Paltrow-Martin 'conscious uncoupling' confounds

Last updated 10:59 27/03/2014

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin call it quits on their marriage.

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Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin separate

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The phrase "conscious uncoupling" - referring to the split announced on Tuesday by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin after more than 10 years of marriage and two children - has academics and social scientists buzzing.

The announcement from the Oscar-winning actress and Grammy-winning singer came on a blog post titled "Conscious Uncoupling" on her lifestyle website Goop. "We have been working hard for well over a year, some of it together, some of it separated, to see what might have been possible between us," the post reads, "and we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate."

The phrase is also used by New Age psychotherapist and author Katherine Woodward Thomas of Los Angeles. Thomas' website offers a five-week online course in "Conscious Uncoupling" that promises to "release the trauma of a break-up, reclaim your power & reinvent your life" for US$297.

Psychiatrist Gail Saltz, an associate professor at The New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine in New York City, says the terminology isn't mainstream yet but it may help a couple cope with breaking up.

"It is a nicer way of saying, 'We're getting a divorce,' because it sounds prettier," she says. "It does provide further explanation for their particular situation - which is 'we worked on it and came to a mutual decision we're not staying together' and it's in a shorter number of words, which is good for media. It's semantics but in a nice little package."

Paltrow's blog post also noted their commitment to privacy and concern about their children, daughter Apple, 9, and son Moses, 7.

"We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and coparent, we will be able to continue in the same manner," the post ends.

Scott Stanley, co-director of the Centre for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, said he's not familiar with the particulars of "conscious uncoupling" but the phrase is consistent with efforts around the country to overhaul the divorce process - "that if you're divorcing, to do it more effectively with regard to protecting the children and creating the least amount of psychological damage".

"The goal is to help them be more effective co-parents," he says. "It is a pretty broad-based movement to help people be better parents together and not do a lot of damage when their marriage is ending."

Dr Saltz says her biggest concern is that the catchy phrase is not a model for all.

"'Uncoupling' sounds much cleaner than divorce," she says. "If people like that celebrity and buy into something that really might be pabulum - as in an online course that ... will take your chaotic, traumatic, dysfunctional situation and at the end of five weeks, it look like 'conscious uncoupling' -- I'm sure their business is going to go through the roof. It really concerns me. People who are in trouble should get real help and real help does not take five weeks."

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