Breaking up. Splitting up. Dissolving the marriage. Each phrase exudes destruction and the death of a marriage. Perhaps a change in perception can change the course of the divorce for a couple who does not wish to spiral into the chaos of litigation.

Consciously uncoupling was a term associated a few years ago with the divorce of the famous couple, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. While they may have brought a certain notoriety to the term used to describe their amicable break-up, the concept of undoing the “I do” with dignity and respect is not a new one. It’s been around since the seventies when sociologist Diane Vaughan coined the “uncoupling theory” term.

Imagine vines entangled together so intricately that there is no way to determine where the beginning of each individual plant begins. That is marriage. Uncoupling slowly and methodically disentangles these vines so they once again become separate and solo organisms from which they initially started. The process is gentle and the untangling is deliberate. No one is jerking the roots to free themselves from the other.

The adversarial system often fails to meet the psychological needs of a divorcing couple and redesigned family. The successful adjustment of divorcing couples depends on both parties accepting the divorce as their new reality. Sometimes the emotional process and legal process are not running on the same course.

Uncoupling is more than just playing nice with each other. Uncoupling requires individuals to recognize that the marital undoing is a result of a dynamic between two people who individually are not perfect people. The partners are choosing to acknowledge and accept their spouse for all of their shortcomings. But how can one do that when they have been so wronged in their marriage? Would anger and resentment catapult the couple from uncoupling amicably to divorcing disastrously?

Attorneys can provide support, sympathy and encouragement to their clients. They can also escalate the confrontation and heighten the discord and drama the couple is already experiencing. Mutual respect between parties and counsel helps pave the way to a resolution that is emotionally fulfilling. An emotionally fulfilling divorce sounds like a contradiction for a time in one’s life when they may feel despair, anxiety and uncertainty about the future. However, when children are left in the wake of a dissolution, the parties’ efforts to move forward amicably is unequivocally in the children’s best interest.

What type of fulfillment can a divorcing couple take from this process? They can walk away knowing that their children will not be victims to conflict. They can be certain that their children will never feel caught in the middle of an impossible choice. They can be assured that just because they will no longer be so intricately entwined with their spouse, they still have enough respect for that person that they can move forward and co-parent in a healthy manner.

Is conscious uncoupling easy work? Most certainly not, especially when uncoupling involves one spouse being forced into the undoing of their former marital life.

Can it be done without assistance? Most likely it cannot. In conjunction with supportive counsel, some couples may need some additional therapy to assist with communication and co-parenting.

Conscious uncoupling is emotional work. It won’t obliterate the sadness and guilt one may feel; but, then again, it isn’t meant to. Instead, it allows that person to acknowledge their emotional state and then consciously work through their feelings so they can make a decision that is best for the family, no matter what that unit looks like now.

The notion of conscious uncoupling may sound a bit idealistic. However, there are couples that do it. It doesn’t mean they didn’t experience pain or grief over the loss of their marriage; it does mean they chose something different for their family. It also doesn’t mean that conflict never arises following the divorce. Uncoupling does mean that as each new challenge arises, the couple figures out how to work through it and unravel the vines. Arguably, a conscious uncoupling can lead to a more peaceful and supportive re-coupling of blended families.

Couples can embrace their uncoupling in this way through mediation, through the collaborative process and through the traditional adversarial process. It’s not the method that matters but rather the players involved. Litigation begets litigation.

Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said. If a couple decides to untangle their vines cautiously, they will attain the result that is best for the family.

Renee C. Bauer is a principal and the founder of the Bauer Law Group, LLC, located in Hamden, CT. She is an attorney and author. She authored Percy’s Imperfectly Perfect Family (Archway Publishing), a children’s book about divorce, and Divorce in Connecticut (Addicus Books).

Photo credit: LENbiR/