Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s much-loathed online lifestyle newsletter, crashed for hours on Wednesday as rubberneckers tried for a glimpse of a statement announcing the actress’s separation from Chris Martin after 10 years of marriage.
“In many ways we are closer than we have ever been,” read the statement, which came illustrated with a faded photograph of Paltrow and Martin, frontman of Coldplay, decked out and beaming on a lawn.
Beyond schadenfreude, critics were also curious about the lifestyle term Paltrow had sprung on the world when she declared she and Martin would “consciously uncouple.”
Even as her life unravelled, the kale and flaxseed oil maven was still proffering a teachable moment to the plebes. She was also co-opting: Conscious uncoupling is an existing mode of therapy, now absorbed by the Goop brand and catapulted into the mainstream.
So what is “conscious uncoupling?”
In the same posting, Paltrow included a 2,000-word expert article about the therapy style, by Dr. Habib Sadeghi and Dr. Sherry Sami, a husband-and-wife physician and dentist. But conscious uncoupling is actually the brainchild of Los Angeles-based author and psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, who “awoke to a new way of separating” in 2010, during an unusually amicable divorce from her husband of 10 years.
“There was no out-of-control rage or obsessing over what I should or shouldn’t have done and no desire for revenge,” Thomas wrote on a website festooned with pink butterflies. “Instead ours was an incredibly loving, caring and contained experience. We were mindful of each other and what we were doing, and we created a loving space of understanding for our daughter.”
Based on that experience, Thomas now offers a five-week $297 (U.S) digital course for people going through breakups, called “Conscious Uncoupling: A Five-Week Program to Release the Trauma of a Breakup, Reclaim Your Power & Reinvent Your Life.” Approximately 2,000 people have taken her virtual courses; 50 coaches also work one-on-one with clients.
“It’s a new alternative to the often adversarial process of divorce,” Thomas said in an interview from Costa Rica. “In a world where more people divorce each year than buy new cars or eat grapefruit for breakfast, it’s time that we learn how to do this better.”
Instead of traditional breakups marked by animosity and self-loathing, Thomas prescribes “consciously completing a relationship.” This involves doing minimal damage to the ex in favour of “maintaining a sense of honour, appreciation and respect that really creates a lot of goodness.”
The five-step virtual courses include tips on avoiding resentment, the impulse for revenge, and people-pleasing behaviours. Thomas argues that breakups are “an underrated trauma.” She suggests developing a “kindness contract” with your ex-spouse and repeatedly uses the word “midwife” as a verb to describe her therapy, which can be done by both spouses or solo.
Is five weeks a tad ambitious for healing the dissolution of a marriage, or simply Paltrow-efficient? Thomas said people work at their own pace depending on what they’re dealing with. And although Paltrow is a polarizing figure whose unattainable edicts tend to enrage the masses, Thomas is thankful for the popularization of the term “conscious uncoupling” and for the free publicity. “[Paltrow] knew that she was going to come under some heat for it but she’s taken a stand,” she said.
Thomas said her own “honourable ending” with her former husband eased both of them back into new relationships while keeping intact their family, which includes a daughter. “He’s more like a brother than a husband. We do holidays together. We have no animosity between us and in fact we support each other.”
Maybe Paltrow will have a sibling in Coldplay soon.