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.
In my last post I spoke on the foundations of true reconciliation, which were acknowledgement and genuine apology. Those are the beginning steps, and are absolutely necessary before moving forward. Today I am going to continue talking about several factors of reconciliation, as well as continue giving real life examples from our reconciliation attempts and true reconciliation for comparison. I believe it is important to understand what true reconciliation looks like so you will know how to move forward in your marriage. As you read ask yourself: Are you both on the same page? What factors do you need to work on?
Reconciliation includes binding forces. Community psychologist Paula Green explains that in order for reconciliation to be met, opposing forces must find commonalities and binding forces. Joe Beam of Marriage Helper also uses this concept in relation to marital reconciliation. He states that every marriage is held together by various ropes; things like a shared history, having children together, or the knowledge that their spouse has helped them succeed in some ways. Joe goes on to talk about a concept of shared aspirations, and this is what I want to focus on here. Since this concept is best explained with personal testimony, I'll leave the description to the examples below.
C.R.: One of the things that became missing in our marriage, beginning around the time that it started to fall apart, was a shared goal or aspiration. We moved across country and went from both of us working full time outside of the home, to him working 14-18 hour days while I homeschooled the children. All at once we went in different directions in life, and it caused a rift. When we attempted to reconcile, we continued having this same rift present without realizing it was a problem. We tried to return to life “as normal”, but that normal wasn’t working for us any more.
G.R.: After we learned about creating a shared goal in the workshop, we began again, armed with a new tool. We jumpstarted our genuine reconciliation with a unifying goal to work toward; call it Operation: Fix the Morris Family! This unifying effort gave us things to look forward to, things to plan out, and things to work on together. Although we have many goals that are personal, some of the things we have done to unify the two lifestyles we share was for Eric to become more hands on with the kids’ education. This helped us to become a team, rather than leaving me stranded. He also chose to no longer work in the career industry that he was in before, as well as choosing a lower position in his field, so that he could give us the hours of his day that we had lacked before. Having goals that we work on together as a family has helped tremendously. We now have shared victories to celebrate, and shared failures to ponder and make improvements on until we get them right.
Reconciliation cannot be about getting even and getting your way. Asking for reparation does not mean believing and acting as though your spouse now “owes it to you” to make up for what they have done. What it does mean is that you both deserve to be shown that this marriage means something. I said “both” again. Just because one spouse usually steps out on the marriage either literally or figuratively, and one stays, does not mean that there is one bad guy and one good guy. Both you and your spouse are responsible for the hurt and damage in the marriage. It’s foolish to think that you have been a perfect spouse for the last however many years! As much as we like to compare our sins to one another, we have to realize that we have all contributed to the wounds our spouse has gained over time. This goes back to the foundation, having a good look at your marriage and acknowledging your role in this. You will both have to make concessions and sacrifices for one another.
C.R.: When Eric came back home after 6 months of being away, things had not changed much. He was telling me that he was here for me, and he was more engaged with the marriage, but several things still bothered me. His phone was locked, he had passwords on his facebook and email that I did not know, and he had a separate phone line that diverted calls and texts to email so they wouldn’t show on our phone bill. He explained it away by saying things like, “I have to keep the out of state number until I get this last check from there.” Or “Oh, yeah, I’ll change that password to the one you know…” But he wouldn’t do it. There was also a female friend that he would call and talk to for hours. I knew that there was not a physical threat to our marriage there, but that level of intimacy with another woman threatened the sanctity of our emotional intimacy together. When I would beg and plead for changes he would reassure me that there was nothing to worry about, or he would turn it around on me and manipulate and shame me. He would “gaslight” me and make me feel like I was being controlling, rather than just asking for what I needed in order for him to regain my trust. There was a lot of manipulation going on, and in the end there was no sense of reparation, no making peace.
G.R.: When Eric thought that he had lost me (and he almost did), he took many of the steps of reparation on his own. After we went to the marriage workshop, we came to agree on many other things that we both needed from one another in order to move forward. He had already unlocked his phone, removed all contacts from the place he had lived during separation, and changed his passwords to the one I knew. Afterwards, we talked about my requests, and he followed that by removing all of the people from that state that were on his facebook, and going no contact with the female friend. He also closed the separate phone line and a secret facebook page, and sent me forwards of the verifications for those closing. If I don’t recognize a phone number on our bill, he will show me the texts and tell me who it is. There is nothing hidden between us, ever; he has gone above and beyond to make up for the pain he caused.
I have also had to make many changes. There were many things that I did that caused him to feel disrespected or unappreciated. I had a bad habit of walking away from an argument or hanging up on him if we argued over the phone. This unresolved conflict festered in him, but allowed me to calm down. I have had to remain calm in arguments long enough to clearly express myself, and if I need a minute to collect myself, I tell him so rather than cutting things off without explanation. With both of us understanding the why to certain behaviors, it helps us communicate. I would also keep my disappointment or frustration inside until I eventually blew up on him over something insignificant. I have committed to express my thought, fears, and triggers with him when they occur, where possible, so that it never gets to a blow up point. This has actually helped us both because in explaining some of my triggers, he has cleared up some things that I had held on to that weren’t true! Doing this helps take the mystery out of my supposed “mood swings”. We have both come to agreements that we work on daily in order to show one another respect and make reparations for the times in the past that we have failed one another.
C.R.: There was no safety or security when we tried to reconcile before the workshop. I was still bitter and hurting, and because of my bitterness, I was verbally abusive towards Eric when I was in pain. He made several attempts to come clean about things that had transpired during our separation, but I was unwilling to receive them without flying into a rage or making accusations. I was not creating a safe place for him. My emotional outbursts created a harsh environment where he felt he had to lie and hide from me for fear of my anger turning on him unexpectedly.
Likewise there was no safety or security for me. Attempts to talk about our marriage were ignored or turned around on me. He grew more and more distant emotionally and physically, taking to sleeping on the couch. His anger and blame towards me for all that had happened escalated to the point where our arguments became physical altercations. Neither of us were ready to forgive and move forward without blame and bitterness.
G.R.: We both had to let go of some serious baggage before we were able to be safe for one another. When we were in genuine reconciliation we communicated our thoughts, feelings, and emotions without fear of a fight or argument. We made a few healthy boundaries to help with these conversations like prefacing a tough conversation with a warning of content so the other person could be mentally or emotionally prepared, rather than having it sprung on them. I had to be careful not to ask questions I didn’t want to always have the answer to in my head. Eric had to be careful not to hide things from me, no matter how innocent or bad they might look. We’ve had to come clean over lies. I lied the other day out of fear, and I waited until I had a chance to speak face to face with him, and I told him the truth, as well as the reason that I lied. It is really that simple. Had he met that with anger or accusations, anything other than trust, I might have felt led to hide, but he met it with grace and understanding, and forgave me. This is how we live now, in open communication and love. If I have a fear or insecurity nagging at me, I’ve agreed to come right to him about it, rather than letting it fester and build. To go along with that, Eric is patient with me, knowing that I will need his comfort and reassurance, perhaps for the rest of my life. These are all ways that we create a safe environment for one another.
C.R.: In our many attempts at reconciliation, Eric had a one-liner on repeat. Any time I would try to talk about us, or I questioned a certain behavior, he would respond, “I am one hundred percent committed.” Oh sure, this reassured me. For all of 37 seconds. You can hear something spoken a thousand times and never believe it, because sometimes truth requires action. Commitment is one of those things. No matter how many times I asked, and he answered that he was committed, I never saw it demonstrated. True reconciliation requires true commitment, and this was not it.
G.R.: When we returned form the workshop, I saw a complete change in Eric’s level of commitment. He went from saying he was 100% committed to being 100% committed. This meant that he began following through on his promises to me. He began to show me all day, every day that he was here for me and with me. Even when I begged him for reassurance, again and again, out of fear, he would reassure me patiently. He was willing to comfort me and be on an emotional level that he isn’t comfortable on, being the all logic and business kind of guy that he is. Commitment from him meant being out of his comfort zone as long as it would put me back in mine. It meant doing the same thing over and over again, no matter how tedious it became. It meant dealing with parts of me that annoyed him, or even made him uncomfortable.
On my part, I had one huge assignment… No longer throwing in the towel with every argument. It had become a habit to get into a mindset of “it’s just easier to divorce.” Bull crap. Divorce is not easy. Or better. That’s such a lie that we have accepted. Genuine reconciliation challenges us all (yep- you there, too) to lose the D word from our vocabulary entirely. Commitment means that divorce is not an option, even if we are hurting, tired, angry, or whatever. Being committed in this way will show our spouses that we are their safe place, their harbor in a storm. We need this from them, and they need it from us.
There are so many thing that come along with reconciliation that it almost feels overwhelming, but if you both choose to move forward into reconciliation together, it will be worth it. You must begin with choosing together to build your foundation out of acknowledgement and mutual forgiveness. Then as you go, make sure to work on a goal together, provide reparations for one another, be a safe place, and remain completely committed to seeing it through.
I do plan on continuing this series on reconciliation as the Lord leads me. There are many questions that people have asked that I feel we could answer together. I am praying that the right people find this, and that each of you reading would be blessed.