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“Conscious Uncoupling”: Is There an Expiration Date on Marriage?

This week 41-year-old actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her 37-year-old husband, Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin, told the world they’ve decided to divorce.

Except they’re not calling it divorce—they’re calling it “conscious uncoupling”:

We have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much, we will remain separate. We are however, and always will be, a family, and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been…. We hope that as we consciously uncouple and co-parent, we will be able to continue [onward].

The couple’s—er, “uncouple’s”—rationale? That comes from a pair of “health and spiritual advisors to Ms. Paltrow,” Dr. Habib Sadeghi and Dr. Sherry Sami.

As these experts explain in a long-form piece entitled “be” (copied in its entirety on Paltrow’s blog), today life expectancy has shifted from 33 years in the Paleolithic era, to 47 years in 1900 America, to 79 years in the modern West. “We’re living three lifetimes compared to early humans—so perhaps we need to redefine the [lifelong marriage] construct… Because we’re living so long, most people will have two or three significant long-term relationships in their lifetime.”

In other words, if you think about it hard enough, Paltrow and Martin are beginning their Second Life. Gosh, that sounds so fun it could almost be a virtual reality game.

These well-paid, esteemed psychiatrists are suggesting that marriage is more like a water heater that eventually needs to be replaced, than a fine wine that grows, deepens, and actually improves with time. Their view is dead-wrong, but it reminds me of a shocking, individualistic Chicago billboard I recall seeing from a highway rental car years ago. It read: “Life’s Short. Get a Divorce.”

For married couples blessed with health and children, “you go your way, I’ll go mine” can seem right, but the biblical vision espoused by a King who “hates divorce” reminds us that un-coupling can kill and destroy. Sure, you as an adult may rebound, but the data shows it’s harder on your kids.  Many American couples who struggle with the work of marriage discover that in the end, they can’t finish the race.

But Martin and Paltrow have a daughter Apple, age 9, and a son Moses, age 7. Will they find their parents’ promises so easily broken and replaced? Or will they wear the same battle scar borne by so many Gen-Xers and Millennials? An “inner limp” is inflicted by divorce, when children learn, in the words of Phil Vischer, “that the world isn’t a safe place; that there isn’t anyone who won’t let you down; that their hearts [are] much too fragile to be left exposed.”

No school, volunteer mentor, or government program will ever replace the wound left by an absentee father, as a host of new findings are showing. It turns out Paul Ryan is right to remind us that culture impacts poverty. The ties between two-parent families and income mobility are growing increasingly evident by those willing to examine the data. All things being equal, children who grow up with both of their biological parents are much more likely than their counterparts to succeed, on nearly any emotional or cognitive measure of overall well-being.

At a recent AEI philanthropic freedom conference, Arthur Brooks said building public policy on true ideas is more important than winning—since only true ideas stand the test of time.

Here is a true and trustworthy saying, from a book more reliable than Paltrow-Martin psycho-babble: “a cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

We should mourn this “uncoupling,” by a once-frequently esteemed “Hollywood marriage exception” that’s fallen prey to Hollywood’s rule.