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 Katherine Woodward Thomas in 2009 as a five-step process to support the conscious completion of an intimate relationship and popularized by Gwyneth Paltrow in 2014, who used the phrase to describe her then-recent divorce.


Starting in the early 1940s the word "uncoupling" became a term for divorce.[1]

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's coming to the end.[2][3]

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',[4] 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'.[5]

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'.[6]

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'.[6]


In 2009 Katherine Woodward Thomas introduced "conscious uncoupling" as a five-step program which she offered as a calmer alternative to divorce, and began educating people about it worldwide. She also began training and certifying coaches to take people through the conscious uncoupling process.[1]

Gwyneth Paltrow popularized the term to describe her divorce from Chris Martin.[7] In 2014, when Paltrow made the news about her divorce public, she invited her doctors Habib Sadeghi and his wife, Sherry Sami, to explain the process. Sadeghi described a "conscious uncoupling is the ability to understand that every irritation and argument [within a marriage] was a signal to look inside ourselves and identify a negative internal object that needed healing".[8] The process was also labeled as "Uncoupling with Clarity".[9]

In 2015, Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After by Katherine Woodward Thomas, became a New York Times best-seller.


  1. ^ a b Sadeghi, Habib. "Conscious Uncoupling".
  2. ^ Vaughan, Diane (1986). Uncoupling - Turning Points in Intimate Relationships. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-679-73002-6. p. 81 and p. 218n
  3. ^ "BreakUp Status". Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  4. ^ Vaughan, p. 60
  5. ^ Vaughan, p. 154
  6. ^ a b Vaughan, p. 6
  7. ^ Louis Degenhardt (2016-04-26), "What is conscious uncoupling?", The Guardian
  8. ^, By 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.