Separating from your spouse is a huge emotional step. In fact, the American Institute of Stress lists separation as third on the life stress inventory. It’s considered a separate stressor from divorce (which is #2) for good reason - while some couples immediately file for divorce, plenty choose to live separately for a while before doing anything else. Plus, separating involves a lot of decisions regardless of whether you’re moving forward with divorce - like deciding who will stay in the marital home, what stuff the person leaving will take, how the bills will get paid, and of course when they’ll see the kids.
Even if you think separation is what you want, you might not know for sure until you actually do it. Maybe you’re arguing a lot and your spouse is driving you crazy. It seems like living apart has to be better than this. But once you’re on your own, are you filled with feelings of relief…or regret?
“I had no idea how much I’d miss Bob until he moved out. I figured I’d miss the extra set of hands around the house, and that was definitely part of it. But I also missed him. I think I needed to be on my own for a few months to appreciate that. I’m not sure we’d be together today if we hadn’t separated.”
-Kelly Ann, Memphis, TN
So what should you do if you’ve separated from your spouse, and find yourself seriously thinking about getting back together? Consider this:
1. Make sure you’d be getting back together for the right reasons.
Separating can be a very lonely time. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not the right decision, ultimately. Getting back together because you feel guilty, or are struggling with the idea of being single, or because you’re sad when your kids are with the other parent, might not be the best reasons. Dig deep into why you separated, and the reasons you’re considering getting back together.
Make no mistake: if your marriage can be saved, you should give it your all. Just be sure you’re using both your head and your heart. If you’re uncertain, going back and forth won’t do anything to ease anyone’s pain. It just leads to more confusion. So make sure you’re reconciling because you truly love your spouse and are willing to do what’s necessary to repair your marriage.
Be sure your reasons for reconciling are good ones and that you’re not burying your head in the sand over a truly troubling issue.
2. Keep (or start) going to therapy - both on your own and as a couple.
Even if you’re both elated to be back together, the issues that led you to separate probably won’t go away overnight. On top of that, either or both of you might discover new feelings of doubt, insecurity, or distrust as a result of the separation (especially if someone else was involved before or during that time). If you want this go-round to be better than the last, be willing to put in the hard work to make it happen.
Going to therapy on your own and as a couple can be a healthy way to make sure you continue to work through what got you to this point in the first place. If you’re unsure about therapy, consider these benefits.
3. If your spouse had an affair and you knew about it before you reconcile, it’s possible you’ve legally “condoned” the conduct.
This comes up in states that allow “fault” grounds for divorce. The idea is this: if you knew about your spouse’s misconduct, and resume your marriage anyway (even if it’s under the expectation it won’t happen again), you might be stopped from bringing up their misconduct if you later divorce.
There’s nuance to this, but it’s something you should be aware of because what’s good for your marriage isn’t always good for your divorce. And you might want to be certain you’re getting back together before you have sex again.
Reconciliation isn’t necessarily the same as forgiveness.
4. If you’ve filed for divorce, you’ll need (and hopefully want) to dismiss your divorce case.
That’s usually the easy part. But some people seem to want to leave their divorce case hanging open while they figure out if the marriage can be saved.
Keeping your divorce case open while you try to reconcile is tricky for several reasons (duh!).
The court might still impose deadlines on you. It’s expensive to keep your lawyer on the case. And emotionally it’s really hard to reconcile and litigate. Sometimes the person who filed first (called the “plaintiff” or “petitioner”) is worried they’ll lose out on the advantages of going first if they dismiss. To resolve that concern, you could agree that if either of you wants to re-file for divorce within a certain period of time, the person who filed first before can again. Take that issue off the table, then go focus on your marriage.
5. If you want some financial certainty, consider a post-nup agreement.
Some couples who separate and then reconcile decide they want a postnuptial agreement (sometimes called a reconciliation agreement). A post-nup is a lot like a prenup, except it’s signed after you’re married. It can lay out rules for all sorts of things if you later divorce, like alimony and division of property, but usually not custody or child support.
If you were only separated for a short time, a post-nup might not be something you want. If it feels unseemly or like it’s predicting your marriage won’t last, don’t do it. But for some folks who already started down the divorce process, they’d rather reconcile knowing they won’t have a legal battle on the other side if things don’t work this time. If the idea of a post-nup is appealing, be sure to speak to an experienced lawyer. States have strict rules about them, and you want to make sure it’s done right.
6. Remind yourself it’s nobody’s business but yours.
Some people who reconcile are embarrassed or even ashamed by their decision. As Jill, 36, said, “I told my friends all the gory details of why we were separating. Now I feel foolish letting them know that I’ve decided to go back to the marriage.” While feeling this way is natural, it’s not a reason to prevent your marriage from getting back on track.
Think about the concerns you shared with your friends. Are they ones you feel you can work through? If getting back together with your spouse is the right thing for you, your friends will support you. And if they don’t, you might think about how important those friendships really are to you.
By the way, if you’re feeling stressed out about this decision, you’re not alone. Remember that life stress inventory we talked about earlier? Marital reconciliation is pretty high up there too, coming in at #9. So cut yourself some slack. Time has a way of making even the most stressful decisions a little clearer.