If you’ve turned on the news this month, odds are you’ve heard about Gwyneth Paltrow’s separation from her husband, Chris Martin. They appear to be going about it quite amicably, and for that we should applaud them. However, Ms. Paltrow has taken it a step further by labeling her divorce a “Conscious Uncoupling,” and recruiting a couple of experts — Dr. Habib Sadeghi, a physician specializing in combining Eastern and Western medicine, and Dr. Sherri Sami, a dentist — to discuss this alternative style of divorce.
They concede that divorce can be a messy situation, but posit that our nation’s high divorce rate “might actually be a calling to learn a new way of being in relationships.”
The problem is that the “science” Sadeghi and Sami use as the foundation for their theory is extremely shaky. They go to great lengths to explain that the average human lifespan has “skyrocketed” from 33 in the Paleolithic period, to 76 and 78 for men and women today. They conclude that since our ancestors didn’t live that long, they weren’t in relationships with the same person for 25 to 50 years. Since we’re living two to three lifetimes compared to early humans, maybe society’s expectations of lifelong mating is unrealistic.
The problem is their theory is based on a convenient misunderstanding of the facts. These oft-quoted statistics are heavily skewed by childhood deaths and infant mortality rates. When a great deal of children die in their first few years, the “average age” at which people die is brought down significantly.
Sorry, doctors, but our turn-of-the-century ancestors weren’t dropping dead en-masse in their mid forties. In fact, the maximum human lifespan for those that make it to adulthood has remained more or less constant for thousands of years.
While the foundation of the theory is misguided, the conclusion they draw is downright disturbing. They state that, “The idea of being married to one person for life is too much pressure for anyone. In fact, it would be interesting to see how much easier couples might commit to each other by thinking of their relationship in terms of daily renewal instead of a lifetime investment.”
I’m worried that the theories presented here may give the reader a license to interpret the smallest irritation as a sign to “uncouple.” Irritations are a realistic part of every relationship, not a side effect of mankind’s difficulty with lifelong bonds in the face of our increasing lifespan. Part of entering into a partnership is agreeing to work through those challenges.
I’m no expert in the evolution of human relationships, but I know a thing or two about divorce. At its worst, divorce is an ugly, difficult affair with lasting emotional and financial ramifications. I’m happy for Ms. Paltrow and Mr. Martin, as well as any couple that can agree to end a marriage partnership in an agreeable way. I only wish they would think a little harder about their responsibility as public figures before releasing potentially damaging relationship advice.