We Almost Lost This: Thinking Back on My Marriage Separation Now That We’ve Reconciled

It’s hard to believe we almost gave up our chance at the life we’re living right now.

Two years ago, my husband and I separated. It was devastating for us both, for different reasons. It felt like we had tried everything within our grasp to make it work, but it just wasn’t getting anywhere. When the separation was finalized, and we were living independently of one another, I was convinced it was just the first step toward our divorce. A “soft landing,” if you will.

I just didn’t see how we would ever recover from all the hardships our marriage had caused us.

When we decided to reconcile, it was only because we had both been in months of therapy and had done a lot of work on ourselves. It seemed like we had become the kind of people who actually had a chance, and we decided to see if we could make it. That was over two years ago, and I am proud to say we are happier than ever.

I was speaking with a friend this morning about what it takes to reconcile a marriage. I told her some things that can be hard to hear, especially for the person who feels they endured the majority of the harms in the relationship. It’s easy to see our failing marriages as purely the fault of the other person. And although that may be true in some cases, I’d argue it’s probably not the norm. Even in those cases where one person was the cause of all the problems, it still will take both partners to fix them.

Here are some of the uncomfortable truths I shared with my friend, and some I didn’t think of until after the call. I want to share because I think everyone should have a realistic idea of what reconciliation takes before they decide if it’s right for them.

You must be ready to forgive.

Forgiveness isn’t easy, and it may not be possible for everyone. That is valid. However, there is no chance for healthy reconciliation if one partner refuses to let go of the past. Remember, though, that forgiveness can only come when true change is shown. You are not responsible for forgiving the past when your partner keeps doing the same thing they did that caused all the harm. But if your partner has changed, you have to find a way to forgive. You can’t keep punishing them for past mistakes.

You must accept hearing things you would rather not hear.

For a successful reconciliation to happen, you have to be willing to hear things about yourself that don’t feel good. Even if you see yourself as the person who didn’t do anything wrong, your partner will likely still have some strong feelings about how you behaved in the relationship. Even if these things aren’t rooted in truth or reality, these are still their perceptions, and you’re going to have to be willing to hear them and help talk them through it.

You must be willing to actually see and appreciate their effort.

Sometimes, our past pain renders us unable to see the changes our spouse is making. I was guilty of this for the first year of our reconciliation—constantly seeing my husband for the person he had been instead of the person he was becoming. He mastered this skill quickly, showing me daily how much he appreciated the changes I was making. This took me some time to reciprocate, but once I did, our marriage reboot really took off.

You must let go of your “back pocket” contingency.

This one is uncomfortable to talk about, and might be uncomfortable to read. But a lot of us, when we’ve been through hell in our marriages, have that one mistake our partner made that we keep tucked away in our back pocket. It’s the thing we hold on to just in case we ever need to justify a bad or harmful decision we want to make. You’re going to have to throw that out if you want reconciliation to work fully. There is no peace in a relationship where one person has an Uno Reverse card in their back pocket.

The thing is, not every relationship is meant to reconcile. It’s important to make that really clear. If you and your partner aren’t ready to do these things—or, at least, to give them a try—now might not be the time to reconcile. You may need to keep working on your individual growth and healing for a time, and revisit the possibility of reconciliation later. What I know for sure is that heading into a reconciliation without addressing these issues will likely doom the process and leave you both feeling defeated.

If you’ve decided your marriage deserves a second chance, mind these things. As someone who managed to save a marriage and shape it into something we’ll never take for granted again, I hope you’ll take it from me.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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