In an exclusive extract of her new book, Happily even after: a guide to 'Conscious Uncoupling' psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas reveals her top tips for a happy divorce.
Our attempt to redefine a “happy ending” is not evidence that we no longer believe in love. To the contrary, we are the relentless believers in love and lifelong union.
Yet, given the realities of our time, which include the postmodern tensions between the stability of marriage and ideals of individual freedom, self-expression, and personal growth, we must accept the choice to unmarry by the many who make it.
For learning to live happily even after may very well be the essence of what it is to truly love each other. It is fear and anger that generally hold us back. Once we allow fear to hijack us, and step into the driver’s seat of our lives, we’re apt to say and do stupid and destructive things.
Right at the moment when we need our thinking brains the most to help sort through some incredibly important decisions – mapping out a separation - the consequences of which we will be living with for many years to come, our brains are programmed to not be thinking much at all.
In understanding this, I gained an even deeper respect for a person’s decision to remain conscious while uncoupling.
To strive to overcome the limbic-brain-induced impulses to burn the house down, smash all the china, or give his expensive suits away to Goodwill — choosing instead to take sound action that is more in keeping with our conscience and which is centered in the cortex, the rational part of the brain.
This is the part of us that can keep our compulsion to behave like a crazed wounded animal in check and ensure that we show up in ways that make the triumph of our ethics over our emotions even possible.
The challenge is not to give in to the temptation to plant seeds of ill will and revenge – actions that could eventually grow into bitter fruits that we may be forced to eat for many years to come.
To realise this ideal of a conscious, peaceful parting of the ways, I have developed a five-step process – the conscious uncoupling programme - to help navigate our way through the thorny terrain of lost love, and safely deliver us to the other side of separation with hearts, psyches, and souls intact.
It is important to know that conscious uncoupling is not just for those who made it all the way to the altar. It’s for anyone whose heart is heavy with the unspeakable grief of lost love.
All breakups are a critical crossroads and the loss of love is a definitive moment in life that will demand a grave decision of you.
'The challenge is not to give in to the temptation to plant seeds of ill will and revenge'
From the dung heap of your despair, you can either throw in the towel and contract from life in order to protect your heart from this kind of hurt again, dooming yourself in the process to living a lesser life, or you can find a way to use this tragic experience as the opportunity to cultivate greater wisdom, depth, maturity, and a deeper capacity to love and be loved.
In a nutshell, a breakup is nothing short of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a complete spiritual awakening.
With that in mind, here is a precise to my five steps to living happily even after…
Step 1: Find Emotional Freedom
The first step is to learn to harness the intensity of the emotions you are feeling (such as rage, hatred, fear and despair) and transform them from destructive impulses to do harm into constructive energies of lasting, positive change. Letting go of festering rage can help catalyse your own growth beyond the women you were in your previous relationship.
Step 2: Reclaim Your Power and Your Life
Instead of obsessively ruminating on everything offensive your ex-partner has done, you must turn your attention towards yourself to discover what role you played in what happened between you both. If you ever hope to have love in your future you need to understand how things happened in order to prevent yourself ever repeating this dynamic.
To do this: let go of being a victim, reflect on yourself as the source of your experience, release unconscious habitual patterns of people pleasing, self-abandoning, over-giving, or tolerating less than you deserve, learn how to make amends and evolve.
Step 3: Break the Pattern, Heal Your Heart
In this step you must begin to identify your source-fracture story and understand how it has been the underlying cause of your disappointing patterns in love since. Sigmund Freud named our tendencies to duplicate the deepest hurts of our childhood the “repetitive compulsion”.
An example of a source-fracture story could be watching your parents divorce, leading you to the preconceived idea in following relationships that ‘men always leave’. You must learn to graduate from this painful pattern of belief and recognise the past does not determine what is possible for your future.
Step 4: Become a Love Alchemist
You must learn to see yourself as an indomitable force of nature, capable of generating a positive future for yourself and others no matter how hurtful or hard things have been. Make choices that graduate you from the past and transform the dynamic between you and your former partner.
One woman I advised gave her ex-husband a financial gift and note as a thank you for their years together. Her bigheartedness inspired him to offer to rearrange his schedule to look after their daughter each afternoon, sparing her the cost of a nanny. A gesture could be as simple as offering a blessing to a former partner.
Being generous and offering sincere acts of kindness restores a sense of well-being to relatives and friends, including your children who will move more freely between your homes with a feeling of warm friendliness between all involved.
Step 5: Create Your Happy Even After Life
The final step is to make wide, healthy and life-affirming decisions as you take on the essential task of reinventing your life. Your goal is not to try to create a better version of what you once had, but to expand what’s now possible to include fresh new horizons, friends and interests.
You should strive to create cohesion and alignment with your community at large and discover wholesome cooperative ways to care for the children, divide your property and navigate the legal process to ensure that all involved are set up to win moving forward.