I love the term “uncoupling” over “divorce”

Like so many other people this past week, I’ve been contemplating the word “uncoupling.” Gwyneth Paltrow’s use of the word seems to have sparked a wide range of emotions out there, but for me, it resonates so clearly.

When my first husband and I divorced, I was 38. We had two children under the age of three, and I was in the middle of getting Babo Botanicals up and running. At the time, the word “divorce” felt like a sword going through me. Just the idea of it felt so severe, decisive and painful.

My parents were divorced when I was 21 years old, and I stood by and witnessed the 20 years that passed before they could have a comfortable conversation with one another. I was the first of my friends to go through divorce, and I felt ashamed, isolated, and too young to be a divorcee. I connected divorce with my parent’s generation, but as I, a young mother, followed in their footsteps, I felt I had failed in some way. In truth, our divorce was a far more loving and gentle situation than the word implies.

Of course, it was painful. I lost my appetite and 15 pounds along with it. I was embarrassed, and this made my social life much harder. I poured myself into my work, which was easy because I was in the middle of launching my company. But through it all, we stayed very clear that our main priority was to help our two young children, understanding that there would be anguish, anxiety and loss, no matter how kind we were to each other.

Given our experience together, the term “divorce” always seemed overly harsh. Whenever the word came up, I felt overwhelmed with blame and shame. Was this really happening to me? But even though I didn’t love the word “divorce” we didn’t know another way to explain what we were doing. Even now, 4 years later, if I say “I am divorced,” my stomach quivers.

My baby girl was eight months and my son was 2 1/2 when my husband and I uncoupled. The divorce took almost two years, and that time was filled with the tension of divorce lawyers and family expectations. My husband and I worked hard to be kind to each other throughout the process, but our lawyers and our families seemed intent on working against our intentions.

No one seemed to understand how “divorce” could be gentle and loving. My family was overly protective and believed my husband was to blame for my unhappiness. If I had gone to an “Uncoupling” lawyer, perhaps she would have been able to understand that all we wanted was to make sure our our kids were happy, healthy and thriving. Instead, our divorce lawyers made our process so much more negative and difficult than it had to be. My lawyer pushed me to ask for more money and greater custody, insisting that I was not thinking clearly and I would want more in the future. She even wanted me to keep all our household property including a rug we had bought together in Turkey which he treasured and I had given back to him. I eventually let her go and hired a gentle, older lawyer who was able to move through the system very quickly.

Even though we came out of the divorce with custody terms and rules, we’ve slid into a more fluid parenting relationship. We text each other every day to let one another know how the children are. When I travel for long work periods, he stays at my house with the kids. We both want the best for our children. If he has to change his days with the children because of work or travel, I accommodate him. We talk often, both on the phone and when the kids transition between their two homes.

I feel fortunate that this is where we have landed. I know so many divorced couples who continue to fight and never find a peaceful relationship. It’s only now that I have a word for our process. I had never heard the term before, and I am thankful to Gwyneth Paltrow for bringing it into my vocabulary.

An “uncoupled” partnership can include friendship, teamwork, and co-parenting, whereas “divorce” connotes a final ending. And as 50% of moms experience divorce at some time, I imagine I’m not the only one who finds the term to be overly-harsh and filled with blame. Divorce is a negative. Uncoupling has the potential to be a positive.

So why the uncoupling? Why not try to make things work? We weren’t meant for each other. We were not a good couple. We were happier when apart, and down-right awful when together. We had met at school and were fast friends, but we would have done better to remain that way. As friends, we were a great team, but as soon as the relationship became romantic, it got toxic for both of us. We were incapable of supporting each other emotionally. Our values, passions and interests were not aligned. The chemistry was off and we both felt it. But living apart and starting independent lives again, we are able to regain our deep friendship.

Now I am remarried to my soulmate. I am stepmother to two wonderful children, and my new husband and I have had one more child together. Families take so many different shapes, and I don’t regret a moment of the story that has shaped mine.

Of course there have been painful times, and I feel so fortunate to have met the right partner. But I love and respect my former husband. And looking back, I will happily exchange “divorced” for “uncoupled”, as it feels just right for the partnership we share.