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When separation leads you back together

Some couples take a winding path from separation to reconciliation —is there a way to know if you will (or want to) get back together?

“Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.”

-Esther Perel

Two of the most common questions you’ll get asked when you begin to share that you are separating are “Are you sure?” and “But do you think there’s a chance you’ll get back together?”

We’d be rich if we had a penny for every time we’ve fielded this question, and even richer if we knew the magic formula for such certainty.

In reality, for a lot of us, this is the very line of questioning that keeps us up at night (or rather, from falling back asleep again at 4 a.m.). It’s the question that keeps a lot of couples in difficult, strained or dead marriages, and sends many of us to therapy with or without our partners.

The not-knowing, the lack of clarity, about whether or not it’s really over, or if it can be fixed has a certain “Is this your final answer?” feel about it—and in many cases, couples can’t answer that question until they make a move in a new direction, be it counseling, spending a few weeks apart or a more formal separation.

We certainly know of couples that used the time and space created by a separation to examine and sometimes rebuild their marriage. It can, and does happen, sometimes two, three (or more!) times before it sticks in either direction.

So if you’re caught up worrying “what they’ll think” (whoever “they” are) about how you and your partner can’t decide where your relationship is going or when, maybe take some comfort in knowing you’re not alone.

Given the stakes involved in marriage and divorce, and if it’s not a matter of personal safety, it can make good sense for some couples to take whatever amount of time, and just as many tries, to figure out what feels right.

Building a new relationship out of an old one

So where can couples turn when they need a little guidance on starting over from scratch with the same partner?

Relationship counselling is one place. Be prepared to put in the time and work: monthly, if not weekly, sessions can be required to change old habits and negative routines, both as a couple and individually.

There are lots of great books out there for couples looking to up their relational intelligence. One of our favourites (recommended by our therapist) is the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman. A true highlight is the deeply insightful chapter on the Four Horsemen of conflict discussions. For many of us, the first introduction to this concept is the watershed moment that clarifies where our relationship really is.

Mating in Captivity by Ester Perel is a must-read. Here the acclaimed psychotherapist Perel asks and answers: “Can we have both love and desire in the same relationship over time? How? What exactly would that kind of relationship be?” Her answers will surprise, comfort and inspire you.

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton is a touching, deeply relatable story, but also Botton’s real-talk philosophy on the work required for the long haul of long-term relationships. This is a story about life after the wedding, and provides a lot of wisdom missing from the “happily ever after” endings we were raised on.

Interested instead in listening to some stories and advice on matters of love? Give the Love Letters or Relationship Advice podcasts a try, or download an audio version of Elizabeth Gilbert reading her own brilliant book Committed.

Or watch this short TED Talk by writer and legal expert Jeannie Suk Gersen on what we can learn about marriage by understanding the experience of divorce. Her sharp, funny, compassionate outlook is rich food for thought for any current marriage—or the next one.

More resources

Upcoming unhitch events

We offer affordable access to the experts on family law, financial health, real estate, health and wellbeing and more through our Live Q&A Events. Browse and register for our upcoming events—these one-hour virtual gatherings are an ideal way to get a friendly overview of separation and divorce from professionals in the field. Members get a discount on all events and the opportunity to submit questions ahead of time to our speakers.


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