Coparent Academy Podcast

#111 - Reconciliation as a Possible Outcome

June 10, 2024 Linda VanValkenburg and Ron Gore
#111 - Reconciliation as a Possible Outcome
Coparent Academy Podcast
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Coparent Academy Podcast
#111 - Reconciliation as a Possible Outcome
Jun 10, 2024
Linda VanValkenburg and Ron Gore

Reconciliation can be a fantastic outcome for separated couples, unless it isn't. How do you tell the difference, and how do you tell the kids?

Thanks for listening!  If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please email us at podcast@coparentacademy.com.  To see our courses, visit https://coparentacademy.com

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Reconciliation can be a fantastic outcome for separated couples, unless it isn't. How do you tell the difference, and how do you tell the kids?

Thanks for listening!  If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please email us at podcast@coparentacademy.com.  To see our courses, visit https://coparentacademy.com

Speaker 1:

Welcome everybody. Today we're going to talk about reconciliation as a possible outcome for separating parents and because I'm a family law attorney, people sometimes think that I'm not really a big fan of marriage, which couldn't be farther from the truth. I've been married for 24 years and am just really grateful to my wife, rebecca, that she stuck with me for this long. There have been times over the years when we really possibly could have separated, but we just didn't. We continued to work on our relationship and to grow really as, both as individuals and as a couple. So I'm always excited when a client lets me know that they won't be needing my services anymore because they're reconciling with their spouse, and I'm excited so long as they've done the work to make sure that it's the right choice for them. On the other hand, I've had clients let me know that they plan to reconcile with their spouse and my initial response is just anxiety for them. Sometimes I'm concerned because the relationship involved domestic violence and I'm worried about my client's safety. Other times I know that they've really not put in the work, they haven't put in the time and effort necessary to find out if reconciliation is the best option for them and for their kids. So today I'd like to talk about reconciliation as a possible outcome when the divorce process has already started.

Speaker 1:

So first, here's some misconceptions about reconciliation. It doesn't mean that you forget about what happened in the past or you pretend that the past problems never happened. You have to acknowledge what those issues were, you have to understand each other's perspectives about what went wrong and you have to start working through it together. It's also not a sign of weakness or indecisiveness. You know, I'm turning 50 years old this year and I had made a plan to go hike the Appalachian Trail for a couple weeks when I turned 50, just all by myself, and I started getting the equipment and doing all this stuff. And then I started visualizing that experience for my 50th birthday and I decided, yeah, that's not really how I'm going to spend my birthday. So it wasn't a sign of weakness for me to change my mind. It wasn't a sign of indecisiveness for me to change my mind. It was a little embarrassing because I told a bunch of people that I was going to do it, but as I thought about it and I sort of assessed what it was going to be like, I realized it wasn't for me. That can be the same thing a person goes through when they are thinking about separating. You know they thought about it, they planned for it, they told people it was going to happen and sometimes you can have sort of the social pressure to continue down the track that you started. Maybe you got funds, money from friends or family to help you. Maybe you've relied on family for different things, different other kinds of support and you're kind of worried that they're going to think you're foolish or be frustrated with you, especially if they don't like your spouse. So, if anything, it's not a sign of weakness to decide to reconcile. It can take a lot more strength than deciding to separate did.

Speaker 1:

Another misconception is that reconciliation is always the best option. No matter how much you love the institution of marriage, no matter how much you hope that folks stay together, it's not always a positive outcome for people. It's not always the best option. Not always a positive outcome for people. It's not always the best option. Every relationship is unique and for some people going through the separation can be the healthier choice. Another misconception folks have is similar to the misconception they have about separation. Just like separation doesn't make everything better, reconciliation doesn't guarantee any sort of happy outcome. It doesn't guarantee a happy ending. It doesn't guarantee the relationship's going to thrive in the long run. All it guarantees is that you are signing up to do a lot more work on a relationship that's had trouble in the past.

Speaker 1:

So before you decide whether or not you want to reconcile, you have to understand first how you got to the point of separation. This is a necessary step. No reconciliation is going to work until you understand and address why the separation occurred in the first place. So you have to think about those issues. You have to work on the problems of the past so you can build a stronger foundation going forward. You have to heal individually and as a couple. When you do that work, it's better for you, because you're going to be improving yourself and improving your couple, and it's going to be better for the kids too, because when you're happier and when you're getting along better, it makes life better for your kids too. Kids feel more secure and more loved when their parents are doing well, whether they're together or not. So the healthier you can make yourself, the better it's going to be for your kids. And if you can show your children that you are dedicating time to working on yourself and working on your relationships. That's setting a great example for them. It lets them see how they should behave when they meet tough times. To do the work, to assess what happened, to take action to make things better. That's a great lesson. So, as you start getting into this process of potential reconciliation, you have to allow each other and yourself space to grow.

Speaker 1:

Often, what this means is setting new personal boundaries. You know, part of what may have occurred in the past was that you had boundaries that you hadn't realized or hadn't articulated. Recognizing and respecting these boundaries is really crucial for any healthy relationship and if you're going to reconcile, it's going to be crucial for your relationship as well. One of the benefits of setting these new, clear boundaries may help you prevent the recurrence of past issues that contributed to your separation. That's just one part of learning from what went wrong to make things better going forward. And another benefit of setting these new boundaries is that if you can do the work of respecting each other's new boundaries, that's going to build some trust. Very often when a marriage is falling apart, it's because trust has been broken. Identifying, setting and then respecting boundaries is one part of how you can start to rebuild trust in your relationship and that really sets a great foundation for this renewed relationship, which is going to be different, hopefully, than the relationship you had in the past, because the one you had in the past didn't work.

Speaker 1:

To try to identify what went wrong, to try to identify what you need, counseling can be really helpful. Individual counseling can help get at some issues that maybe were causing you to not be really present for the relationship. If you can work on your own side of the problem, the problem will be reduced at least to some degree. And then, in addition, couples counseling to have those conversations to express your feelings and concerns in a safe place with a professional who can help guide that conversation, who can help give insight, to help you gain insight about the conflicts and to help communicate more effectively with each other. Sometimes, depending on the circumstance, family therapy may be necessary as well. It lets everyone in the family get out how they're feeling, assess how they're feeling, listen to each other to work on these system, these family system issues that may have contributed to the separation, even if, ultimately, the reconciliation doesn't happen. Doing all of this individual work, this couple work and this family system work will make you all better off Again, even if the reconciliation doesn't happen. You're addressing the root causes of the problems in the relationship and in the family overall. You're getting new tools for better communication, new tools for conflict resolution, and you're starting to understand each other and yourself better. Those are all good things that will give you positive results again, even if you don't reconcile. But if you do wind up reconciling, it'll give you a much better chance at success in the future.

Speaker 1:

So how do you evaluate, how do you assess whether reconciliation is truly a healthy option for you? Well, the first step, like we've talked about, is understanding your feelings, trying to really reflect, understand how you feel and what you need. We've already addressed that, dealing with the past issues. We've addressed that as well. Something we haven't really talked about yet is looking at are you compatible?

Speaker 1:

Now you know, when you got married maybe it was a long time ago, maybe it wasn't so long ago you were a different person. You were a single person. You hadn't been married. Maybe you hadn't been married at all before. You were younger. You were at a different point in your life, different point in your career. Maybe you didn't have kids yet, and that's a big change. So you have to reassess. The person I am now. Is that person compatible with who my partner is now? Maybe you're not. If you have different personalities that don't work well together, if you have different lifestyles, if your daily habits are different, if your goals for the future are incompatible, then it's not going to work. To reconcile. This idea of compatibility is really crucial for you to be happy day to day and for you to have a real shot at making your marriage work in the future.

Speaker 1:

One of the main concerns that I have for folks who are reconciling comes up when there's been domestic abuse. Domestic abuse doesn't have to be physical abuse. Very often, domestic abuse is about power and control. If there's been domestic abuse in the relationship, that has to be addressed head-on before any reconciliation could be helpful. So how do you do that? How do you determine, if there's been domestic abuse in the past, that it's safe and a good idea to reconcile? Well, the first thing is you have to have the abuser face up to what they did. They have to take ownership of their behavior. They have to face the consequences of that behavior. Lip service isn't enough. The person has to acknowledge to other people professionals yes, I have done this behavior. Yes, I want to change, then they have to go through the work over a long period of time, doing the work day in, day out, to show that they're serious about taking responsibility for their actions and that they're going to have consistent, long-term improvements in their behavior.

Speaker 1:

If there's been domestic abuse in the past, reconciliation shouldn't happen quickly at all. It should be something that takes a long period of time with lots of little indications that the person is committed to change before the abused partner should consider reconciliation. Even when you do consider reconciliation as the abused partner, you should have a safety plan in place, especially when these relationships are involving coercive control. Going back into the relationship because you have financial need is not going to wind up well typically for you because the person hasn't changed and the power imbalance that existed still remains. If the person who was abusive hasn't really confronted and changed that behavior and if the conditions that permitted the person to take advantage of the power and control dynamic, then they're going to run into the same problems. So you have to have a plan in place where you're not dependent on the person who was abusive to you, where you are confident that should something happen again in the future that is like what happened before You'll be safe, that the kids will be safe. It should be a comprehensive safety plan where you know exactly where you would go, what you would do. You deserve to have that safety plan in place if you're considering reconciling. You deserve not to live in a relationship in which you're the victim of an abuser. All right.

Speaker 1:

So here's a quick summary of when reconciliation is probably not a good idea. When you have not addressed the issues in the past, where you have not, individually and together, done the work of going through therapy, of setting new boundaries, of respecting each other's boundaries. If there's been domestic abuse in the past and that abuse has not been acknowledged, the work has not been done to heal from that on both sides in the past, and that abuse has not been acknowledged, the work has not been done to heal from that on both sides, the power and control dynamics have not been rectified. When there's not a safety plan, if those things have not occurred, then it's not a good idea to reconcile. If you've determined that you're not compatible, that you don't have the same life goals, then reconciliation is probably not a good option for you. So what do you do if you decided not to reconcile, especially if the children are old enough to have understood not only that you were separating, but also that you're considering reconciliation.

Speaker 1:

How do you talk to the kids about your decision not to reconcile? The decision to reconcile is easy to communicate. You're both together, you're both happy. The kids probably are happy that you're reconciling, unless there's been abuse that makes them afraid for themselves that the reconciliation happens. Most kids want to see their parents back together. That's an easy conversation. If you've decided not to reconcile, how do you talk about that? Well, first you should talk together with each other just the parents and figure out what you're going to say. It's really important to present a united front to the kids. You need to show them that, although you've ultimately decided, after trying, not to reconcile, that you're still a team, still together when it comes to parenting. That's going to help the kids feel more secure.

Speaker 1:

Pick a time and place for the conversation that's appropriate. There's no distractions, there's no time pressure. It's a place where you can be comfortable, where the conversation can be private and it can take its own time. Make sure that all the kids are old enough to be part of the conversation, to understand what's happening, or present, so that everybody hears the same message. At the same time, make sure that you keep the message clear and simple.

Speaker 1:

I often have parents telling me well, I don't lie to my kids. My kids deserve to know everything. That is not true. You don't have to tell your kids every single thing. You need to tell the kids the truth. You need to make it simple. You need to make the message developmentally appropriate for the kids so you explain it simply clearly developmentally appropriate. Something like this might work. You know, your mom and I have tried to work out our problems, but we've decided that we'll be happier living apart. This isn't because of anything that you did. It's a decision between us as adults. We're always going to love you, we're always going to be here for you and that is never going to change.

Speaker 1:

Something like that could work. It emphasizes love and security for them. It reassures the kids that both of you are going to continue to love them, be there for them no matter what. You let them know that, even though you're not living together, that both of you, the love that both of you have for them, will always be there. It's important to let the kids have feelings, to express their feelings, to ask questions Now. You don't have to answer every question if it's not developmentally appropriate, and you should only answer questions in a way that is appropriate for the kids, only telling them what they need to know. Kids sometimes ask questions that they don't even understand, they don't want the answer to. You're not doing them any favors by answering questions for them in a way that is developmentally inappropriate. So you're the adult. You make that determination and it's best to make it together and be on the same page about it. Make sure that you're reassuring them the whole time.

Speaker 1:

Here's something that sometimes catches folks off guard when you have multiple children, each child is a unique individual. That means that each child could react in different ways. You know one child could be sad, one could be angry, one could be happy. You know you could have two kids and one is relieved that you're not reconciling and one is devastated. So be ready to offer comfort and support.

Speaker 1:

Let each child have their own unique response and don't judge them for it. They're allowed to feel the way that they feel and also understand that the children are hearing just now in this meeting that you're not reconciling. They probably aren't going to be prepared for how they're going to feel. They're not necessarily going to know the questions that they may have. So, after that initial conversation, try to keep the lines of communication open. Let them follow up, let them process the information. We'll come back with more questions later on. Check in with them periodically to make sure that they're feeling supported, make sure that they're doing okay as they're adjusting to the new family dynamic. So reconciliation as a possible outcome for divorce is a great option if it's pursued in a healthy way assessing what went wrong, addressing those problems, setting and respecting new boundaries, determining that you're compatible, going forward, making sure that if there's been any hint of domestic abuse, that it's being addressed and prevented in the future. All right, everyone, I hope you have a fantastic week and I'll see you next time.

Exploring Reconciliation in Marriage
Guidelines for Reconciliation and Child Communication
Supporting Children Through Divorce