Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt provide us with the perfect example of how not to conduct a divorce
Remember the time when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin issued a joint statement on Paltrow's website, Goop, to say that they were 'consciously uncoupling'? Oh, how we laughed!
'Conscious uncoupling'? Seriously? Which asinine psychiatrist came up with this particular bit of psychobabble? And what on earth did it mean?
Well, in the 'uncouple's' own words it meant that though "in many ways we are closer than we have ever been" they had come to the conclusion that "while we love each other very much we will remain separate". And so while they would still co-parent their two children and remain a family, they had decided to end their romantic (and sexual) relationship.
At the time Paltrow did not know the originator of the phrase, American psychotherapist, Katherine Woodward Thomas, who would go on write a book with the same topic (Conscious Uncoupling; 5 Steps To Living Happily Even After), telling the world about her "proven process for lovingly completing a relationship that will leave you feeling whole and healed and at peace". According to Thomas, a divorce doesn't need to be a painful, bitter experience. Instead, we should treat it as an opportunity to turn our pain into "a catalyst for making a breakthrough in the way you show up in your life … and in your next relationship".
Nevertheless, Paltrow and Martin incorporated these lessons into their pre and post-divorce dealings. And as a result, they -- and their children -- have come through on the other side relatively unscathed. They still holiday as a family, they introduce each other to their new partners, hell, they even go together to award nights (Paltrow used one such occasion to praise Martin as the best dad ever).
So, guess who's laughing now?
I was reminded of this as the car crash that is the Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt breakup unfolded in front of a fascinated world. It was as if the two of them had taken cognizance of the principles of 'conscious uncoupling' and decided to behave in the exact opposite way.
First off, there was no joint statement. In fact, it wasn't even a joint decision. Jolie blindsided Pitt by filing an hour before the court was about to close (and after the glossies had closed their pages). Pitt had known that his marriage was in trouble, but was completely unaware that he was in for the chop so soon.
Jolie said in her statement that she had taken this painful decision for "the health of the family". Pitt countered by asking for privacy because this was a tough time for their kids, who were his first priority.
So far, so intriguing.
Then came the leaks. Camp Jolie maintained that Pitt had a problem with alcohol, marijuana and anger issues. He had been abusive to his eldest son, Maddox, on a flight from France to America. He could not be trusted with the kids so Jolie was asking for sole physical custody.
Camp Pitt insisted that Brad had just 'yelled' at his son. And he was cooperating with the authorities on the charges of child abuse, confident that he would be cleared. Once that happened, he would fight for joint custody.
Meanwhile Jolie moved out of the marital home with all six kids into rented digs (which, it turned out, she had arranged long before the plane incident) and cut off all contact with Brad, blocking all his phone numbers and denying him access to their children. Amidst all this, there were suggestions tossed into the media that Pitt had cheated on Jolie with co-star Marion Cotillard (denied by all parties) and that Angeline herself was being 'consoled' by Johnny Depp.
And before you could say 'pre-nup', the Jolie-Pitt divorce had turned into the stuff of tabloid dreams, a public spectacle that left the whole world gawping and gasping.
Needless to say, break-ups of lesser beings like us would not unduly trouble the world like this one did. But nonetheless, we can learn some lessons from the Jolie-Pitt divorce from hell:
* Keep private stuff private: When you are angry and hurt, you want to lash out at your partner. You want to tell the whole world how terrible he/she was and how miserable you were in the marriage. Well, take a deep breath and don't. If you can't do that, then keep your moaning within a circle of trust. The entire universe doesn't need to know your business.
* Don't use the children as pawns: No matter how much you loathe your spouse, don't let that hate percolate down to the kids. They need both parents in their life; they need to be able to love both their mother and father. Be sensitive to their needs. And never ever allow them to believe (as Maddox probably does) that the divorce is somehow their fault. They are probably blaming themselves anyway. Don't make it worse.
* Don't cut off all lines of communication: If you can't bear to talk directly, then communicate via a go-between whom both of you trust. Because just as you got into this marriage together, you have to negotiate the choppy waters of divorce together as well. And a modicum of civility will ensure that you come out whole on the other side.
* Take a leaf out of Paltrow and Martin's book and give 'conscious uncoupling' a chance. It's really not as daft as it sounds.