Yes, You Can End a Marriage Lovingly

Make all the fun you want out of conscious uncoupling, but it works — and not just for Gwyneth Paltrow

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You’re in a marriage you no longer want to be in. You’re scared to leave because of the expectation that you make things work — because you made a promise, because others will be hurt if you leave, because you are being selfish for no longer being on the same path as your partner, because you want different things from life. You know it’s more damaging to everyone if you stay, but you also know that leaving will lead to judgment: What do you do?

This was a dilemma presented in a closed Facebook page I’m part of, a supportive group, and the discussion has been illuminating.

A number of people said they, too, were struggling with the messages. “Should” and “failed marriage” messages are exactly the reason why my co-author and I wrote our book — to fight the blaming, shaming, judging and guilt when, despite your best efforts, your marriage is just not working and it needs to end.

Reconfiguring their family

Shoulds aside, many in the group shared the creative ways they have reconfigured their family.

One person said that, after announcing to their spouse that they wanted out several months ago, they’ve been taking an “evolution approach” to their relationship, acknowledging that they will always be partners because they have a child (a teen) together, whom they’ve brought into some of their discussions. This slow breakup has helped her husband realize that he wasn’t all that happy either and was mostly clinging onto what had become familiar.

This made my heart full. This is a form of conscious uncoupling (deal, Gwyneth haters!) that is loving and kind and recognizes that once you have children, you are forever tied together — how do you want that to look like moving forward?

Keeping family, gaining lovers

One person wrote that, after their marriage ended, their former spouse didn’t want to lose the family she gained from that marriage. So she worked hard to maintain those relationships and now is, once again, considered part of the family.

Another person wrote that while they remain married, each sees other people while they support each other emotionally and intellectually. In other words, they transformed into an open marriage. “It’s difficult sometimes, but neither of us have felt more alive in a long time.”

Becoming a parenting marriage

Some are trying to figure it out with children. One woman said her spouse wanted an open marriage but she preferred a divorce for “mental clarity.” Financial issues forced them to stay in the same living arrangement, but it also allowed stability for their children.

In other words, they created a parenting marriage (although no longer married) — they removed the sexual and romantic aspect of their relationship in order to give their children the love, safety and stability they need.

Reading through that post gave me hope. While we mostly hear about nasty, pricey, drawn-out divorces, those are usually high-profile divorces, mostly celebrity or uber-wealthy people, we rarely hear about the ways ordinary people are finding ways to part lovingly and kindly while reconfiguring what their partnership looks like.

These are the stories we need to elevate.

Bye-bye, ‘should’

Knowing that “relationships can change forms without being completely destroyed” is one of the most powerful lessons we — social beings that we are — can learn. And that whenever he hear or think that we do or be something, we might want to question it and ask, in what ways can I honor my needs while also acknowledging social expectations?

Because as much as we want to be kind and loving to our soon-to-be former partner, we want to be kind and loving to ourselves, too.

Written by

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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