Like any world unto itself, Hollywood has its own lexicon.
But Gwyneth Paltrow’s use of the term “conscious uncoupling” to describe her break-up with Chris Martin this week had even Hollywood veterans scratching their heads and reaching – metaphorically at least – for a dictionary.
There was, of course, criticism, too, but there was also some praise for the break-up message and the way it was delivered (the couple posted about it on Paltrow’s lifestyle website Goop).
But before we get to that, let’s start with the basics: What does “conscious uncoupling” actually mean?
“I’ve never heard it, but it sounds like a phrase used by marriage therapists in Malibu,” quips Janice Min, editor of The Hollywood Reporter.
Pretty close, actually.
The term was coined by a Los Angeles therapist and author, Katherine Woodward Thomas, who has created a five-step “Conscious Uncoupling” process to “release the trauma of a break-up, reclaim your power and reinvent your life”.
Speaking over the phone, Thomas explains that her goal was “to create a map for a couple to consciously complete a relationship – to have an honourable ending”.
She says the assumption that people will have only one partner – and that anything else is a failure – comes from a time long ago when lifespans were much shorter.
“I’m a fan of marriage, but I recognise that most people in their lives will have two to three longtime relationships – which means one to two break-ups,” she says. “And so we need to learn how to do this better.”
Thomas says she doesn’t know Paltrow, but applauds the way she and Coldplay frontman Martin announced their break-up. “They’re modelling this for the world,” she says.
Not surprisingly, though, the reference evoked some criticism in Hollywood and across the pond in Britain, where the couple is also based.
“What deluded tosh,” headlined a column in The Guardian, using slang for rubbish, or nonsense.
Tosh perhaps, but the phrase actually made it to the House of Lords, Britain’s upper chamber of Parliament, where a Labour Party lawmaker referred to a political disagreement over university fees on Wednesday as “yet another example of the coalition’s conscious uncoupling”.
Min, however, notes how expertly it was managed from a public relations standpoint, with the break-up message published online late on a Tuesday, after the celebrity weeklies had all closed their issues.
“It was very smart,” says Min, who is also the former editor of US Weekly.
“By next week, there will be other news, and they probably won’t be on the cover at all.”
And the fact the couple made the statement on Paltrow’s website gave them control over the message.
Min says it was also touching.
“It really felt sincere,” she says. “And it gave us more information than you normally get in these situations – revealing they’d been separated for a while.
“There was a sincerity here that you rarely see.”
Longtime Hollywood public relations expert Howard Bragman agrees, applauding the couple for their honesty and civility.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of Hollywood divorces, and I have to say, this is refreshing,” says Bragman, who is vice-chairman of Reputation广西桑拿,.
“You can roll your eyes at the purportedly New Age language, but the broader message is, ‘We’re gonna do this together’.
“I give them a lot of credit.”