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Uncoupling: Turning Points in Intimate Relationships

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  216 ratings  ·  30 reviews
"Uncoupling begins with a secret. One of the partners starts to feel uncomfortable in the relationship. The world the two of them have built together no longer 'fits.'"

How do relationships end? Why does one partner suddenly become discontented with the other - and why is the onset of that discontentment not so sudden after all? What signals do partners send each other to i
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 5th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1986)
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Mar 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is great for anyone who is going or has gone through the ending of a relationship, has so many questions to ask about how it happened, and is frustrated because the one person you want to ask is also the one person you can't. As the book says, it doesn't offer many insights into the "why" of a break up, but the information on the "how" is fairly exhaustive. It gave me peace of mind when I needed it, and allowed me to get answers to questions which I never thought I would be able. Armed ...more
Josh Barkey
Mar 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
A superb book for defragmenting the fragmenting experience of the end of an intimate relationship. We find ourselves in stories, and in this case sociologist Vaughan has intentionally looked to the stories of hundreds of people whose relationships ended to find the commonalities. It was affirming and restive to discover that all the crazy things that happened to/in my ending relationship were common to everyone in the same situation.
Jan 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library
This book really helped me when I was going through a separation/divorce a few years ago. This book, along with 'Your Heart Knows the Answer' really saved me from hitting an emotional abyss - highly recommend to people going through rough times, relationship-wise. [close:]
Emi Bevacqua
Apr 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Detailed look at all the stages, or turning points, of ended relationships of every color and stripe (hetero, gay, young, retired, white collar, DINK, etc), based on the experiences of over 100 different couples, collected and presented by a professional sociologist. Diane Vaughan explains perfectly how my marriage was dismantled from the inside over the course of ten years without my having known about it, in a way that my emotionally retarded incommunicative soon to be ex-husband never could e ...more
Oct 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting, though dated, read. This book contains lots of quotes from both sides of troubled relationships. But, really, the turning points the author details are not just for intimate relationships but for most all: jobs, academic, casual, professional. The authors writing style is clinical and detached, which, to me, contribute to a difficult read. The very last chapter, Transition Rituals, was the strongest and a good short-cut to reading the entire book! Recent research on the feasibility ...more
Jun 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you are going through a divorce, if you are the one that is leaving or is being left, this is an excellent book on how a marriage falls apart - not the reasons or who is at fault. Just the process. How couples start living parallel lives, exit affairs, and deteriorate in general. If you are looking to blame or demonize anyone, or try your divorce in the court of public opinion, this is not your book.

If you have friends or family members divorcing, and want to help them and their kids, this i
Oct 08, 2007 rated it it was ok
I noticed this book in my wife's car not so long ago. She purchased it something like 2 weeks before she told me she wants a divorce. I looked it up on Amazon and based on the reviews there, I got a copy for myself. Will it help me to understand? Who knows.

Not really so helpful, really. It more a description of what's likely to happen than an analysis of why. A lot of it does apply to what happened to my marriage, I guess, though not quite. But so what? It doesn't do anything to help understand
Julie Pixie
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Details the process and commonalities of breaking up in a way that helps you look back and understand the rituals going on and what might be going on in the other person's head from both the initiator and partner perspective. Also helped me feel better about some of the rituals I'm doing, that other people might be doing them, and might change the way I uncouple in the future (if I get into another relationship). A little bit outside my realm and wish it would have helped more, but still much be ...more
Jun 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I've lost count of how many copies of this I've given friends/family that are having relationship trouble. Nothing here is going to fix anything but it goes a long way towards explaining the crazy/hurtful behavior you are experiencing (or dishing out, but if you are doing the dumping you're not likely to be searching for reading material like this are you?)

I really do believe this book should be mandatory reading for anyone headed into or out of a marriage.
Sep 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My mom recommended this book to me when I was having marriage troubles. Sadly, it made my situation very clear to me.
Sep 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
Read if you are thinking of breaking up with a partner. This is a classic.
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a really hard book to read. It brought up a ton of things for me to think about. Great as a psychology major to put life into perspective and show me things that I didn't even realize. I could only handle in small doses and was glad that it finished. It was like a bandage a necessary thing for a while and hard to rip off but worth it.
Barbara Ab
Dec 25, 2018 rated it did not like it
The writers states to have made a selections of several testimonies and based on them the development of the book – why couples break and which are the hints before - . I didn’t like it. I had to give it up after 50 pages… boring and not well developed.
Jun 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Well, while I'm going through such an uncoupling myself, I laid out my hands to this book and now, I know which phase we're in as a couple. Also, I'm gonna give this book to her and would want to let her know that I know your next move, Biatch !

Thanks a lot for this study. It does makes sense.
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very insightful, helped me make sense of personal experiences.
Ellen Stadler
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very accurate description of how uncoupling happens. From my own experience of having lived through it and others I’ve seen who are beginning the process.
Thi N.
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
My professor assigned us this book as our textbook requirement. It's a lot more interesting to read to understand facts than reading a long, lengthy, expensive textbook. Definitely a read if you're going into a relationship or getting out of one. A lot of stages I didn't even recognize after getting out of a relationship prior to taking my own course. I can unfortunately say I related to some interviews that Dr. Vaughan had done.
Riley Haas
Jan 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
"I interrupted my normal reading schedule to read this book specifically because I was going through a breakup - a relationship of nearly five years, the longest romantic relationship of my life, had ended. I chose Uncoupling out of the books recommended to me because I found it the easiest but also because it appeared to not be a a self-help book, and I don't enjoy the proscriptions of self-help books - I generally find them condescending.

On the whole, Uncoupling is a landmark study of the end
Karen Sesek
Feb 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. Anyone who is ever in a relationship or ever wants to be in one should read this book. If you are in one and you want to know the state of your couplehood... or better yet, you are single and want to know how to build a great relationship... read this book! It will point out pitfalls you will not see in advance, and it will help you to know if your relationship is in trouble but you don't know why... the why and maybe what you can do about it.

I am personally someone who hates a
Jan 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: sociology
A sociological study of how relationships break down. Gives a detailed account, from personal accounts, of how the process of detachment starts. This is not a self-help book and will not give you advice on how to save a relationship. It will help one examine what happened in previous relationships and may help one identify what is currently happening.
Oct 24, 2007 rated it really liked it
For anyone wanting to understand the process of ending a relationship, this book is worth reading. It provides an understanding of everything that leads up to the end of the relationship. And, this is something that can be very helpful to know before going into another one!
Jan 24, 2009 rated it liked it
An enjoyable read, but I'm left wanting more from Vaughan on a methodological level. How many of her interviewees displayed certain characteristics is not clear from the book; she favors using the words "some" and "others" over hard numbers. I'd like to see those numbers.
Apr 15, 2007 marked it as to-read
One of my co-workers at the lab says that this is the well-researched and yet very accessible relationship book that she passes on to all of her friends.
Christine Hardy
Jun 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
A great read for when a relationship ends.
Apr 12, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: class

close relationships (walzer)
Aug 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Very informative in helping me to understand what was going on in my life. Highly recommended!
Mar 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book! Gained many insights that have been useful working with couples.
A classic. Indispensable for the recently divorced.
Mar 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: for-class
I had to read this for a introductory sociology course, and wouldn't recommend it for any other purpose.
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Totally fascinating to see that relationships unravel in predictable ways

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“Mourning is essential to uncoupling, as it is to any significant leavetaking. Uncoupling is a transition into a different lifestyle, a change of life course which, whether we recognize and admit it in the early phases or not, is going to be made without the other person. We commit ourselves to relationships expecting them to last, however. In leaving behind a significant person who shares a portion of our life, we experience a loss.” 5 likes
“To speak of a communication failure implies a breakdown of some sort. Yet this does not accurately portray what occurs. In truth, communication difficulties arise not from breakdown but from the characteristics of the system itself. Despite promising beginnings in our intimate relationships, we tend over time to evolve a system of communication that suppresses rather than reveals information. Life is complicated, and confirming or disconfirming the well-being of a relationship takes effort. Once we are comfortably coupled, the intense, energy-consuming monitoring of courtship days is replaced by a simpler, more efficient method. Unable to witness our partners’ every activity or verify every nuance of meaning, we evolve a communication system based on trust. We gradually cease our attentive probing, relying instead on familiar cues and signals to stand as testament to the strength of the bond: the words “I love you,” holidays with the family, good sex, special times with shared friends, the routine exchange, “How was your day?” We take these signals as representative of the relationship and turn our monitoring energies elsewhere.
Not only do the initiator’s negative signals tend to become incorporated into the existing routine, but, paradoxically, the initiator actively contributes to the impression that life goes on as usual. Even as they express their unhappiness, initiators work at emphasizing and maintaining the routine aspects of life with the other person, simultaneously giving signals that all is well. Unwilling to leave the relationship yet, they need to privately explore and evaluate the situation. The initiator thus contrives an appearance of participation,7 creating a protective cover that allows them to “return” if their alternative resources do not work out.
Our ability to do this—to perform a role we are no longer enthusiastically committed to—is one of our acquired talents. In all our encounters, we present ourselves to others in much the same way as actors do, tailoring our performance to the role we are assigned in a particular setting.8 Thus, communication is always distorted. We only give up fragments of what really occurs within us during that specific moment of communication.9 Such fragments are always selected and arranged so that there is seldom a faithful presentation of our inner reality. It is transformed, reduced, redirected, recomposed.10 Once we get the role perfected, we are able to play it whether we are in the mood to go on stage or not, simply by reproducing the signals.
What is true of all our encounters is, of course, true of intimate relationships. The nature of the intimate bond is especially hard to confirm or disconfirm.11 The signals produced by each partner, while acting out the partner role, tend to be interpreted by the other as the relationship.12 Because the costs of constantly checking out what the other person is feeling and doing are high, each partner is in a position to be duped and misled by the other.13 Thus, the initiator is able to keep up appearances that all is well by falsifying, tailoring, and manipulating signals to that effect. The normal routine can be used to attest to the presence of something that is not there. For example, initiators can continue the habit of saying, “I love you,” though the passion is gone. They can say, “I love you” and cover the fact that they feel disappointment or anger, or that they feel nothing at all. Or, they can say, “I love you” and mean, “I like you,” or, “We have been through a lot together,” or even “Today was a good day.”
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