When Gwenyth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced their intention to ‘consciously uncouple’ earlier in 2014, it was not their divorce that captured public attention, but the unusual phrasing. However, the real news that never makes the headlines is not who or how many couples ‘consciously uncouple’ or divorce, but how many don’t.
Any couple who stays together more than a decade by necessity is doing what we could call ‘conscious REcoupling’. As we well know, people change. We go through good and bad times personally, we grow and we sometimes regress. As a couple, our family dynamic changes as we pass through various phases and stages – setting up home, trying to get pregnant, sleep-deprived babyhood, young family chaos, teenage angst, elder care, career changes, illness, moving house, up and downsizing, mid-life dramas and empty nest adjustments.
Our lives as individuals and couples are always shifting and evolving. If couples don’t recreate their marriages around their changing life circumstances, they can easily drift apart and eventually end up living parallel lives. They become more like flatmates than lovers. Their focus and attention shifts off each other onto the children, the career, the renovations, the next holiday, the latest anxiety.
This is often the root cause of relationship breakdown. Whatever the causes, the thing that really energises our arguments is not the topic as much as our underlying ‘loss of connection’. In fact, author and therapist Sue Johnson says that couple arguments are “a protest against disconnection”. In other words, the subtext of most of our arguments is a complaint that we feel irrelevant, alone and unloved in the relationship. The topic of the argument might be one of the children or someone’s bad habit, but it only escalates from a disagreement to an argument when we feel disconnected, disrespected and unloved.
The thing is, without a conscious and intentional reconfiguring regularly throughout marriage, the natural trajectory will be increasing disconnection and distance. For many couples, the ache of this distance eventually overwhelms them and the mere presence of the other, the one they so urgently long to be close to, instead becomes an unbearable reminder of their pain. Soon, they are so sensitive that even an unintentional and innocent gesture from the other can trigger another angry spat.
The good news is that most couples actually do consciously recouple, multiple times. An amazing 68% of married people in Australia are still in their first marriages.
So take heart! If your marriage is feeling like it’s in decline, it might be time to consciously recouple. Sometimes it is easier than others, especially if it is undertaken before the distance gets too entrenched. At other times, couples need to be more proactive. This is one reason why we are so passionate about marriage education. A couple retreat or relationship education course can provide an important and safe stimulus for the recoupling process. And for couples locked in a downward trend, they can be a life-saving circuit breaker.