltrow’s expense and look at our own messy lives for a moment. In many ways “conscious uncoupling” is simply shorthand for breaking up without completely breaking down (or breaking your ex-partner’s head, window, or stereo system – take your pick). It’s separating your lives without including all the ugliness we associate with divorce. It may seem nearly impossible to uncouple with grace, perhaps because we all watched “Kramer vs. Kramer” one too many times. Yet breaking up with a partner doesn’t require a war footing – even if you have good reasons to be angry at your ex.

To me, the root of “conscious uncoupling” is less about endings than it is about beginnings. If there is consciousness at the start, there is likely to be more groundedness and wisdom at the (inexorable) end. To me, conscious uncoupling is a doorway to unlearning everything you’ve ever been taught about love, romance, sex and the way relationships are forged. It’s about disentangling yourself from the complete rom-com-ification of your psyche — knowing that your life is not a fairy tale, and that finding your “one and only” is not your life’s purpose. Most of all, it’s about becoming less binary, and truly understanding why we’re not really built for monogamy. (Note to Gwyneth: this has little to do with grasshoppers.)

Perhaps our addiction to the dramatic, angry, vengeful breakup stems from our deeply misguided conception of love itself. Marriage, that sacred institution, will continue in an endless loop toward the inevitable fifty percent divorce rate if we continue to seek mates the way our ancestors did (and I don’t mean our Paleolithic ones). After all, marriage is a merely a convention – an apparatus birthed by capitalism that indicates ownership of property. We’re choosing our own partners now (at least we think we are – I’d argue that consumerism plays a huge role in our mating dance) but we’re still enmeshed in the constructs and contracts of the Victorian Age.

And as much as we’ve advanced since the first sexual revolution of the 1960s, relationships are one arena in which we’ve made much less progress than we think we have. Sure, women aren’t chattel anymore, but we continue to announce betrothals with engagement rings, a blingy down payment on a future sex partner. Considering the way we treat sex workers, it’s rather interesting that few balk at the idea of men symbolically buying their future brides with diamonds. Just sayin’.

These are institutionalized conventions that we haven’t shed yet, and it may be a while before we do. Before we can leave the antiquated concept of marriage to the annals of history, we have to first make it legal for all humans – we’re at least working towards that. Besides, it’s helpful for filing taxes.

I know I mention “Sex at Dawn” ad naseum in this column, but the poly community has a lot to teach us about jealousy, ego, and co-dependence – the downfall of many a short and long-term relationship. There’s a term often used in the poly community called “compersion” defined on Wikipedia as: “… an empathetic state of happiness and joy experienced when another individual experiences happiness and joy.” So instead of feeling jealous when our partner experiences pleasure from a source other than us, we feel pleasure derived from their pleasure.

Think about that for a moment. Do you feel joy when your partner does? Or does the idea of your lover experiencing happiness unrelated to your body, your ideas or thoughts or worldview, make you a little bit uncomfortable? What all of this really comes down to is that in an ideally balanced world, one where “consciousness” is not just a buzzword, we’d embark on relationships already whole. It is when we take our broken selves and try to solder them back together via a relationship that we fail. Not that we need to be whole before experiencing love — that would mean that very few of us would get the chance to be in relationships, as wholeness is a lifelong project.

The issue here, and the one embedded in the concept of “conscious uncoupling,” is that wholeness can only come from within. No partner can make you whole, even if you temporarily believe that to be the case. If you seek validation (sexual or otherwise) from others — you’ll always come crashing back to down to Earth, utterly defeated. Instead, the life-project, the bucket-list item, should not be “finding love” unless it starts with finding authentic self-love first.

We are fixated on forever, and we need to loosen our grip. Some of us will find and partner with people who will be our life-long loves. Some will even manage to have a thriving sex life for decades, even though this is quite rare. Some will be intentional serial monogamists (like me). Some would rather be alone, either after a long marriage, or no marriage at all. So let us go forward consciously coupling, uncoupling, and whatever comes in between. As long as we know that nothing is, or should be, forever.

Got a question for Stefanie? Email stefanie at ecosalon dot com and she’ll answer it in the next Sexual Healing column.

Keep in touch with Stefanie on Twitter: @ecosexuality

Related on EcoSalon

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 Image via Wikimedia

Stefanie Iris Weiss

Stefanie Iris Weiss is the author of nine books, including her latest title–Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable (Crown Publishing/Ten Speed Press, 2010). She keeps her carbon footprint small in New York City, where she writes about sustainability, sexuality, reproductive rights, dating and relationships, politics, fashion, beauty, and more. Stefanie is a regular contributor to British Elle, and has written for Above Magazine, Nerve, The Daily Green, Marie Claire, EcoSalon and Teen Vogue, to name a few. Her HuffPost blog is sometimes controversial. Stefanie is an on-and-off adjunct professor when not busy writing and teaching about sustainable love. A vegetarian and eco-activist since her teen years, Stefanie has made her passion into her work, and she wouldn't want it any other way. She believes that life is always better when there's more pleasure, and sustainable satisfaction is the best kind. Learn more about her various projects at and follow her on Twitter: @ecosexuality.