Five Life Lessons from the Road to Conscious Uncoupling
I’ve spent the last six years discovering who I am. I think about what kind of relationship I want with myself, my friends, romantic partners, family, and my coaching clients.
For nearly two years, I’ve been in a remarkable relationship with my girlfriend. We spent the entire pandemic between her place, mine and road tripping. I use the word remarkable because it has been the most beautiful expression of relational bootcamp possible. I’ve army-crawled my way through some deep AF fears, and I was honored to witness her beginning to trust and unfold.
From the onset, we cried, laughed, played, sang, danced, cooked, kissed, talked and healed together. We cared for the small versions of one another. We made each other feel safe, seen and secure all at once.
Early on, it became clear that each of us had our own continued healing work to do from childhood trauma. It was also fairly clear that we may not be able to align on some core things that other needed or wanted. We were so incredibly aware of our attachment styles, prior patterns and how we wanted to consciously show up in relationship that any hint of codependence was countered with healthy spaciousness.
What we could provide, in terms of our strengths as sweethearts, was complementary. And the combination was magic. Through many conversations, we arrived at the fact that our primary relationships would always be with ourselves. Beyond maintenance, we doubled down on the intentionality of our friendships and community.
This all felt like some high-level shit. Because, well, it is.
Being honest about your wants and needs is vulnerable territory with another human. Either of you can decide to walk away because it may not be worth it to continue, and that can be an incredibly painful reality.
Yet, if you decide that your own growth within the relationship is worth it, what more becomes possible?
We were curious about that because the foundation of the union was pure love, joy and respect.
We’ve experimented with ethical non-monogamy (ENM). We let each other know if/when we were interested in exploring dating or being intimate with someone else. And we created shared agreements and protocols around every aspect thereof.
While it could have meant that each of us engage in multiple meaningful relationships like ours, I was the only one of us who had additional intimate partners. For a few reasons, none of which were poor communication, we returned to monogamy after five months.
Two days before my 42nd birthday, I asked her if she wanted to build something—to create a life—together? Not move in or get married, but a mutual commitment to being ‘all in’. Maybe some part of my subconscious knew that this would lead to a desired change for both of us.
After many tears over many days, we decided that our path would remain one of pure love… but that conscious uncoupling and a transition into deep friendship was our new trajectory.
Here’s what I’ve learned through this process (so far):
1. Conscious communication is the key to everything, especially uncoupling.
Give yourselves the gift of talking about all the things that the relationship provided to you as individuals. How much did you grow, learn, expand or experiment? Talk also about the plans you’ve made together that are currently on the horizon (with or without other people), and whether or not it makes sense to keep those intact. Brainstorm together what might feel good to each of you with regard to how you share the news about your uncoupling, with whom, and when.
When in doubt, talk it out—being empathetic to the fact that their experience may be very different from yours, from an emotional standpoint. It’s all in how and what you say that signals your sense of compassion.
2. Re-negotiation is not only allowed at any given moment in every type of relationship, it’s also super healthy.
For me, this will be a lifelong practice.
As someone who has historically not advocated for herself — for fear that someone might choose to leave/reject/abandon her — this supreme honesty about what I desired was a perfectly designed practice in vulnerability.
In the end, I just have to trust that the humans I choose to engage with have done their inner work to be able to advocate for themselves, voice their desires, express their emotions and add to the creation of a healthy space where everyone gets what they want. And if what they want changes, that they voice that as soon as it becomes clear to them.
3. If you are unable to meet each other’s wants, let go, but do so gently and with care.
With love that is deep and true, there’s no need to make sudden movements. Go slow. Erect scaffolding as needed. This is not a break-up-and-run-away situation. It’s a process in which two mature adults can hold themselves through all the emotions that arise, talk openly together, and stick to the agreements made, all while demonstrating integrity.
4. Envision and discuss the future state of your friendship.
I have found that seeing and talking about what kind of friendship we want to create feels really good me. Sure, I’m still working through the sadness, but I’m happier at the idea of being in a healthy friendship with a person I love, versus in a relationship where our respective wants were divergent.
We are committed to being in each other’s lives. So invested in the other’s happiness are we, that we’ll continue to play and road trip, as well as be there for one another through the harder moments in life.
5. Neither needs to lose anything.
If you’re consciously uncoupling, it likely means that you still love and respect one another. Maybe you share children or pets or an apartment. Whatever the case, you can both decide what the nature and parameters of the relationship looks like when it transitions into friendship.
So, if you’re on the verge of a break-up, or in the midst of consciously uncoupling from your counterpart as you read this, I’m curious to know how these lessons land. Is there anything else you’d add from your own experience?