Exclusive Interview With Katherine Woodward Thomas, Creator Of Conscious Uncoupling

Many of us struggle with painful patterns in our romantic relationships, playing out our disappointing story over and over again. Men always leave. Women don't want me. No one ever asks me out. We think there is something fundamentally wrong with us that is keeping us single.
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Katherine Woodward Thomas
Photo courtesy of Katherine Woodward Thomas

Katherine Woodward Thomas, MA, MFT, is the author of the New York Times Bestseller Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After national bestseller Calling in "The One": 7 Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life, a licensed marriage and family therapist, co-creator of the Calling in "The One" and Feminine Power online courses and certified coaches trainings, and creator of Conscious Uncoupling and the Conscious Uncoupling online 5-week course that was launched in 2011, as well as creator and lead trainer of the Conscious Uncoupling Coaches Training. Katherine has taught hundreds of thousands of people in her virtual learning communities and has trained hundreds of coaches in her transformative work.

You refer to yourself as a "love-olutionary". What is that?
The first line of my first book, the national bestseller, Calling in "The One", says "The reason why so many of us do not have the relationship we are longing for is that we have not yet become the person we would need to be to attract and sustain such a union."

When I was 41, I was a member of the fastest growing group in America -- the "never marrieds." I'd struggled for years to find the right relationship, but to no avail. Yet, soon after I turned 41, I set an intention to be engaged by my 42nd birthday. Now, my birthday was a mere 8 months away and I had zero prospects for a husband, let alone a fabulous one. It was a pretty outrageous thing to do. When I called my friend to share the intention with her, she said something that changed my life. "Katherine," she replied, "I will hold that intention with you if you give me permission to hold you accountable to be the woman you would need to be in order to be engaged by your 42nd birthday.

Up until that time, I'd always just felt as though it was my fate to be alone in life. It never really occurred to me that I might need to evolve. I'd been looking for "The One" without realizing that I would also need to become "The One."

That insight became the foundation for the Calling in "The One" work, where the focus is on creating love from the inside out. Rather than run out to find love, we put our attention on discovering and releasing all of the ways we've been blocking it from coming to us.

Many of us struggle with painful patterns in our romantic relationships, playing out our disappointing story over and over again. Men always leave. Women don't want me. No one ever asks me out. We think there is something fundamentally wrong with us that is keeping us single.

Yet what I've discover is that usually we are missing some key development that would allow us to graduate from our old challenges in love and form happy, healthy, long term bonds. For example, learning how to navigate conflict in a way that roots love down, or discovering how to have better boundaries so that we can trust ourselves to get close to someone. It's not rocket science. But most of us are trying to figure out why we don't have the love we want by looking at what's going on with men or what's going on with women -- as though the biggest barriers to love were external to us and outside of our control. With Calling in "The One," we look at the internal obstacles to love -- the baggage that we're carrying around, the unresolved resentments, or the many ways we are unconsciously getting in our own way, so that we can access the power we need to evolve beyond these internal blocks and find the love we are looking for.

What don't men understand about women?

I've worked with tens of thousands of women in my online and in-person learning communities and the biggest thing I find that women want in their relationship is just the ability to relax! We're over-functioning and striving so much in so many areas of our lives, that we want our men to provide a respite from having to manage it all. I think that's why 50 Shades of Grey was so popular. It wasn't really the sexual fulfillment as much as the deep let go that women are craving.

The thing that makes women tense the most is when a man is untrustworthy -- for example, he doesn't do what he says he is going to do, or maybe his choices are self-serving so he's not protecting his loved ones, or perhaps he overpromises and under-delivers. When a man is untrustworthy in these ways, a woman can never just let down her guard. She feels like his mother, which is a super unsexy way to feel about your man.

Yet when a man is grounded and trustworthy -- he has integrity, he does what he says he's going to do, he makes wise decisions that benefit them both, he takes personal responsibility for his mistakes and seeks to make amends when appropriate, then a woman can finally lighten up and enjoy life more. Someone has her back. She'll follow this man anywhere.

What don't women understand about men?
A lot of us are conflicted these days and consequently, we're giving a lot of mixed messages to men. We expect our men to be conscious, relational, heart-centered, emotionally astute and spiritually advanced, much like we ourselves are striving to be. Yet, truthfully, most of us have had the luxury of spending time figuring ourselves out for years by now, without the pressure of having to prove our value by earning a lot of money. We've taken time off to journal about our feelings, attended personal growth seminars, read self-help books, and indulged our creative impulses. Most men have not had the luxury to indulge such practices, or they may have suffered a pretty big push back if they have.

When it comes to developing their self-awareness and their softness, I think men are feeling kind of "damned if you do and damned if you don't." If they get off the earning treadmill long enough to slow down and do some serious inner reflection, they'll often get crap from their women for not making as much money as they could. Yet if they keep just plugging away at bringing home the bacon, women get bored with them because they aren't internally advanced enough.

What women don't understand is that in order for men to develop internally in the ways we are wanting them to do so that we can have more conscious relationships, we're going to need to support them to slow down and stop producing so much. So that they can afford to feel what they feel, and connect with the more nuanced and tender experiences of being human.

The book that started it all
Photo courtesy of Katherine Woodward Thomas

What inspired you to create Conscious Uncoupling?

First off, can I please thank Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin for shooting my work into the lexicon two years ago and for being such great role models for what's actually possible with a conscious uncoupling?

I created that work first as an online program in 2011 after my husband and I decided to divorce after 10 years of marriage. It was a deeply confusing time and yet the one thing we most agreed upon as we sorted through the many decisions we were faced with in how we wanted to undo our union, was that we both wanted our daughter to have a happy childhood. Now, we all know the stats on kids from divorced families. So, it got us curious. Would it be possible to have a kind divorce? One that allowed our family to reconfigure itself in a new and healthy way where everyone was left whole, happy and fundamentally well, rather than bruised, broken and damaged?

So, rather than succumb to the hostile and toxic divorces we'd both experienced in our childhood homes, we set out to have a loving, conscious and deeply civil parting of the ways. Our transition to what I call our "happily even after" post-divorce family was characterized by a tremendous amount of generosity and goodness. And, as we had hoped, our daughter has come out unscathed, as have we for the most part.

I don't take the end of any marriage lightly. Yet if it is inevitable to end your union, the Conscious Uncoupling 5-Step process provides the blueprint for how to breakup better.

Has Gwyneth Paltrow thanked you for turning her on to the Conscious Uncoupling process for her own divorce from Coldplay front man Chris Martin?
Just today I was driving listening to Cold Play and fantasizing about meeting Chris Martin and saying, "Hey Chris, thanks for popping Conscious Uncoupling into the stratosphere. Way to go!" I've never met Gwyneth or Chris but I am super grateful that they used my term to name their very honorable divorce. They've been great role models for the process.

I think, however, that because Conscious Uncoupling was made famous through Gwyneth and Chris, most people don't realize that it is a 5-Step process that anyone can do, with or without their former partner's consent or cooperation. It only takes one to have a Conscious Uncoupling.

The benefit of doing the program as a couple who is uncoupling, or as a solo person going it alone is that you can find emotional freedom and use the pain of your breakup to help graduate you from any old painful patterns in love, as well as come out the other side of heartbreak with a greater capacity to love and be loved moving forward. Which is no small feat, given that many go on to live lesser lives in the aftermath of a bad breakup.

You've said that due to your parents' nasty divorce and unresolved tensions between them, unstable and toxic relational patterns plagued you until you were into your late 30s when you finally managed to sort yourself out. How did you manage to do so?
I became a teacher of personal and spiritual development as an organic outgrowth of how much I myself needed to evolve and change! By the time I reached early adulthood, I was a bit of a mess. I had an out of control eating disorder and was virtually unemployable. My relationships were both unsatisfying and unstable. I was teetering on the edge of poverty and could barely take care of myself. I was depressed and anxious most of the time and I smoked like a chimney. Yet my one saving grace was my willingness to lean in to grow myself in the ways I would need to in order to fully recover.

It took about 15 years of meditation and prayer, as well as continually attending 12 step groups, transformational seminars, therapy and any and all healing modalities I could find to finally begin to experience an inner sense of worthiness, wellbeing and peace. Working with others and being of service to their growth and development was simply one more way of healing myself. I think I was just following the modeling of Bill W. and AA.

Within a few years, I found myself in the privileged position of working with thousands of students who were coming to me to help them to evolve beyond their toxic relational patterns and learn to have happier, healthier connections with others. It's an honor and a joy, really.

Katherine Woodward Thomas
Photo courtesy of Katherine Woodward Thomas

How did you manage to become named valedictorian of your kindergarten class? Did you have to campaign for it? And what sort of school even has valedictorians for kindergarten kids? Do you remember any of your speech's central points?
LOL! Well, I just asked my mom and she corrected me by saying I was valedictorian of my nursery school class, not kindergarten! I'm not sure she's right about that. But what I do recall is standing in the hot sun on a lovely summer day, wearing my pretty white lace dress and shiny patent leather shoes, and feeling very excited to share the speech I worked so hard to memorize. I suppose it was the start of my life-long love affair with public speaking. What I would give to remember what the heck I said! I imagine I congratulated all of the kids on their amazing accomplishment of learning the alphabet and how to count to 100. I probably also thanked the parents for their support. We couldn't have done it without them.

What's the difference between Conscious Uncoupling and a friendly divorce?
Most of us aspire to a healthy ending. No one wants to mess up their kids or blow through their entire retirement to send their attorney's kids to college. We don't want to get so out of control that we find ourselves obsessively plotting revenge against our ex, cyber stalking the new lover, or spending the next decade of our lives guarded and mistrustful of love. We're basically good people and usually we pride ourselves on our good judgment and ethical behavior.

Yet the fear and anger we can feel during a breakup can not only take us out, but can also take us over if we're not careful.

Conscious Uncoupling is a 5-Step blueprint for how to get through this incredibly painful experience and come out the other side of it with our integrity intact. It is the process by which we can ensure a friendly divorce.

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