The expression was hurled into the media spotlight back in March 2014 by actress Gwyneth Paltrow and singer Chris Martin, who announced the breakup of their marriage online by saying that they intended to ‘consciously uncouple.’
The term refers to the act of ending a marriage or relationship, but in a way that is viewed as a very positive step by both parties, who believe that their lives will be better for doing so, and that they can continue to remain friends, co-parent if they have children, and possibly not even fall out of love with each other.
The use of such flowery terminology, essentially a euphemism for amicable separation, splitting up, or plain old divorce, has been viewed rather disparagingly by the media as celebrity-fuelled nonsense, though its ridicule by journalists has brought it into the public radar and may, ironically, help to embed the expression further.
It might sound like something from the sublanguage of frothy celebrity culture, but the expression conscious uncoupling is in fact the creation of a professional psychotherapist. It was popularized by Katherine Woodward Thomas, a US marriage therapist and author who posits a method of dealing with breakups in a positive way by focusing on the idea of ‘completing’ (rather than ending) a relationship and, through lessons learned along the way, being empowered to move on with life as a better person equipped to succeed in any further relationships.