Dear Suzie, My husband and I have decided we want to rebuild our marriage and go through the steps of reconciliation. We both want things to be different (better) than they were before the affair. We just don’t know where to start and what we need to focus on. Do you have any suggestions?
I believe the road to reconciliation begins with two key questions. Question #1: What do you need in order to feel safe enough to give this relationship a second chance? And question #2: If you could wave a magic wand and rebuild your marriage so that it matches your desires exactly as you’ve always wanted, what would it look like… feel like… and be like?
Here’s why answering these two questions is important:
Before you can repair what’s broken and restore what was lost, it’s important to have a vivid picture of what you want. So you must begin with a clear vision of what a successful marriage looks like to you (as well as what it looks like for your partner). Which brings me to another key point.
Key Point: Reconciliation is not the same as rebuilding your marriage. Like horse and carriage, they go together, but they are two separate things. Reconciliation comes first; rebuilding your marriage comes next. Unfortunately, one of the biggest mistakes couples make is that they fail to reconcile properly before attempting to rebuild. This is like putting the cart before the horse.
So, how do you have a successful reconciliation?
Coming up next are some key insights to point you in the right direction. (Let’s start by better understanding exactly what reconciliation is.)
What Is Reconciliation?
Reconciliation Means: To put back together, to reunite that which is apart.
It’s the restoration of what was lost. This implies that: (a) what is lost can be retrieved; (b) what is separated can be reassembled; and (c) what is broken can be repaired. In other words, if reconciliation were a computer program, it would be the one that takes your relationship back to a “restore” point after it crashes. When reconciliation efforts are successful, it makes both partners feel that it’s safe enough to begin again.
Reconciliation is a process, not an event.
Moving back into the house or back into the bedroom, making love again, taking a trip, or buying jewelry is not reconciliation. Reconciliation is a process of restoring and repairing the boundaries within the marriage over a period of time.
This reminds me of a story…
One day, a man was using a rusty ax to cut down a huge oak tree. A friend was passing by and saw that the man was making little or no progress. At this rate, it would take him years to chop down the mighty tree.
The friend stopped and asked, “Sir, why don’t you spend some time sharpening your ax first?” “Because,” the man replied, “I can’t afford the time. I must cut this tree down by tomorrow.”
When it comes to reconciliation after infidelity, it’s been my observation that many couples are so eager to get it done and get back to normal that they spend a lot of time at first focusing on the wrong things. What ends up happening is that they spend months chopping at the tree, when if they had simply sharpened the ax, the reconciliation efforts would have paid off a lot sooner.
Reconciliation is a two-person job.
Just as one-hand clapping makes no sound, so does one partner trying to reconcile make no progress. It might take one to ruin a marriage, but it takes two to reconcile.
To have a successful reconciliation, the key word is cooperation.
There’s no point in taking part in the reconciliation process if you plan to resist, rebel, argue, or be defensive. For reconciliation to work, you must be willing to cooperate, try, and make an effort to show up. There can be no reconciliation without both partners’ cooperation.
Reconciliation is a process of removing, rather than adding anything new.
Once trust is broken, chaos, fear, and suspicion take its place. This means that where there was certainty, now uncertainty reigns; where there was love, fear makes its home; and where there was compassion, contempt is now blocking the way. For reconciliation to be successful, all those negative obstacles must be removed so that trust can be restored.
Reconciliation requires overcoming two major obstacles.
Obstacle #1: Fear – You must calm the fears: the fear of this happening again, the fear of being deceived again, the fear of making another mistake. Both partners must get to a place where they can find the courage to take the risk to try again. To get to this place of courage, fear must be managed.
Obstacle #2: Resistance – You must dismantle the resistance. Once people have been hurt, it’s only normal to build up a defense against being hurt again. A lot of that defense will show up as resistance to forgiving, to trying, to making a sincere effort. Both partners need to get to a place where they lower those defenses and become willing to try. This is why I suggest you spend most of your time removing the fears and reducing resistance before moving into the actual reconciliation process.
True forgiveness is job number one.
There’s no point in working on the sex, the communications issues, the money problems, and the heavy schedules until you’ve forgiven each other. As important as those things are, they’re secondary in the reconciliation process. Because here’s the amazing thing: The majority of marriage problems are really being fueled by unforgiveness anyway. What couples discover is that as they move through the stages of true forgiveness, many conflicts, confusions, and resentments they never thought they would ever resolve fall away naturally. Turns out, it’s not that love fades, but that resentments have built up like plaque over time and covered up their awareness of the Love they once had.
The good news!
Forgiveness is what permanently removes resentments.
Once the resentments are gone, it’s amazing how quickly Love can blossom again.
What this tells you is that (at its core) an effective reconciliation process is really a forgiveness process.
If you’d like to learn more about how true forgiveness can smooth the way for the return to Love, take a look at my Betrayed Recovery online home study course and see if it’s right for you.
My final thoughts…
If you’ve spent any time on this website, then you already know that I’m a true forgiveness advocate.
I’ve made it my mission and my goal to teach forgiveness to couples, not because I think it’s cool, but because it’s what I give credit to for saving my own marriage and sanity when they were rocked by infidelity.
In my opinion:
- Forgiveness is the ultimate survival secret.
- It’s the technology that reverses (erases) negative effects brought on by the mistakes of others.
- It’s the gift that always gives back.
- It’s a rational act of self-love.
- It’s the superglue for relationships that repairs and restores what was broken.
That’s why all the programs, online classes, coaching insights, and workshops that I currently facilitate are all based on the principles of true forgiveness.
It comes back to what Frank Andrews said… “It seems impossible to Love people who hurt and disappoint us, yet there are no other kinds of people.”
This means that being able to forgive is what helps us to be able to Love… again and again.