She writes that she knew their marriage was over on her 38th birthday:
“What I do remember is that it felt almost involuntary, like the ring of a bell that has sounded and cannot be undone. The inadvertent release of a helium balloon into the sky. I tried to quell that knowing, to push it far down. I tried to convince myself it had been a fleeting thought, that marriage is complicated and ebbed and flowed. But I knew it. It was in my bones.”
In the beginning, and for several years, she shared that she and Chris made a lot of sense.
“My ex and I had always been friends. We laughed at the same things, shared a funny bones humor, impressions, utter silliness. We were moved by the same qualities in music: beautiful chords, innovation, harmonies. Peter Gabriel, Chopin, Sigur Rós – though I listened for pleasure and he like he was studying for an exam.”
“We loved walking to and from Osteria Basilico through the park for pizza, especially on those British summer nights when the sun doesn’t ever seem to set. We loved road trips to the New Forest or to the seaside. But most of all, we loved our children. We were close, though we had never fully settled into being a couple. We just didn’t quite fit together. There was always a bit of unease and unrest. But man, did we love our children.”
Like many couples who are facing separation and divorce, Gwyneth also writes that she and Chris didn’t want to give up, and they didn’t want others to believe they had.
“We did not want to fail. We didn’t want to let anyone down. We desperately didn’t want to hurt our children. We didn’t want to lose our family. The questions, both philosophical and tactical, seemed unfathomable: who sleeps where, how does bath time work, what do we say to the kids? I bent myself into every imaginable shape to avoid answering them.”
But eventually, they both realized that it was time to both acknowledge the questions and to begin to figure out their next steps.
“I struggled to imagine what my life would be. I wasn’t sure how a mother goes about untangling herself from the man with whom her DNA has co-mingled. It seemed impossible, that kind of extraction or extrication.”
She says that she began hoping that there could be another way for the ex-couple to remain in one another’s lives and in the lives of their children without harming anyone involved.
“Could we create a paradigm whereby we still ate meals together? Vacation, even? Could we find levity and laugh? But more than that, could my ex continue to be a family member, someone who would continue to protect me, want the best for me? Could I be that for him?”
And thus, the idea of “conscious uncoupling” was born. Like many, Gwyneth didn’t love the phrase at first.
“Frankly, the term sounded a bit full of itself, painfully progressive and hard to swallow. It was an idea introduced to us by our therapist, the man who helped us architect our new future. I was intrigued, less by the phrase, but by the sentiment. Was there a world where we could break up and not lose everything? Could we be a family, even though we were not a couple? We decided to try.”
But they decided to try, and to see what would happen if they did.
“It was hit and miss. We had great days and terrible days. Days when we couldn’t stand each other, but forced ourselves to remember what we were aiming for. Somehow finding a way to smile and hug, and take the kids out for brunch like we had planned. We had just moved to LA and were navigating a lot of change. Looking back, it was probably the most challenging year of my life. I felt ruled by fear.”
When they finally shared the news to Gwyneth’s website, Goop, the actress was surprised that it raised so much ire among people. After navigating the most difficult year of her life, the last thing she expected was to have what probably felt like the entire world mocking her.
“I was already pretty tattered from what had been a tough year. Frankly, the intensity of the response saw me bury my head in the sand deeper than I ever had in my very public life.”
However, in the time that has transpired, Gwyneth has had the benefit of seeing others adopt the phrase and even incorporate it into their own separations and divorces. In fact, she said, “Instead of people approaching me with, ‘Why did you say that?’, they now approach me with, ‘How do you do that?'”
She said that, ultimately, while going through the process of separation and divorce she learned a lot about herself and about what it means to forgive.
“You need forgiveness in spades – and to understand how to forgive actively. Forgiveness to me always meant that eventually, the hardness softens and you are no longer triggered by the memory of the other person’s transgressions and they are no longer triggered by yours. But I came to understand that forgiveness involves taking responsibility for your half of the relationship. You cannot begin to forgive until you have felt what it is like to be in your partner’s shoes, coping with the hardest parts of you, your trauma, your dysfunction.”
Ultimately, this decision worked out best for everyone involved.
“I know my ex-husband was meant to be the father of my children, and I know my current husband is meant to be the person I grow very old with. Conscious uncoupling lets us recognize those two different loves can coexist and nourish each other.”
Gwyneth has previously shared that she was surprised that she fell in love again: “It was a wonderful surprise. I didn’t necessarily think that falling in love again would happen for me. I think when it happens to you when you’re a bit older, you place a value and an importance on it that you don’t when you’re in your 20s, because at that age you don’t know the difference yet. I’ve been very lucky.”
Gwyneth and her husband, Brad Falchuk, got married in 2018.