I want to, as always, point out that I am not a marriage expert, counselor, or licensed professional on any level. What I share is merely a mix of my personal experience, wisdom gleaned from others, including the marriage workshop that my husband and I attended, and my personal faith and knowledge from the Bible and the Holy Spirit.
– Nelson Mandela
On our own, Eric and I attempted reconciliation on three occasions. When I say attempted, I mean that three different times we thought we were reconciling, but what we were doing was what I call a “convenience reconciliation.” The fourth time that we came together in reconciliation, it was genuine. I want to make it clear that there is a difference between these two types of reconciliation, “convenience” and “genuine.” A community psychologist named Paula Green wrote about the factors involved in a genuine reconciliation. I was able to adapt those factors, meant for social or community reconciliation, to fit a marriage reconciliation. Throughout this article I want to explain some of those concepts while using a side by side comparison of our attempts and eventually our final, true reconciliation. I believe that the concepts will become clearer when you are able to see these things in action. It’s important for those in the beginning stages of reconciliation to know what they are looking at. There are others who may be several months into what they feel just might be a convenience reconciliation. There are very recognizable indications of both sides of this. Hopefully I can clearly express the answers to questions like: Is this genuine? Are these behaviors normal? Is this acceptable? How can I know if s/he is just pacifying me?
You might be curious why anyone would settle for a convenience reconciliation, but there could be any number of reasons. For instance, a spouse who has strong values may try to push aside the “fog” of limerance in order to attempt to reconcile. This might work for a time, but if the person is still actively in limerance, those feelings do not just go away on their own, which might cause conflict in their mind as they struggle to overcome. I’m not saying they can’t get over it through time, but the inner conflict could cause their reconciliation attempt to fail. Money is another factor. A spouse might allow the spouse who has left the home to come back to the home simply because of financial burdens. Some people feel it is easier to pretend to reconcile and placate their spouse than it would be to go through the trauma and financial strain of divorce. Spouses might stay or come back simply out of guilt or shame, or so they could stay in close contact with their children. Another reason could be that the spouse who has stayed committed to the relationship is enabling poor behavior by allowing them to get away with whatever they want as long as they are home. I’m certain there are hundreds of reasons that either a wandering spouse, or a committed spouse might allow a convenience reconciliation; the point of comparison is deciding if you are in one so that you can choose how to go forward from there.
Reconciliation includes acknowledgement. Acknowledgement is the first step to healing in addiction therapy, and I felt it fitting that it was the first step of a genuine reconciliation. The key is that acknowledgement is required of both spouses. In a genuine reconciliation both spouses should be actively involved in fixing the damage in the marriage. This means whether you were the spouse who walked away from the marriage or the spouse who remained standing, at some level you are responsible for the disintegration of the marriage. When you seek to reconcile with your spouse, you should take some time to evaluate some of the habits, behaviors, and words that you have exhibited to your spouse over the years that could have caused them wounds. If you are drawing a blank, ask your spouse to share some of the hurts they have experienced over the years, and be willing to take responsibility for those things.
*I will abbreviate all of my real life examples from here on out with “C.R.” for convenience reconciliation examples, and “G.R.” for genuine reconciliation examples.*
C.R.: Although Eric admitted his affairs to me, he continued to act and speak as though he was justified in them. The fact that he was speaking one way and acting another was an indication that his heart was not in the right place yet. Whenever I would bring up something that I needed to hash out regarding the affairs or things relating to them, he would either brush it off and change the subject or he would get irritated with me. His words were saying that he had acknowledged what he had done to hurt me, but his actions were saying to me “Why aren’t you just getting over this already?” He was not willing to comfort me in my pain, and he continually found reasons to turn my pain against me and make me feel like it was my own fault.
G.R.: When we moved into genuine reconciliation, Eric was completely repentant. His heart was broken. He was willing to do anything I asked in order to make up for the pain he had caused. We had many heart to heart conversations in which he fully opened up to me and allowed me to ask questions and get answers without feeling like an annoyance. I no longer felt like he expected me to be “over it” already; and he came across as much more understanding of my emotional needs.
I also had to find out the things that I had done that led to him feeling unloved and unappreciated. When I learned how he felt, even though I had not intended those words and actions the way that he took them, I had to fully accept and acknowledge how they made him feel. Joe Beam shared this gem with us in the workshop, “It’s not about what you say, it’s how it makes them feel.” This was something that I had to account for and acknowledge in order for us to move forward and be whole.
Part of a genuine reconciliation is the genuine apology, but what does this look like? Have you ever had to separate two children who were arguing? You tell them, “Now you need to apologize to one another.” They most likely have their arms crossed over their chests, their bottom lips poked out, and might mumble a quick “SORRY!” If you are like me, that does not cut it. This is not a genuine apology, it is a forced apology. The kids really don’t mean it, they just want to move on with their lives. This same effect can be seen in a false apology from a spouse. A quick, “I’m sorry, ok? There, I said it!” isn’t a real apology. Neither is silence. If you are not willing to sit and talk about what has transpired between you, and apologize when faced with the facts, you are not repentant; you are not truly sorry. How can a wounded spouse move forward in trust if they have not heard your heart spilled, and have not heard a genuine apology? A genuine apology consists of listing everything that you can think of that has been done to hurt your spouse, followed by a meaningful apology. True apology requires action to follow, not just words.
C.R.: A big reason that our reconciliation attempts failed was because we wouldn’t humble ourselves to apologize first. We spent months and months hurting one another and holding out on true emotional connection while waiting for a real apology. We fell into a pattern of fighting and then giving a quick apology in order to move on, like the arguing kids, but neither of us were willing to truly apologize. We weren’t willing to be genuine unless the other one was. This only made our situation worse because it built up even more resentment between us, and continued to add to the pain and disappointment that we had in one another.
G.R.: When Eric was truly repentant and apologetic, it showed. It showed on his face, it showed in his words, it showed in his every reaction. He became aware of things that were causing me pain, in the moment, and he would address them immediately. This was not at all the attitude that he had had with me before; there was no longer a sense of hurry up and get over it.
Likewise, I had to acknowledge and genuinely apologize for both things that I had done, and things that I would do as time went on. It’s easy to fall into old habits and ways, but since our reconciliation, I have become aware of those bad habits. If I mess up and use something against Eric, or if I say something intentionally hurtful, I always stop, acknowledge, and apologize. This is something that I have to be aware of at all times in order for us to continue to heal from past hurts, rather than build up resentment.
Over the next couple of days I will be sharing some more of the factors of genuine reconciliation, so I leave you with this as a foundation to build on. As we move forward, we will be looking deeper into what a genuine reconciliation looks like, and how to tell where you stand in yours. I will continue to use real examples from our marriage so you can get a better picture of each factor.