The cynic in me would say that more people I have met have had problems arising from unconscious coupling than conscious uncoupling. But the therapist who coined the expression and who has been advising Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin says that it is a “radically new way of completing a relationship.” According to the theory of conscious uncoupling, humans are not meant to stay married for so long, she says. We are living, she says, three times longer than early humans. The purpose of relationships then was security and survival but the purpose of relationships now is growth and to change.

It is clear that in evolutionary terms, humans have adopted monogamy as the predominant form of family structure. That makes sense because of the nurture it provides for children, and the strong desire humans have to form a single, exclusive bond with a partner, at least at the initial stages, is an example of evolution reinforcing a successful model. Even cultures that permit polygamy strongly reinforce the pre-existing family structure. For example in many societies a man can only take subsequent wives if he is prosperous enough to fully support the first family as well as starting a new one. So evolution has primed us for monogamy.

Of course humans are subject to contradictory emotions. Humankind’s insatiable curiosity and desire for novelty is partly what has changed their world from stone tool-making foragers into modern urbanites. Undoubtedly the desire for novelty extends to the quest for new sexual partners.

But above all, humans are social animals and long term bonds rest on companionship and friendship.

A Somewhat Flawed Theory

I think that the theory of “conscious uncoupling” misses a few critical insights. It hence first of all suggests to people that they are at least in part guilty for the failure of the relationship, but then alleviates that guilt by saying that it is perfectly normal for a relationship to end. This gets it entirely the wrong way round. It is a natural human emotion to feel guilty about events, even when that guilt is entirely irrational. It tends to be a stage in the process, for example people are initially shocked, then angry, then guilty, and finally accepting and constructive. But just the fact they feel guilty does not mean it is rational. The cause of the breakup may be the other partner’s dependency on alcohol or drugs, for example- it is absurd for the spouse to feel that they share this responsibility. Then the second fallacy is that the guilt is then washed away by the glib explanation that relationships last too long, anyway, and it is “not natural” for them to last for life. As I said above, that flies in the face of all the historical evidence.

Perhaps it would be better to accept that a lot of things in life just happen, and for whatever reason there may be relationships that do not always last.

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