You absolutely can reconcile even if you have been separated a long time. You will have to take the right steps to prevent in indefinite friendship-only relationship.
I often receive email from people who have been separated for anywhere from six months to 5 years. Typically they ask me what the chances are for reconciling their marriages.
It really isn’t possible to say based just on this information. From a reconciling standpoint, it is typically in your best interest to have a separation of no more than three months–unless your relationship is actively growing.
The shorter your separation, the less your spouse will have to being with you. Too short, though, and you risk getting back together before your relationship is fixed.
If you are separated and your relationship is not growing at all, more separation won’t help. It is time to take further action. For those that don’t, the relationship can end up with an indefinite separation.
In an indefinite separation, your spouse is getting enough from you emotionally or practically, without needing to give up the benefits that separation brings. You will need to shift the balance so that your spouse will get more by recommitting than by staying separated.
Why your spouse may prefer a long separation to reconciling or divorce
If I am working with someone when they first separate, we have two goals which occur simultaneously:
- to make a stronger connection, and
- to have good separation boundaries.
The stronger connection is necessary to give the exiting partner some desire to maintain the relationship, even if only for friendship (we must start somewhere).
The separation boundaries are to prevent the separated spouse from being able to have his or her cake and eat it, too.
If we simply were to work on connection without boundaries (as some coaches do), this tends to promote the separation rather than end it. Without boundaries, the separated spouse will have never had it so good–often being able to have an affair partner, part time marriage, and part time spouse as well. The part time spouse may be used for occasional sex (commonly by a man) or for financial support (commonly by a woman).
Men will also often separate rather than divorce in order to keep their wives faithful–even when they are not. A secure woman would never put up with this situation. All women or men who are in this double standard situation are needy. Overcoming their neediness will be necessary to get un-stuck from this situation.
When the momentum changes, so must the intervention
There will come a point after separation when the connection skills are maintaining the relationship, but no longer improving it. This is the start of the plateau phase of separation. This could last indefinitely–potentially a lifetime.
If the plateau continues more than two months (two months with no improvement), I recommend my clients to take some action to move toward divorce. The main reason is not to divorce, but to keep the relationship growing.
Movement toward divorce, after a two month plateau, is an intervention in order to pull the separated spouse further into the relationship. If this is not done, the separated spouse will continue some contact, while continuing to maintain some emotional distance as well.
This distance will justify his or her reasons to continue the separation. Spouses may say they are enjoying their relationship, but don’t feel in love yet, and just need more time. Or, they may occasionally provoke arguments that set your relationship back and prevent reconciling. This is where people usually feel stuck.
If your spouse is neither moving forward nor moving backward, it means your spouse is exactly where he or she wants to be.
How satisfied are you with your long separation?
If your relationship has not been growing for the past two months, I see no reason to continue to keep doing the same thing–unless you are satisfied with your level of relationship.
If you are satisfied with your long separation, then no further intervention is needed. There is no rule that says married people have to live together. You and your spouse can continue to enjoy your current level of relationship. For some people, the stress of living together drives them apart.
If, however, you do not want to continue your separation indefinitely, then you need to consider how long you are willing to wait. While waiting could result in a miraculous re-connection, it could just as well result in your spouse eventually leaving you for someone else.
If you wait so long that your spouse eventually leaves you, you will regret all the time you spent just being patient and hoping. Exactly how long each person tolerate this situation depends on the person. But, do you really want to tolerate a situation when you could do something about it instead?
Giving reconciling your best shot after two months of no growth
It will be tempting to give up your boundaries and let your spouse have his or cake and eat it, too. Doing that would only make your spouse even more satisfied with the separation. It would make it even harder for you to reconcile.
Why would your spouse want to reconcile if it means gaining nothing, but giving up his or her freedom?
Instead of dropping your separation boundaries, you need to be able to tell your spouse:
I like that we are getting along well, but I want to have a relationship with a man (or woman) who is committed to me. I know you don’t want that, so I am going to file for divorce and move on with my life.
With some spouses, this will provoke a “go ahead, I don’t care,” response. This is a good indicator that the relationship was not likely to work anyway and gives validation to your decision to divorce. With others, they are not likely to respond right away, but will actually start moving close to you–even as you work on divorce. This is usually their attempt to get you to drop the divorce while still maintaining the separation.
Most spouses will just wait and see if you actually follow through. If you can’t (i.e. you are too needy), you will have shown your spouse how committed you are to just hanging in there indefinitely.
Following through with the intervention
If your spouse makes renewed efforts to build your relationship, you should continue to connect with your spouse, while still keeping your separation boundaries.
The boundaries only come down when you have real signs of commitment and reconciliation. If that does happen, you can delay the divorce, while not dropping it. You only want to drop a divorce if you get renewed commitment, faithfulness, re-establishment of trust, and profession of being in love.
In the absence of these factors, do not live together! Just as with a single person, without trust, love, and commitment, your relationship will not work out. You will instead have high conflict (or distance) that will further damage your relationship.
A relationship without trust and love does not qualify as a relationship, even if you are living together.
Where many people go wrong
Many people threaten to divorce without actually following through with filing. This usually just results in loss of respect, which makes it even harder to reconcile. Absolutely never threaten to divorce if you are not going to actually follow through.
This means that you must have already considered the possibility that your spouse will not be interested in preventing the divorce and have decided that you do not want to maintain your relationship plateau. If that is you, congratulations! That is the thinking of a secure person.
Other people make the mistake of dropping the divorce before the relationship is mostly rebuilt. That results in their separated spouse just reverting to the previous level of relationship.
Yet another mistake that people make is to threaten divorce before using good connection skills to build the relationship first. If your spouse has no renewed interest in you, then a divorce intervention is not likely to work.
Keep in mind those two goals for separation:
- to make a stronger connection, and
- to have good separation boundaries.
Neither one alone will rebuild your relationship to the point of re-commitment.
The fear of loss can provoke feelings of love even after a long separation
Do you remember when you found out your relationship was in trouble? How at that time your feelings of love for your spouse intensified? That is because feelings of being in love are partially provoked by the feeling that we could lose our partner.
If you have always pursued your spouse or submissively stood by, you have done your spouse a disservice. You have failed to produce the fear necessary for him or her to fall in love with you again. Playing “easy to get” never provoked anyone to feelings of being in loved. It has gotten a lot of people used. Do you think your separated spouse considers you easy to get or hard to get? Your answer has a lot to do with his or her feelings.
If you only work on improvement (no boundaries) your spouse may say you have improved, but that they just don’t feel in love with you. If you only work on boundaries with using attraction and connection skills first, your spouse will not fear losing you. Will only fear losing someone who is valuable to us. And then only if they are behaving in a secure way.
Becoming the kind of person that he or she won’t want to lose
Build your relationship and be the kind of person that your spouse will have regrets about losing. Then, begin to take the relationship away from your spouse and see what happens. The results will absolutely let you know whether you are wasting your time waiting for your spouse or whether there is real hope for reconciliation.
If you would like extra help with becoming the kind of person that your spouse does not want to lose, I would be happy to coach you. As always, my goal is not only to save your relationship, but to help you to have one that is meaningful and fulfilling. God hates divorce, but that does not mean that He likes a cold and distant one any better.
God knows your heart. Do what you can to have a close relationship with Him and with your spouse.