Forget conscious uncoupling: the way forward for families is platonic parenting (2023)

Valerie Tate knew her marriage was over seven years after she’d wed.

She and her husband, Clark, tried therapy but they eventually realized that they wanted different things in an intimate relationship. As a therapist, she’d seen the damage divorce could do, especially to kids. The last thing they wanted to do was to drag their son Jonah, now 11, through an ugly breakup while they all were grieving. So they decided that they’d stop working on their marriage, which wasn’t helping anyway, and try something different.

Whatever you think about Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling”, the San Francisco Bay Area couple did one better; they uncoupled but didn’t divorce. They stayed married and they stayed put. They just removed the romantic and sexual aspect of their marriage, but remained loving and respectful to each other, and focused on co-parenting.

“It was like a shift in what we were fighting for. Instead of fighting for the romantic relationship to continue,” she says, they put Jonah’s needs first by not upending his life.

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That was eight years ago.

To outsiders, they might look like any other couple – they enjoy meals, holidays and adventures as a family. Except they’re not staying together miserably for the sake of their kid, as far too many couples do; they transformed their marriage into a parenting marriage.

While the Tates may have helped bring the concept to the national forefront when ABC’s Nightline captured their uncoupling ceremony before loved ones on a beach near the Golden Gate Bridge one balmy November day last year, it isn’t all that unusual. LGBT people have been successfully arranging all sorts of creative multiparenting partnerships for decades, often outside the realm of marriage. And it works.

As Judith Stacey details in her 2011 book Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China, gay men who have children together create the most stable families of all the alternative families she’s encountered. It’s hard for men to become parents without women, she notes. But the gay men who “willingly unhitch their sexual and romantic desires from their domestic ones in order to become parents” show a commitment and determination that may be essential to give children the stability they need.

If gay men can do it, why can’t heterosexual people?

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They already are – slowly. In recent years, there’s been a rise in websites like, and, which connect men who are interested in being dads with women who are interested in being moms – but that’s it; they may not become spouses, lovers or even housemates.

In many ways, the couples who come together to create these parenting partnerships are proving to be much more prepared for the responsibilities of raising a child than couples that do it the old-fashioned way – meet, fall in love, marry and have vague discussions about how many kids they want and when. They are modeling the true definition of planned parenthood.

Los Angeles therapist Rami Aizic and his parenting partner spent months getting to know each other and their parenting philosophies, and went to therapy together before he was convinced he’d found the perfect woman to be the mother of his child. Their daughter is now a teen. “She loves that she’s got this non-mainstream configuration of a family,” he says.

Rachel Hope, author of Family By Choice: Platonic Partnered Parenting, has two children, now 24 and six, with two platonic friends, and hopes to have another one day with a still-unknown dad. Before she got pregnant both times, she exhaustively detailed with each father how they were going to make it work – from who would pay for what, to what kind of education their kids should get, to what they would do if one of them became romantically involved with someone else.

While some may worry about the potential legal pitfalls of such parenting partnerships, that’s not a problem in a marriage that starts off that way or, like the Tates, transforms into one.

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But what a parenting marriage lacks in legal complications, it makes up in other concerns – love and sex. How will kids fare if their parents aren’t in love with each other? How will they learn about love if there’s no one to model it for them? And how do parents get their sexual needs met?

These are valid questions. However, there aren’t any studies that indicate children need their parents to love each other – whereas there are plenty of studies indicating children do need parental warmth and love, consistency, stability and a relatively conflict-free environment. Being kind to each other is what matters.

“Children are love radars; they can feel when there’s love and kindness and they can feel when there’s hurt and cutoff between parents,” says Valerie Tate, who works with couples to bring loving feelings back into their relationship and has helped a handful of couples transform their marriages into similar arrangements. “The way people treat each other makes a huge difference.”

San Francisco Bay Area therapist Susan Pease Gadoua has also been helping couples on the verge of divorce convert their traditional marriages into parenting marriages. In the beginning, just one or two couples were interested in it, and always at her suggestion. But in the past few weeks alone, she’s talked to four couples from across the US who told her they’d like to explore the option.

“It’s like the quantum leap has happened,” she says.

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While each couple is free to create the terms of their new arrangement – who sleeps where, how financial obligations should be split, whether new romantic partners can be introduced into the family, when and if they eventually plan to divorce – they first must agree that their romantic and sexual relationship is over, and that the new purpose of their marriage is to be the best co-parents they can be.

Then they have to tell the kids as openly and honestly as they can in age-appropriate language.

And then there’s sex – what are couples supposed to do with their sexual desires? Some, like the Tates, keep romantic flings away from the family unless it’s someone who’s a long-term partner – just like many divorced people do. For couples that are entering into a parenting marriage, sex will have to be just another thing they need to negotiate. “It’s a really individual decision,” Gadoua says. The bigger question is: why must a person’s sexual needs dictate how he or she becomes a parent and continues to parent?

A parenting marriage makes sense when you consider the cost of divorce, not only financially but also emotionally. While more dads are fighting for – and winning – shared physical custody, divorce has often reduced men to being weekend dads. That isn’t what fathers want and it isn’t what their children want either. In fact, research by Penn State sociologist Paul Amato indicates that kids have the worst outcomes when their parents live apart, have a high-conflict relationship and when one parent – typically the father – is no longer active in their life.

So why not structure the relationship from the beginning so it works best for the kids?

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Since 52% of millennials told the Pew Research Center that being a good parent is “one of the most important things” in life, while a mere 30% say the same about having a successful marriage, it’s likely that more couples may indeed do that.


What is platonic co-parenting? ›

Platonic co-parenting definition. Co-parenting is when a child is raised by two parents who are not or have not been in a romantic relationship. People choose to platonic co-parent for various reasons, and it can work for individuals and couples.

What is the family version of platonic? ›

In a world where biological science and equal rights have diversified ways to start a family, platonic co-parenting – the decision to have a child with someone you are not romantically involved with and, in most cases, choose not to live with – remains a relatively new phenomenon.

What is a platonic mom? ›

In platonic parenting, parents raise children together but are not romantically involved.

How do you uncouple with kids? ›

7 Steps To A “Good Divorce” When You Have Children
  1. Practice peaceful communication strategies. ...
  2. Recognize that the nature of your relationship has changed. ...
  3. Manage your emotional reactivity. ...
  4. Make dignity your goal. ...
  5. Realize that life isn't fair. ...
  6. Turn your divorce into an opportunity for personal growth.
Jun 5, 2018

What is the opposite of a platonic relationship? ›

While both types of relationships often involve having a deep friendship and sometimes even love, people in a romantic relationship are typically physically intimate whereas there is no sex or physical intimacy in a platonic relationship.

Can you have a platonic marriage? ›

The short answer is yes: Any marriage can be or become platonic. However, both parties must agree to this arrangement in order for it to work. “Couples can decide from the outset that they want a platonic marriage… or the marriage can become this way over time,” Angela Amias — a licensed therapist — tells Scary Mommy.

How do you know if it's platonic? ›

In short, while there's no single way to fall in love, you'll probably notice a few key physical and emotional signs:
  • Your thoughts return to them regularly. ...
  • You feel safe with them. ...
  • Life feels more exciting. ...
  • You want to spend a lot of time together. ...
  • You feel a little jealous of other people in their life.
Dec 16, 2019

Are platonic relationships possible? ›

Yes, platonic relationships are possible and are very common, just so long as both people's intentions and understanding of the relationship are the same. Of course, there may be instances where one person's feelings may develop and therefore interfere with the relationship.

What's the difference between platonic love and friendship? ›

The love between friends is platonic love. Platonic describes a relationship that is purely spiritual and not physical. If a guy and a girl hang out all the time but aren't boyfriend and girlfriend, they'd describe their friendship as platonic.

Are platonic love parents? ›

Platonic parenting, also referred to as 'co-parenting', is a term used to define people who are not romantically involved with each other who decide to raise a child together. Reasons to become platonic parents vary.

Are friendships platonic? ›

Platonic friendship specifically refers to friendship between two people who could, in theory, feel attracted to each other.

Can you raise a child with a friend? ›

Yes, you can co-parent with a friend. This is also known as platonic parenting, which implies having children among friends or acquaintances and sharing custody of the children, but without the obligation to be a couple.

Should separated parents spend time together? ›

While it is generally recognized that co-parenting can provide additional comfort and stability for young children after a divorce, experts suggest that spending too much time together after a divorce can have some potentially-negative effects as well.

How do I start conscious uncoupling? ›

How to Consciously Uncouple
  1. Find emotional freedom. Even if you saw your split coming, it's totally normal to feel shocked emotionally and physically. ...
  2. Reclaim your power and your life. ...
  3. Break the pattern, heal your heart. ...
  4. Become a love alchemist. ...
  5. Create your "happy even after" life.
Apr 20, 2021

How do you separate but still live together? ›

She strongly recommends that couples follow these guidelines until the separation becomes physical and legal.
  1. Establish and respect physical boundaries. ...
  2. Work out a financial agreement. ...
  3. Divide up responsibilities. ...
  4. Do not sleep together. ...
  5. Make house rules. ...
  6. Draw the social lines.
Aug 28, 2013

What is a platonic girlfriend? ›

platonic Add to list Share. Platonic describes a relationship that is purely spiritual and not physical. If a guy and a girl hang out all the time but aren't boyfriend and girlfriend, they'd describe their friendship as platonic.

Why is platonic love called? ›

Platonic relationships are those characterized by friendship and lacking romantic or sexual aspects, in contrast with romantic relationships. They are named after Plato and reference his writings on different types of love.

Can a man and a woman be platonic friends? ›

Platonic relationships—i.e. close, non-sexual friendships—between men and women can be real and viable and pretty great. It's a relief, not a stressor, to know someone of the opposite sex in a context that isn't mediated by sexual attraction, according to a number of people I spoke to.

What happens sexless marriage? ›

A sexless marriage is a marriage in which there is little to no sexual activity between the partners. Many couples experience periods of more sex and less sex.

Is a sexless relationship a friendship? ›

It's not sex that makes a difference between relationship and friendship (you can also be in relationship but celibate or have health issues that don't allow you to have sexual intercourse, but it doesn't mean it's not a relationship), but romantic feelings(or lack them of).

Will a sexless marriage last? ›

Can a sexless marriage survive? The short answer is that yes, a sexless marriage can survive – but it can come at a cost. If one partner desires sex but the other is uninterested, lack of sex can lead to decreased intimacy and connection, feelings of resentment and even infidelity.

What does platonic love feel like? ›

In platonic love, both parties feel overwhelming gratitude, fondness, and interest for one another. These relationships, which often grow from typical friendships, turn into deeper and stronger bonds.

Is kissing platonic? ›

Just because the practice of platonic kissing isn't familiar to you doesn't mean it's not common elsewhere. "Platonic lip kissing is found in cultures around the world, between friends, family, and sometimes even strangers as a means of greeting," says Allison Moon, author of "Girl Sex 101."

How do you become platonic? ›

How to Develop a Healthy Platonic Friendship
  1. Having Feelings of Attraction Does Not Mean You Need to Act on Them. ...
  2. Understand Boundaries and Stick by Them. ...
  3. Do Not Fuel Gossip. ...
  4. Don't Flirt. ...
  5. Do Things That Encourage the Friendship Without Fueling Intimacy. ...
  6. Watch for Feelings of Jealousy.
Feb 15, 2017

Are platonic love parents? ›

Platonic parenting, also referred to as 'co-parenting', is a term used to define people who are not romantically involved with each other who decide to raise a child together. Reasons to become platonic parents vary.

What is the origin of platonic? ›

The concept of platonic goes back to Florentine scholar Marsilio Ficino in the 15th century. He spoke of amor platonicus (“platonic love”), a kind of divine, soul-connected love. It was based on ancient Greek philosophy of Plato, who saw the love of beauty itself as a higher, more ideal form of love than of the flesh.

What is family according to Aristotle? ›

The family is said to be the basic cell of all human society, the primary association of human beings. The mutual influence and inevitable tensions of the family and the polis extend throughout the political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle.

What do u mean by nuclear family? ›

nuclear family, also called elementary family, in sociology and anthropology, a group of people who are united by ties of partnership and parenthood and consisting of a pair of adults and their socially recognized children. Typically, but not always, the adults in a nuclear family are married.


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