Having good separation boundaries will prevent your spouse from having his (or her) cake and eating it, too. That, along with connecting with your spouse and being attractive, will promote reconciling.
Although many people do reconcile after separation, many people don’t. What makes the difference between these two groups? It is the behavior of the partner who wants to reconcile.
That’s right--reconciling with your spouse has more to do with what you do than with what your spouse does. If you don’t want to divorce, then you have to create the right conditions for reconciling.
There are three requirements for promoting reconciling
These are the same three requirements you need for maintaining a committed relationship. You need to be attractive to your spouse, you need to behave in a way that promotes emotional connection, and you need to use good boundaries.
Many people have temporary relationships only, because they are missing one or more of these three essential elements:
- Attraction only, will get you sex and short term relationships.
- Connection only, will get you friendship which can last a long time, but your partner will become attracted to someone else.
- Boundaries only will make you both unlikable and unlovable.
Many times I get emails from people who are connecting well, but who are failing to have good boundaries. The result is that their spouse wants to keep them as friends while proceeding with divorce.
Sometimes people work on both being more attractive and using good connection behavior. But, because they don’t have good boundaries, their spouse enjoys their relationship more, while still proceeding with divorce.
You just are not going to be able to get commitment without boundaries, regardless of how much you work on attraction and connection.
Boundaries are marriage savers
Without using boundaries, your spouse can rightly say that separation is better than being together. After all, you will be behaving in a more friendly and loving way, you will be more attractive, you and your spouse will be having a better time, and your spouse will have more freedom. Rather than your spouse wanting to reconcile, you will make your spouse wish that he or she separated long ago.
Since separation is a preview of what being divorced would be like, your improvements will prove to your spouse that he or she is on the right track by divorcing you.
This is because the separated partner is now able to have more of what they enjoy than they did when they were living with you. They are able to have their cake and eat it, too. Your improvements without boundaries will make separation the best thing that ever happened to them in your relationship.
When your spouse enjoys being separated more than being together with you, it leads naturally to divorce.
You might be thinking, if I can be a really great partner, then my spouse will want to reconcile with me. The reality is that if separated and divorcing spouses don’t have to recommit to continue to enjoy their marital relationships, they won’t. Why would they want to give up their freedom if they can be with you whenever they want?
Never, Never, Never agree to divorce and be friends
If you want to reconcile, you must never agree to divorce and remain friends.
Don’t say to your spouse, I don’t think I could be friends, as that just feeds your spouse’s hope that you can. Don’t say I don’t want to be friends as that also gives hope that fuels divorce. You must be very definite:
When we divorce, we will be done. I will remarry and we will have no more contact than necessary.
Your separation boundaries will be consistent with that.
If you have young children, stress to your spouse that the children will have a new mom or dad when you remarry. You need your spouse to experience that feeling of loss in order to recommit.
People commit in order to keep something or someone that they would otherwise lose.
Not having boundaries can make you frustrated and behave badly
Men and women who lack boundaries with their separated spouses will end up feeling used and rejected when their spouses divorce them anyhow. Throughout the separation, they will be playing the role of the spare tire and find that their spouses are willing to be with them only when they don’t have anything better to do. If you then react badly out of your frustration, your spouse will point to you as the reason for not reconciling.
In short, their is NO WAY to reconcile by just being nice, attractive, loving, or patient.
Make sure you know what separation actually is
Relationally, separation refers to no longer living in the same home, regardless of what is done legally. If you still live together, you are not separated, even if you sleep in separate bedrooms. Just thinking you are separated does not mean you are, no matter how hard you think it. Reality is objective, not subjective.
The dynamics of living apart and living together while pretending to be separated are very different, which demonstrates that pretending to be separated and actually being separated are not the same.
It is far easier to reconcile with someone you don’t live with than with someone who is intentionally avoiding you in your home. One has the opportunity for building connection; the other just creates more distance.
Seven important separation boundaries
People never like boundaries. The boundaries will prevent your spouse from being able to have his or her cake and eating it, too. No matter how nicely you present them, your spouse will think you are terrible for messing up what they think is a great plan.
Although your spouse may hate your boundaries (hopefully), they will help you to reconcile.
Two separation boundaries to establish prior to separation:
- A one year custody or visitation agreement (no family activities, shared holidays or birthdays)
- A financial agreement and separation of accounts
Five separation boundaries to establish after separation:
- No coming and going to each other’s homes
- No overnights together at any time for any reason
- No sexual intimacy
- No dating of the separated spouse
- You do not date others regardless of whether your spouse is dating or not
All of these boundaries can be gradually dropped if your spouse decides to work on reconciling.
Separation boundary 1: A visitation agreement
A visitation agreement is especially important when you have small children. This is for their sake as well as for the sake of your marriage. It is important for children’s psychological well being that their lives be predictable. A regular schedule will help them with that.
It is usually better to share custody, so that the separated parent can bear more responsibility as a parent. Otherwise, the separated parent gets to enjoy being single and while missing the children at first, will soon adjust and enjoy their freedom while you have none.
Be sure to plan for separate holidays, birthday parties, and vacations. If you do family activities or holidays together, that will encourage your spouse to divorce. When people cannot bring themselves to have this boundary, then reconciling is far less likely.
Separation boundary 2: A financial agreement
A financial agreement is important to prevent needing to discuss money on an ongoing basis, which can further damage the relationship. Separate bank accounts and don’t share credit cards. Don’t share phone plans either. Determine who is responsible for paying which bills. Child support needs to be provided just the same as it would if you were divorced.
This boundary, like the others, helps to show the separated spouse that the relationship will not be continuing. Divorcing and staying friends is not going to happen. The more connected you are financially or in your business, the less likely you are to reconcile because your spouse will be sure of your relationship continuing post divorce.
Separation boundary 3: Respect for each other’s homes
You need to respect each other’s homes. Your home is no longer your spouse’s home when you are separated, even if their name is on the deed or rental agreement. Likewise, your spouse’s home is not your home. You cannot show up at your spouse’s home whenever you like, nor can your spouse just show up at your home. Your spouse should be allowed in your home only as scheduled or with prior permission.
If your spouse will not respect this boundary, then you will need a legal separation and to change the locks on your home.
Separation boundary 4: No overnights together
Don’t allow your spouse to stay the night at your home for any reason, even to watch your children or dog while you are out of town. Do not go on any family trips or do anything together as a family, which includes your spouse. This is really important to prevent your spouse from having the feeling that he or she can be single AND married, as is convenient to him or her.
Your spouse will probably say that you are hurting the children with this boundary. Remember that it is your spouse who is creating this situation, not you. Do not point this out to your spouse however. That will just cause conflict and will not help you to reconcile.
Separation boundary 5 and 6: No sexual intimacy or dating your spouse
Sexual intimacy, will reassure your spouse of your continued attachment. Dating will do the same thing. If you do these things with a spouse who does not want to reconcile, you will be giving your spouse the green light to divorce and being friends.
Separation boundary 7: Don’t date others
While you might feel that you have a right to date others if your spouse is also dating others, this will only damage your relationship more. You would find that if you do reconcile with your spouse, that your spouse will cite your dating others to justify any past or future affairs.
Dating others will undermine your spouse’s trust for the rest of your marriage, just as his or her dating others will undermine yours.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. If you are unsure, check the Bible.
Why some people end up indefinitely separated
Some spouses separate in order to have more freedom although they neither want to divorce nor work on the marriage. If that works for them, they will just continue to live like that.
Indefinite separations are a product of poor separation boundaries. Good boundaries either bring about re-commitment or divorce. It is up to you whether you want to continue to be married to a spouse who will not commit to you, however you need to realize that your spouse will not re-commit unless you are willing to divorce if they don’t.
People only commit to keep what they would otherwise lose.
There is no requirement in the Bible to divorce, no matter what your circumstances are. However, if you are going to stay married, there is a requirement to love your spouse. If you cannot do that, then you are not pleasing God simply by staying legally married.
Don’t forget to create emotional connection
Separations can go badly when people fail to create good connections with their separated spouses.
Poor connections can result from:
- Not being relaxed when with your spouse
- Not being friendly
- Having an opposite agenda
- Arguing, criticizing, complaining, or blaming
- Pursuing your spouse
- Getting emotionally ahead of your spouse (e.g. saying I love you when your spouse doesn’t feel that way)
- Having too much contact with your spouse
- Failing to validate your spouse
- Focusing on changing your spouse’s mind rather than your spouse’s feelings
It is important to use good connection skills even while maintaining good separation boundaries. Boundaries don’t prevent us from being relaxed and friendly, agreeable and empathetic, and giving sincere non-romantic compliments, and showing appreciation. My book Connecting through Yes! may be a big help if you tend to be argumentative rather than agreeable.
Don’t try to connect by pleasing your spouse. That will prevent you from using good boundaries and it will only get you appreciation, not connection.
The biggest obstacle to reconciling
The single biggest obstacle to reconciling is neediness. Neediness comes from a fear of losing your spouse. It results in people pursuing, convincing, arguing, and having inconsistent boundaries or no boundaries at all. If you have these problems, and you want to reconcile, then work on your neediness.
A winning combination for reconciling
The skills for reconciling are the same skills any single person needs in a competitive environment:
- Be a desirable person for your spouse
- Use good connection skills to help your spouse enjoy your communication and feel similar to you
- Use boundaries to gain respect, be treated well, and to get commitment
Some people are not far from having all three of these things and can reconcile fairly easily if they just work on that missing piece. Other people need to do a lot in all three of these areas. Most people are somewhere in between.
Many people find the systematic approach of coaching helps them to feel less overwhelmed, more hopeful, and to have constructive things to work on. I offer a coaching package that offers the specific skills necessary to reconcile with a spouse who wants to separate or divorce.