Conscious uncoupling

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"Conscious uncoupling" is a neologism used in the 21st century to refer to a relatively amicable marital divorce. The term was created by psychotherapist and author, Katherine Woodward Thomas and popularized by Gwyneth Paltrow in 2014, who used the phrase to describe her then-recent divorce.


Sociologist Diane Vaughan proposed an "uncoupling theory" in 1976. Vaughan saw the process where a relationship reaches a crossroads, when both parties realize that "everything went dead inside". It usually is followed by a lengthy phase, during which one of the partners (the "respondent") holds on to the failing relationship, in spite of unconsciously knowing that it is coming to the end.[1][2]

Vaughan perceived the process of the breakup affecting the initiator and respondent unevenly. While the breakup initiator 'has begun mourning the loss of the relationship',[3] the respondent has not. Vaughan suggests that 'to make their own transition out of the relationship, partners must redefine initiator and relationship negatively, legitimating the dissolution'.[4]

Vaughan proposed that 'getting out of a relationship includes a redefinition of self at several levels: in the private thoughts of the individual, between partners, and in the larger social context in which the relationship exists'.[5]

Vaughan sees the uncoupling process as finished when 'the partners have defined themselves and are defined by others as separate and independent of each other - when being partners is no longer a major source of identity'.[5]


In 2009 Katherine Woodward Thomas introduced "conscious uncoupling" as a five-step program which she offered as a calmer alternative to divorce, and began training and certifying coaches to take people through the conscious uncoupling process.[6] Her 2015 book Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After became a New York Times best-seller.

Gwyneth Paltrow popularized the terms "conscious uncoupling" and "uncoupling with clarity" to describe her divorce from Chris Martin.[7][8][9]


  1. ^ Vaughan, Diane (1986). Uncoupling - Turning Points in Intimate Relationships. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-679-73002-6. p. 81 and p. 218n
  2. ^ "BreakUp Status". Archived from the original on 2018-12-09. Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  3. ^ Vaughan, p. 60
  4. ^ Vaughan, p. 154
  5. ^ a b Vaughan, p. 6
  6. ^ Sadeghi, Habib. "Conscious Uncoupling".
  7. ^ Louis Degenhardt (2016-04-26), "What is conscious uncoupling?", The Guardian
  8. ^, Natalie Matthews. "What Gwyneth Paltrow's 'Conscious Uncoupling' really means". CNN. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  9. ^ Sadeghi, Dr; Sami, Dr (29 April 2019). "Uncoupling with Clarity by Dr. Habib Sadeghi & Dr. Sherry Sami". Retrieved 28 June 2019.

Further reading[edit]

Thomas, Katherine Woodward (2015). Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After. Harmony Books. p. 307. ISBN 978-0-553-44699-9.