Recently, actress Gweneth Paltrow became the subject of some ridicule when she wrote about the “conscious uncoupling” that she and estranged husband Chris Martin (lead singer of Coldplay) had undergone. By that, she means that her breakup was not the matter of waking up and having fallen out of love but was the result of deliberate decisions. I have seen plenty of breakups that were due to unconscious uncoupling, and plenty that were due to deliberate plans, and they are never pleasant to witness or experience, even in cases where the connection is clearly a bad one or an unworthy one. Whenever one has coupled, the act of uncoupling (whether this is true in a romantic relationship or a business partnership) involves a great deal of painful duplication of effort and separation, and a sense of divorce that is unpleasant to contemplate. Then, of course, there are the inevitable fights over children and money, either in a literal or figurative way, and these are never enjoyable as well.
If we only begin to examine a relationship at the stage of uncoupling, though, we begin far too late. Far greater concern should be paid to the process of coupling in the first place, for if we were more conscious about coupling in the first place, we would need to worry far less about uncoupling. Yet, in life, we are far more likely to be far too optimistic when it comes to coupling than the facts would seem to suggest. As a result, we cause ourselves and others a great deal of unnecessary suffering because we rush too quickly to unite on shaky grounds and fail to build the foundation necessary for success. This is such a universal problem that none of us can consider ourselves to be immune from it, yet some reflection on this particular phenomenon should be done, lest we consider ourselves to be immune from falling into that trap ourselves.
For five days in 1960 , Somaliland was an independent nation. Its fate as a single nation is likely to have been far better than it would have been married to an abusive Italian Somaliland (namely, the rest of Somalia), which has been nothing short of a total disaster, involving starvation, civil war, decades of oppression, and an international community that has shown a distinct lack of interest in allowing Somaliland its own separate identity despite its distinct colonial identity and a history (albeit brief) of independence. Given the insecurity of many nations about their own restive minorities, the United Nation and related institutions have made very unwilling divorce courts in watching dysfunctional nations break apart under their total inability to inspire common effort and a common identity, usually in the face of immensely abusive behaviors or a total inability to provide the basic environment of law and order that serves as the obligations of the state in any kind of implicit or explicit social contract. Unsurprisingly, we see in nations the same sorts of difficulties that we see in people and families, which ought not to surprise us since nations are composed of and ruled by human beings with all of our human frailties fully intact.
Given the rather harrowing experiences that can result from unconscious coupling, be it abusive relationships, drug and alcohol problems, failures on the part of people to fulfill their responsibilities, and so on, what is it that leads us to join together so readily in hope when that hope is not founded on a strong foundation? Whether individually or collectively, human beings have immense longings that fill our relationships in any sphere with a great deal of expectation and that can frequently lead us into great difficulty because these expectations and longings are unexpressed, uncommunicated, and unexamined, and not shared equally among the parties in a relationship. At times the frustration and unhappiness of loneliness is such that we reject the fact that there can be even more intense pains and frustrations in bad relationships. On the other hand, at times our fear of bad relationships can lead us into unhappy solitude and loneliness because we lack the desire or will to take the effort that is necessary to build up smart and worthwhile trust in others. Such extremes plague our existence, as we seek to chart a course for our lives and our institutions and our peoples.
As a child of divorce, I have witnessed in my own life (and in the lives of others around me) a variety of problems that result from such a breakup. This is true even where there are clearly just causes for such a breakup in the first place. As is the case with any covenant, one side (or more) can be so careless or inattentive or hostile to the obligations they have entered into, and so destructive of the well-being of others that there can be no possibility of success in that covenant relationship. Yet this knowledge does not remove the difficulties that result from breaking up a relationship, or the sadness and loss that results from such a break. Among the more tragic losses is the loss of trust that people have in others, and the difficulty in trusting others again, a loss that tends to stay with someone for a long time, given our sensitivities as beings with longings and vulnerabilities.
It can be a painful and unpleasant matter to examine or muse upon our longings and vulnerabilities . After all, we tend to do what we can to wall them off or to satisfy them as best as we are able (which, admittedly, is often not very well). Yet it is those longings and vulnerabilities that tend to lead predictably to trouble. Denying them or covering them up does not in any way prevent them from causing trouble; rather it prevents us from acting in a thoughtful and conscious way to counteract or overcome that susceptibility. To the extent that we are aware of our weak spots, that awareness can lead us to avoid situations where we are likely to be tested beyond our capacity to resist, or we can act in such a way as to give us accountability partners who can help and encourage us in difficult situations, or we can honestly face the fact that we may simply always have a potential difficulty in a given area, and put it under permanent scrutiny, even as we seek to address the longings of our heart for love and belonging, for respect and esteem, and other related matters.
Given our human frailty and infinite capacity for error, we cannot hope to eliminate any and all areas of weakness with our human resources alone. Yet we can and should do everything possible to avoid continual patterns of failure. While we cannot be critical with ourselves for every single failure, where there is a pattern of consistent failures, it demonstrates structural weaknesses in our lives that require attention and care. To examine such areas is to tour the darkest recesses of our hearts and minds, our most unpleasant memories, our worst experiences, for it is these horrors that are the source of those patterns of our behaviors that cause the most trouble. It is our responsibility to handle our own lives, and to make sure that we join in covenant with others only consciously, and only those who take their lives and their responsibilities seriously. Let us, at least, avoid any unconscious coupling that results from our own weaknesses and that leads us into a dangerous intimacy with others who lack the tenderness and respect to treat us with the love and respect that we deserve.
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