CoupleDumb does not like to discuss the relationship issues of others. Recently, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced that they were separating. This caused a not-so-pretty rush of jokes and chuckling at what is a very sad reality of some relationships. The gist of the joke was that Gwyneth’s perfect marriage was now over. And to add fuel to the fire, they were not just breaking up but they were practicing Conscious Uncoupling. People leaped on this newfangled break up and cast it into the same heap as Gwyneth’s love of kale, Cioppino and juice cleanses. However, there is something to be said about conscious uncoupling; some good, some bad. This week we will take a critical look at this idea and is it worth a try.
First, the theory: Conscious Uncoupling is a theory developed by psychoanalyst Melanie Klein based on Object Relations Theory. Object Relations Theory is based in Psychodynamics which holds the foundational understanding that behavior and emotions are driven by conscious and unconscious motivations based on early experiences. In Object Relations, it is believed that infants relate to the world in terms of objects and their function. Mothers and fathers are the primary caregivers and the relationship with an infant will determine how the infant relates to other objects/people. So, if the function of the caregiver was to be present, affectionate and loving, the infant will relate to others in that manner as well. However, if the caregiver is inconsistent, cold and cruel, that will determine the means by which the infant will relate to others. These early relationships help individuals predict the behaviors of those around them. These predictions are called phantasy (yes, the “ph” is intentional). We spoke last week of attachment theory and Object Relations is the foundational ideas behind that theory as well.
Unlike the original Freudian idea that we are driven by our pleasure seeking needs, Object Relations is founded on the idea that we seek relationships. In fact, Object Relations therapists conduct their therapy in such a way as to recreate the mother-infant dyad and to uncover the patterns and phantasies created in that relationship.
So, now that you are experts in object relations, what the hell does that have to do with conscious uncoupling? Simply put, that mommy-baby relationship (or other caregiver relationship) will define your relationships and you will ‘couple’ with people who compliment your projections of your deficits or original caretaker issues. In conscious uncoupling, you remember why you chose your partner and how the complimentary personality was a source completion for you. Conscious Uncoupling is really a means by which to take responsibility for your choice and to break up with compassion, knowing you chose this person for a reason. You respect the fact that you learned something from your partner and grew. No need to blame when you accept the fact that you created your phantasy.
So yeah, Gwyneth and Chris’ choice is very adult and responsible. However, as in everything, this cannot be done by reading a couple of posts or a few sessions with a therapist. This is a long process that will require more than dropping a few terms and jargoning the hell out of people.