A Case for Conscious Uncoupling

Why it’s totally okay to gently distance yourself from bad people in your life

Libby Torres
Jan 2 · 4 min read

We’ve all been there — for one reason or another, you feel it’s time to part ways with someone who previously played a major part in your life. There’s a whole trove of articles and how-to’s devoted to navigating romantic breakups and divorces, but more difficult is distancing yourself from relationships that don’t have as clear of boundaries — like a friendship, for instance. You can’t exactly tell your roommate since college “I’m breaking up with you,” because that would be just plain weird, but you can (and should) feel comfortable in distancing yourself from people who no longer make you feel good about yourself or your life — a “conscious uncoupling,” if you will.

We can thank Gwyneth Paltrow and her split with ex-husband Chris Martin a few years back for introducing us to the phrase “conscious uncoupling” — a Goop-friendly phrase to describe the difficult, often painful process of divorcing or breaking up with someone. The gist of “conscious uncoupling” is that both parties take time to look inward instead of blaming and fighting with each other, and subsequently focus on nurturing and healing themselves instead of continuing with a potentially dysfunctional relationship.

I’m a big believer in distancing yourself from someone when the relationship is no longer working for you. Blame it on my Scorpio tendencies, but once I’ve seen someone’s true colors (for better or for worse), I’m either all in, or really turned off. It’s one thing when you realize that someone you’ve been dating casually for a few weeks is secretly an asshole (cancel them!), but it’s quite another to realize that a close friend is maybe not as supportive or empathetic as you’d hope they’d be — or maybe just isn’t able to provide the kind of friendship you need right now.

That’s where the “conscious uncoupling” a là Gwyneth Paltrow comes in. 2018 was the year I realized it’s perfectly okay to slowly remove yourself from a relationship that’s no longer serving you — without starting drama or being mean. You’re allowed to unfriend someone without having a huge-falling out, because sometimes, people just grow apart! This can be tough if the feeling isn’t mutual, but be firm and polite in your boundaries, and remember that it’s okay to distance yourself from people who aren’t giving you what you need right now.

Friendships aren’t static, as we all probably know, and even if you go into a friendship with the best of intentions, it’s still possible to grow apart. You have no obligation to remain friends with someone who isn’t good for you, just like you’d have no obligation to stay in a romantic relationship that was going nowhere, or at worst, borderline abusive. Friendships are the same — they can just be a little more difficult to get out of.

If it’s not a mutual drifting apart, be as considerate as you can when politely turning down plans or intimate conversations proposed by your would-be pal. Above all, be kind and communicate if asked — but now is not the time to bring up petty grievances, even if they contributed to your desire to distance yourself from this person. This isn’t to say you should “unfriend” anyone who you have a falling out with — some friendships can definitely weather the storm. And at least in my experience, after distancing myself from friendships that didn’t make me feel good, I was able to enjoy and value my other, stronger friendships even more. Just be honest with yourself (and your friend, if necessary) about your needs. Remember that it’s your life, and you get to choose who you surround yourself with.


NewStand

Imagine your favorite bodega and blog had a baby; that's us. Half store, half app, we're all about new products, new ideas, and new people.

Libby Torres

Written by

Editorial associate at New Stand, writer at the Daily Beast. Formerly: Gothamist, Bedford + Bowery

NewStand

NewStand

Imagine your favorite bodega and blog had a baby; that's us. Half store, half app, we're all about new products, new ideas, and new people.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade