“Conscious Uncoupling.” This term was everywhere for several days when the news broke of Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow’s intent to consciously uncouple: what it means, what it looks like, why it’s “needed”. Everywhere I turned experts in every field were offering commentary on this new method of going in and out of committed relationships. And it was extremely unsettling.
They announced their split in a statement on Gwyneth’s popular lifestyle website and followed it with an article by Doctors Habib Sadeghi and Sherry Sami explaining their choice to consciously uncouple. The article, which was widely read and shared, proposed that perhaps what the high divorce rate tells us is that life-long marriage isn’t possible in our culture or time, and so we must learn new ways of relating and then separating. Here are a few lines:
To put it plainly, as divorce rates indicate, human beings haven’t been able to fully adapt to our skyrocketing life expectancy. Our biology and psychology aren’t set up to be with one person for four, five, or six decades.
Modern society adheres to the concept that marriage should be lifelong; but when we’re living three lifetimes compared to early humans, perhaps we need to redefine the construct.
There it is, the thing that keeps gnawing at my heart. “Redefine the construct.” If we cannot make marriage work today, then the problem must not be with us, but with marriage itself…
Everyone enters into a marriage with the good intention to go all the way, but this sort of longevity is the exception, rather than the rule.
The idea of being married to one person for life is too much pressure for anyone.
But is it really?
The method of conscious coupling and uncoupling is supposed to free us so that each relationship is simply part of a longer journey to wholeness and satisfaction, a step along the way to self-fulfillment. And when that relationship ends, as it inevitably will, we can feel better about it and move on.
It all just seems so…empty.
I know that life-long marriages aren’t just the “exception” because my faith and lived experience tell me otherwise: I’ve seen that when marriage as a vocation is lived in faith and obedience, when it is enriched by sacrificial, self-giving, life-giving love, prayer and sacraments, forgiveness and generosity, then it is not only possible, it is fruitful. I’ve seen it in my grandparents’ marriages, my parents’ marriage, and in so many marriages in my faith community. These couples formed me as a child and adolescent, supported me as I discerned and prepared for my own vocation, and continue to challenge and uplift Josh and me in our marriage.
But what about those who have not been surrounded by good, strong, holy lifelong marriages? What are they to think when they read articles or hear news reports and commentary from the talking heads on TV telling them that the latest social science says that we aren’t capable of life-long marriage? What about the person who comes from a long line of broken families, who has been divorced one or more times, who can’t think of a single friend who is in a happy marriage? What and who is she to believe?
In this climate of hostility toward marriage in so many ways, we are needed. Desperately. We know that life-long marriage is not only possible, not only good, but our dignity demands it. It is best for our children. It is good for society. But how do we convince the world? They will not believe it is possible, or good, if they have not seen it, experienced it, lived it.
The world needs to see husbands and wives who respect each other, who do not degrade each other, either in the other’s presence or behind their back. They need to see spouses who are tender and loving so they know that romance does not die. They need to see us forgive each other and forget. To see couples work as a team as they consult each other, defer to one another, compromise. They need to see couples parenting together, playing together, praying together. For life.
Our marriages are needed so that the world believes it is possible. They need to know that they can come to us, that we will support them, teach them, encourage them, love them. They need us to open our hearts and our homes and our families and share the fruits with them. I know this is true because I am a product of it.
We are needed in our extended families, in our parishes, in our kids’ schools, in our neighborhoods, at our jobs, and on social media – living our vocations with joy. The world needs us to live our commitment consciously so others will not only believe it is possible, but will hope for it for themselves and for all families.
This is our mission field. This is what Pope Francis calls us to when he says,
“Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion. Is it out of fashion? In a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘for ever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage ‘to swim against the tide’. And also have the courage to be happy.”
How do you strengthen your marriage so it is a witness to others?
Copyright 2014 Megan Swaim