Ending meaningful relationships is never easy to do. It hurts both parties involved in many ways, both mentally and emotionally (self-blame, negative thought patterns, etc.). There is a rupture of attachment, which is a trauma; in fact, the brain chemistry of someone undergoing a breakup is the same brain chemistry of someone who’s enduring the loss of a loved one. For serious, highly committed relationships, it has been observed that a breakup predicts psychological distress and a magnified effect of reduced sense of life satisfaction (Rhoades, Kamp Dush, Atkins, Stanley, & Markman, 2011). As well, there is a death of a future experienced when going through a breakup – death of a future you were hoping for, counting on, or planning for. You are now faced with a different future that’s unknown, scary, and intimidating. The shocking realisation that a relationship is drowning is not made easy to accept if the uncoupling happens in a tumultuous and nasty way.
Conscious uncoupling, a term popularised by psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, is the process designed to peacefully guide individuals through detachment from a relationship and a readjustment to singlehood. Instead of the traditional view of a breakup as a traumatic experience, the conscious uncoupling supports the ex-lovers to experience the fracture as an opportunity for growth. This growth might offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to evolve beyond old patterns and conditioning, and to become the fullest version of yourself, allowing you to begin new healthy relationships.
The couple that wants to end their relationship in a conscious manner is asked to choose kindness, honesty, and generosity toward one another. Additionally, each individual takes responsibility for their part in having come to an impasse. It is a “we-vorce”.
Firstly, it is essential to identify feelings experienced about the breakup. Transform an unpleasant emotion that is not serving you into the fuel for positive change. Studies have shown that when you are able to label your emotions, they de-escalate in intensity.
Furthermore, getting intimate with your emotional reality gets you back to a sense of cohesion within yourself so that you can behave in a way that’s aligned with your ethics and spirituality, as opposed to just your overwhelming sensations.
Do not dwell on the past! Instead, recognise and own up to the actions that may have led to the current situation. In understanding the role that you may have played, you will be able to refrain from repeating the same mistakes. You are asked to avoid taking on the victim’s narrative and to make yourself accountable.
There can’t be profound healing without intense self-reflection. Breaking the pattern is to recognise the dynamics or ways in which you have made mistakes. You may need to go as far back as your childhood to trace what Thomas calls the ‘source fracture wound’. By acknowledging the source of your ingrained behaviours, you can grasp their meaning and the purpose they have served you, and you become free to align yourself to your highest truth.
As Merrit Malloy said: “Relationships that do not end peacefully do not end at all.”
Let go of the pain caused by your (ex) lover and recognise the gifts that you brought into each other’s lives. This includes the life lessons you have learned from each other.
After the hard work, it is now time to become very clear on the kind of values you want to base your new relationships on. Make wise, healthy and life-affirming decisions as you take on the essential task of reinventing your life and setting up new structures that will allow you and all involved to thrive in the aftermath of the breakup (Thomas, 2015). In conscious uncoupling, you want to be able to turn your breakup – which for many is the worst thing that has ever happened – into the best opportunity in your life. The wisdom gained and the lessons learned will allow you to heal old wounds and enter your next relationship with a clear roadmap of your needs, desires and triggers.
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