Conscious Uncoupling Crazy? Not To Me Now that Gwenyth and her Cold Play hubby have confirmed what’s been buzzing around for some time, the response to their statement of separation did not cause the reaction in me that it caused in many probably because I understand the term conscious uncoupling and wrote a piece about my own that MoreMagazine.com published in 2009.
Upstairs/Downstairs: A Family Option by Marla Miller
I once knew a couple that split up but continued living in the same house. Their tween-age daughter spilled the beans. She told me her mom lived upstairs and dad downstairs. No, they weren’t divorced, but they “weren’t married, either.” The gossip about this couple, our neighbors, traveled through our cul-de-sac-ed community, mostly in the tone of ‘how could they do that to their little girl?’ But I remember thinking, how smart. They had a lovely home and a daughter who did not seem to be any more traumatized than any other kids in our neighborhood, including my own. This family remained in their home for several years. I chatted with this woman a few times and perhaps due to my own projections, each time I talked to her, she seemed happier.
A decade later, when my husband and I decided to divorce, I also chose the upstairs/downstairs way of life. My reasons were practical: we had a lovely home our kids loved and we had significant money problems. Dividing up almost 30 years of partnered living would have compounded an already bad financial situation, so he moved downstairs and I remained upstairs. Nothing physical changed in our kids’ lives for the next three years.
Was it easy? Not always. Did we make the best of a bad situation? I’d like to think so.
Last week, I met a new friend for lunch, and I happened to share some of this story. I tend to be frank about the life choices that got me to a place where I’m glad to be. I could tell she was really listening. Her eyes brimmed with tears. She wanted to know more about my upstairs/downstairs arrangement. How did I pull it off? So I told her what I tell anyone who asks: with cooperation from my former hubby who felt the same way.
My new friend has been living in her own ‘marriage of convenience’ for much of her adult life, and witnessing her sorrow took me back in time. I told her about the negatives of living upstairs/downstairs which, for me, mostly revolved around other people’s perceptions of my children’s relative happiness. Over time, other people’s opinions became less important. As my teenagers adjusted to their parents’ way of uncoupling, they began to notice what I had noticed a decade earlier about my neighbors’ lifestyle: Our family’s new living arrangement brought with it a transparency that seemed to make our home a lot roomier now that we no longer had to tip toe around that damn elephant in the room.
These days, no doubt spurred by the tough economy, a lot of couples who want to divorce are experimenting with an upstairs/downstairs arrangement—at least, that’s the impression I get from all the blogging on the subject. Divorce is expensive and the jobless rate is way up. I told my new friend that this arrangement is not for every couple. Some couples that attempt this might end up with a remake of The War of the Roses.
Perhaps the couples that do pull it off have been living a version of the upstairs/downstairs arrangement anyway. Most of us can easily spot the marriage of convenience: the couples who dine in silence, or stand at the sidelines of their kids’ sporting events without interacting, or consistently show up solo at events intended for couples.
I told my friend that while I’ve often had second thoughts about the decisions I’ve made, getting rid of that damn elephant in the room is not one.