Love is an ongoing journey of "rupture and repair.” The rupture part is easy. It's the repair part that requires our deepest efforts. Trying to reconcile is brave. It's inspiring. And if it succeeds, it is more than worth all the effort it may take. But signing up for an endless roller coaster of "more of the same" is no one's idea of happiness.
If you and your ex are considering reconciliation, take the time to personally reflect on the following six questions. Then discuss them together. Doing so may save you lots of pain, and give you both a much better shot at future happiness together.
1. What made you break up in the first place? Have each of you owned your part in that? What support are each of you getting to change those patterns? Allow yourself the opportunity for many hard and honest conversations. If not, expect more of the same—even if your external circumstances are better. The negative, ingrained patterns you've both hardwired into your connection are sure to come back in force, even if life seems easier now. While there's hope and motivation, create a game plan for what to do when the old problems arise. I encourage you to enlist professional help in your discussions. At the very least, have a practitioner you both like and trust waiting in the wings.
2. Are there active addictions? If so, don't reconcile unless and until there's extended sobriety with ample support. After decades of experience as a psychotherapist, I’ve become convinced of the importance of this rule.
3. Are there untreated or inadequately-treated psychiatric disorders? If your loved one is unwilling to get appropriate treatment, that's a deal-breaker. If his or her condition isn’t well-managed, make sure that's handled before making any serious steps toward re-commitment.
4. Has there been abuse? If there is a history of serious abuse, don't go back. Period. If the abuse has been milder and you have good reason to believe that it won't happen again, still don't consider going back unless the two of you are working closely and regularly with a skilled couples therapist with strong expertise in this area. (Please note: Individual therapy does not take the place of couples therapy in situations like this.)
If you reconcile, expect that the same problems will emerge again, and be ready to do what you couldn't before; to give what you wouldn't give last time. And get the help you may not have gotten last time.
5. Do you know the difference between attractions of inspiration and attractions of deprivation? Attractions of inspiration are those in which your love and desire are fueled by inspiration. Does your partner inspire you by how he treats you, or by how she tries to live in the world? That's the kind of attraction that can last.
In contrast, attractions of deprivation are fueled by the need to get your ex to finally love you fully and treat you well. These attractions mimic real love, and they fuel a state of a relentless need within us, but they almost never lead to a future of joy. Of course, all relationships have aspects of both inspiration and deprivation, but take the time to ask yourself if this relationship has been essentially an attraction of inspiration. If not, reconciliation might not be the best idea.
6. Is your fear of intimacy blocking the relationship's potential? Often, we flee mates who are good, decent, kind and available. We feel bored, or lose desire, or become almost irrationally judgmental—because, deep down, we're frightened of love. It's a phenomenon I call "The Wave" and it's one of the greatest saboteurs of potentially good relationships. This phenomenon can be triggered by trauma, by relationship challenges, or simply by the fear we unconsciously feel as we consider taking the next step in our love.
Harville Hendrix has said that in all relationships, there comes a point where what you most need from your partner is the thing he or she is least able to give you. He also says that this is the way it's supposed to be: Lasting love is forged precisely here, through the hard work of creating a new shared language together; one that speaks to both of your joys, needs, and wounds. Practice the skills of deep listening and deep sharing. Exercises like this one can help you grow the precious skills of real intimacy, which are finally the true keys to lasting love.
© Ken Page, LCSW 2017. All rights reserved.