Is it just me, or does this seem ludicrous to anyone else? Apparently there is a history with this new psychobabble phrase. In 1976 sociologist Diane Vaughn formulated “uncoupling theory.” This has been picked up by others such as marriage and family therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas who popularized the idea with her five week Conscious Uncoupling program. The claim is this program helps you “reclaim your power and reinvent your life” and “step into your highest vision of yourself.”
Really? Too much pressure for anyone? That is surprising to learn. Laurie and I have been married for more than 34 years, and neither of us would describe what we have experienced as pressure. In fact, it has been as far from pressure as I can imagine. It has been joyful and freeing, and it is better today than ever. So are we not included in the “anyone”? Apparently we are something other than human. I wonder what species that makes us? Perhaps we are the exception to the rule, but then I look around and see millions of people who have made a lifelong commitment to a spouse and have made it work. Would this not suggest that the idea of being married to one person for life is not, in fact, too much pressure?
Divorce can be distressingly painful, and what some of these people are doing is trying to make it less devastating. That is a compassionate motive, no doubt. However, some of their thinking is profoundly flawed. For instance, the statement that if you expect to be married several times in your life then divorce is to be expected is most certainly true. It is almost inevitable. The problem is, if you expect to be married several times then you have by definition never made a lifelong commitment to be married to one person. Essentially you have left the back door of the marriage open and pretty much guaranteed you will take it.
A couple of thoughts are important here. For one thing, trust is the foundation of a good marriage. Real intimacy, real oneness, which we all long for, absolutely requires a sense of safety. But one will never feel safe in a relationship with a person who has that back door open. No matter what you call it, whether divorce or “conscious uncoupling,” if a person you love bails out on you to seek greener pastures elsewhere, it hurts badly. Even knowing that’s a possibility absolutely obliterates trust, thus making real intimacy hopeless. If a person expects to be married several times in life, he or she will neverexperience the real freedom, intimacy and joy that marriage is intended to provide because that person will necessarily hold back, trying to protect himself or herself. It is the lifelong commitment to one person that these “experts” say is impossible that turns out to be the necessary bedrock of a fulfilling marriage.
Another important thought has to do with the nature of love. It is telling that those who espouse the “conscious uncoupling” idea say it makes it possible for one to “reclaim your power” and reach “your highest vision of yourself.” The key word here is “you.” You can have more power, you can fulfill your vision of yourself.” In other words, it’s about you taking care of you. The commonly acknowledged greatest description of love ever written is found in 1 Corinthians 13. One of the things we see about love in that passage is that it is not self-seeking. The simple reality is that a person who is focused on his or her power, on his or her own vision of self, is not loving. Love is about sacrifice. It is about giving up self to seek the good of the beloved. And that is where the whole “conscious uncoupling” scheme is unmasked. What has happened is someone has decided to look out for self rather than serve another. That is not love, and it is totally destructive to a relationship.
I understand the desire to help people through the pain of divorce. However, if we undermine trust by refusing to make the total commitment marriage requires, if we refuse to love by giving up self to serve, all we do is condemn ourselves to the inevitably of more of that pain. We all long for true love, true intimacy and oneness with another human being. But that is built on commitment, trust, denial of self and serving the beloved.