Reconciling after a Long Separation: Getting Re-Commitment
Posted On January 15, 2018
The longer you wait for your spouse to reconcile, the more your window of opportunity will close. Steps to reconciling after a long separation.
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. This is because your spouse will have not only adjusted to being with you, he or she will have also have found other ways to get his or her emotional needs met. To continue to wait will only lose you more respect, while you play the role of “spare tire.” Unfortunately, just like with a car, spare tires tend to only be used in emergencies, and then only for short periods of time.
Why your separated spouse may prefer a long separation rather than reconciling or filing for divorce
If I am working with someone when they first separate, we have two goals which occur simultaneously. These are 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 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).
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, I recommend my clients to take some action to move toward divorce. It is important to note that this is an intervention in order to pull the separated spouse further into the relationship. If this is not done, as especially needy people are reluctant to do, the separated spouse will continue some contact, while continuing to maintain some emotional distance as well, in order to provide continuing reasons not to reconcile. They may say they are enjoying their relationship with you, but don’t feel in love yet, or they may occasionally have blow ups that set your relationship back and prevent reconciling. This is where people usually feel stuck.
How satisfied are you with your long separation?
If the 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 and you and your spouse can continue to enjoy your current level of relationship. However, if it is not enough for you to continue to want to stay in your relationship for the rest of your life, then you need to consider how long you are willing to wait. While waiting could result in miraculous reconnection, it could just as well result in your spouse eventually leaving you for another. In that case, any waiting that you have done will make you feel both resentful and regretful.
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. But that will only make your spouse even more satisfied with the separation and make it even harder for you to reconcile. Instead of that, 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. From 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.
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 reconcile! 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) or just be used. A relationship without trust and love does not qualify as a relationship.
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. Other people make the mistake of dropping the divorce before the relationship is mostly rebuilt, which 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.
The threat 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 assured him or her that you would just be standing by in case he or she changes his or her mind about the relationship, then you have taken away any fear your spouse might have about losing you. Often that is the reason that spouses say that while you have improved and they are enjoying their relationship with you more, they just don’t feel in love with you. Once again, it is necessary to build your relationship before attempting to provoke such anxiety. People don’t fear losing someone they no longer care about. They feel relieved.
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.