When Warren and I first met at work in 2002, he commented on the state of my desk. There were no pictures or personal knick-knacks. Other than work papers and my jacket hanging on the back of my chair, it was as if no one regularly occupied the space. He joked that if I ever decided to leave, I could just pick up my purse and walk out the door, no muss, no fuss.
I not-so-jokingly replied that that was my M.O. in life.
When we got married, he always felt like I was too focused on the negative and always prepared to bolt at the first sign of trouble. He kept thinking back to my clean desk at work and saw that I’d set up our home with the same easy exit plan.
It surprises me now how well he could read what I thought was a carefully hidden agenda.
As the phrase “conscious uncoupling” has entered the lexicon and we revisited our own stormy past in the writing of our latest book, Warren recently told me:
I don’t think you ever consciously coupled with me in those first few years of marriage.
You know what? He’s right. My exit plan was always top of mind, and it wasn’t until we “consciously coupled” that I finally stopped wanting to bolt.
Breakup Advice That’s Good for Staying Together
In the last few weeks Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have been in the news about their celebrity divorce. They’ve decided to manage their separation with a method called “conscious uncoupling.” The psychotherapist who coined this phrase explains “conscious uncoupling” as:
- “[A] breakup that is characterized by goodwill, by generosity and by respect.”
- Leaving “both parties feeling valued and appreciated for all that is shared.”
- And “striving to reduce the damage to themselves and their children, if there are children involved.”
Sounds like a healthy breakup, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want that kind of respect and understanding as they untangled their lives?
But I can’t stop thinking about those same concepts and applying them to an existing relationship, to making it work instead of easing the breakup.
- A relationship characterized by goodwill, generosity and respect
- Both parties feeling valued and appreciated for all that is shared
- Striving to reduce the damage (and increase the satisfaction) to themselves and their children, if there are children involved
That’s what we did back in 2006, and it saved our relationship and strengthened it to the point we could eventually plan and take a trip around the world. Without that work back then, we’d never be enjoying the life we have now.
In fact, I know without a doubt we’d be divorced.
How We Consciously Coupled
We finally arrived at a juncture in our marriage where we had to choose: do we work on this, or do we walk away? And it was damn hard not to just walk away. Remember, I’m the commitment-phobe who was ready to pick up my purse and leave, no muss, no fuss, and Warren is the guy who doesn’t believe in regrets.
Thankfully, we’re both egotistical and driven enough to not want to admit failure if we can help it, so we chose to give it one last shot.
Though we didn’t phrase it this way at the time, we flipped the idea of conscious uncoupling and turned it toward strengthening our relationship instead of letting it go.
- We admitted what was wrong and gave each other the safe space to say what was necessary without judgement. Warren told me my constant threat of leaving made it hard to commit to me. I told him his efforts at controlling me made me feel smothered. Finally we understood how our default attitudes were working together to damage our relationship.
- Then we apologized to each other for all the jerky ways we each negatively impacted our relationship. I told him I was sorry for my negativity about our life and for making him feel so unstable because of my lack of commitment. He apologized for trying to make me into something I was not and micromanaging our life.
- We reiterated our love for each other and our commitment for making it work. Thinking about why we fell in love in the first place was a good starting point for the next step.
- Then we made an actual paper list of all the things we didn’t like about our relationship and lifestyle and worked out a plan to reduce the negatives and add in the positives. We wanted less work and more play. More sex and less fighting. More trust and less suspicion. And then we listed out all the ways we could make that happen in real, everyday situations. It was a blueprint to regaining the satisfaction we were missing.
- Finally, we committed to doing the actions on that list and recreating our life and relationship to be something we both valued and protected.
That was the start to our conscious coupling, and it saved our relationship from divorce. We strengthened our bond enough to move cross-country to start over again with a lifestyle we both wanted. And from there the growing trust and respect made it possible for us to say yes to the idea of traveling the world together when faced with reminders of our own mortality just a couple of years later.
Conscious coupling is what continues to help us run a business together, write books, and even buy the house in Spain this year. It helped us lose a combined 85 pounds and regain our health. It helped us navigate deaths of people close to us and manage setbacks no life is immune from.
And while I understand some relationships have run their course and it’s time to move on, I can’t help but think any couple that is still in a good enough place to undergo “conscious uncoupling” could benefit from “conscious coupling” first.
We certainly did. And it’s made every other good thing in our relationship possible.
Want to read more about how we turned it around enough to travel the world together? Download the first chapter of our new book. And don’t forget your chance to win two first-class global passes from Eurail to take your own tour of Europe. Be sure to enter by May 14!