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.
I imagine that reconciliation may be different when your spouse never left the home, versus when your spouse has left and come back; being that our situation was the latter, my posts will be addressing that situation specifically, and may not completely look like yours.
Reconciliation doesn’t look like what you expect it to. I had this romance movie image in my head, where I would open the door on a rainy night, and he would be standing there, bags in hand. He would drop them and run into my arms, and we would kiss in the rain, and we would live happily ever after.
*Record scratch* Nope. Not even close. He walked in and we all hugged... but he smelled different, he was nearly emaciated, and though love flooded my heart in that moment, I could hardly look him in the eye. There is no way to explain how it feels to finally have your spouse home, yet know the elephant is still in the room. You both know that there are hundreds of moments that have transpired between the time that you were last faithfully together and now. You both know the pain that you have each put one another through in that time. You both hold on to this shred of hope, yet the back of your mind still says will this work?
Reconciliation doesn’t mean you pick up your marriage right where it left off. I imagine that reconciliation feels a bit like amnesia. Imagine waking up one day to a smiling stranger in your home. You feel like you should know them, you recognize them somehow, and know nearly everything about them, yet you don’t seem to have a clear picture of who they are. So you try to just act nice to them, and at the same time work out in your head your exact connection with this person. You spend most of your day extremely confused. How is it that you seem to know them so intimately, and yet it feels so weird to try and talk to them or be close to them? Even more perplexing is the fact that you seem to have a “black out” period in your memory of this person. You seem to know everything up to a recent time period, but from there until today, there is nothing. How do you speak to someone you think that you know, but you don’t fully recognize? This example just serves to help you understand a key concept. These experiences are going to change you both. No one comes out of marital strife unscathed. If your separation was any length of time, say, over a week, there are experiences, thoughts, memories, and behaviors that you both have established in that time that you probably don't know about each other. You are simultaneously the same people you were when you met and fell in love, and completely new creatures with different fears, shame, doubts, and triggers. These are the parts of your spouse that you have to learn about, the “stranger” part of this person you otherwise know inside and out.
Reconciliation isn't going to fix your pain. We seem to think that reconciling is going to abate the well of sadness that we have inside of us from the wounds we have acquired. I honestly believed that as soon as my husband was home everything would be ok again. This wasn’t the case. In fact, my pain was somehow deeper after he came home; I went through months and months of grief. When we were separated, I was focused mostly on the unknown, the when’s and how’s of everything. During reconciliation, the pain is more about mourning the could-have-been’s and should-have-been’s of the marriage. That pain does not go away until you fully heal; and as much as I want to be able to give you a specific time frame on this, it is different for everyone. The only thing that can fix that ache is time, forgiveness, and acceptance.
This is the reality of reconciliation. Not the perfect storybook picture we paint in our dreams, but the gritty, raw, human emotion and mutual understanding between two completely broken people. It's ugly and painful, and uncomfortable, and you will question your sanity as well as your decision. But stick it out. It does get better.