Relationships

Boomerang couples: How to reconcile after divorce

By: Marci O'Connor

Photo courtesy of Corbis Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photo courtesy of Corbis

Relationships

Boomerang couples: How to reconcile after divorce

By: Marci O'Connor
When wedded bliss ends, some couples divorce and walk away. But there are others who, with time and a new perspective, reconcile and return to their marriages. Though they give many of us hope for new beginnings, these “boomerang couples” face more challenges than most. Not only do they have to build a new relationship but they also have to do it with the weight of their troubled history and at the risk of another failed marriage.

In a global study in the ’90s by Nancy Kalish, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Southern California, Sacramento, and author of The Lost Love Chronicles, of more than 1,000 people who attempted to reunite with a lost love, 72 percent were successful in staying together. Of those, six percent officially married, divorced and remarried the same person. For couples who are still in love enough to try again, and who are committed to working on their relationships, a happier ending is possible.

Surviving the pressures of parenting: Kim and Paul Armstrong
From: Buckhorn, Ont.
Married: 1998
Split up: 2005

Kim and Paul met during high school and dated on and off for eight years before marrying. Although they both wanted kids, like many parents they were completely unprepared for the upheaval that having two children in two years would bring.

Looking back, Kim acknowledges that she lost her identity as Paul’s wife and partner. “Like a lot of moms, I found it hard to be away from the kids,” she says. “We used to do date nights, but I resisted getting a sitter. I was overprotective.”

Paul didn’t share Kim’s anxieties and became resentful of a relationship that had him sitting on the sidelines. The two grew apart and, by their seventh anniversary dinner, they decided to separate. “It was the weirdest, most bittersweet date in the whole world,” recalls Kim. Though Kim and Paul each found themselves in different relationships during the years they were apart, they were always in contact. “Even apart, we seemed to work as a team,” says Kim. “When my father passed away, Paul was my rock who got me through it. And when he was laid off one year right before Christmas, I purchased gifts for him to give to our boys.”

Those ties, which had never truly been severed, grew stronger and the couple eventually found themselves on the path to reconciliation. “One night, Paul called me and said, ‘What are we doing? Why don’t we just go on a date?’ ” They admitted that their time apart wasn’t as carefree as they had imagined and that they missed the time spent together as a family.

Both Kim and Paul knew, however,that if they took that step, they’d have to commit; they didn’t want to put their kids through the confusion and pain of breaking up the family again. “The first time around, I was ‘Super Mama Bear,’” says Kim. “I made decisions about the kids independently, and there wasn’t room for negotiation.” She knew that saving her marriage would require a different approach. “Before, if Paul’s opinion wasn’t the same, the decision I went with 99 percent of the time was what I felt was best. Now, I’ve realized that, as the father of our boys, Paul is the single most influential role model in their lives, and his opinion counts.” Kim says they now enjoy a true partnership. “I feel like we’ve finally created the marriage we should have had all along.”

Navigating the tough times: Diane and Wayne Stanley
From: Cochrane, Alta.
Married: 1993
Split up: 1996
Together again: 2000

“When I first saw her at a wedding, I knew I was going to ask her out,” says Wayne of his wife, Diane. Two years after meeting, the couple married.

After the birth of their daughter in 1995, Diane suffered from constant sadness that she later realized was postpartum depression. Not sure if or how he could help, Wayne’s worry turned to frustration. Diane remembers him saying, “You have to get better because I’m not feeling good about this. I can’t sleep, and I have to work every day with a sick feeling in my stomach.” They both felt isolated. “When you disconnect, you stop growing together. You stop being a couple,” says Diane. “After a while, it feels like being in a marriage is too much work.”

The couple separated a year after the birth of their daughter, then divorced two years later. Even though they separately moved on with their lives, Wayne and Diane stayed in close contact. Three years after their split, Diane sought therapy. “When I looked back on my marriage, I was overwhelmed by how quickly everything had happened,” she says. “I wanted to understand what had gone wrong.”

Wayne was supportive, and the two continued to talk about their relationship. Diane recalls the day she realized that reconciliation was on the horizon: Wayne had invited her out for a walk, and they reflected on where things had gone wrong and how they could make a better start. “I think our expectations of marriage were a little unrealistic,” says Diane. “We got stuck on that. I thought, We’re missing what it’s really about, and there’s some beautiful stuff in there.”

Wayne and Diane remarried in 2000 and had a second child. Once again, Diane struggled with postpartum depression, but this time, they were better equipped to deal with the challenge. “We hung on to each other,” says Diane. “Even if some days we didn’t want to, we had to, because we knew it was a passing thing and we had to get through it.” Diane believes she and Wayne have a healthier relationship now. “We’re more mature, we have better mtools, we try to communicate better and we’re able to work through things in a more healthy way.

“When you get married, it’s no longer only an emotion to be in love—it’s a decision to stay in love,” Diane sums up. “No matter who you are, there are always going to be times when it’s not that great and you’re not getting along. But if you hang on and get through it, the love deepens.”

Different visions of marriage: Jeni and Nick

From: Aurora, Ont.
Married: 1999
Split up: 2002
Together again: 2002

“The early years seemed so easy,” says Jeni of her marriage to Nick, her high school sweetheart. “It made sense to move in together after we graduated. We were best friends.” Despite the pressures of being full-time college students, the two stayed together, purchased a home, got engaged and then married.

The cracks began to appear in the marriage when Jeni started her own business. She was prepared to put in the hours as an entrepreneur but didn’t appreciate that the same effort was needed in her relationship. “I was taking on more of the financial responsibilities and putting in long hours, and that made me start to resent him,” she says. “I felt like I was doing it all and he just got to have fun.”

Jeni admits that marrying young may have contributed to their relationship stress. “I had ideas about fairy-tale romances, though the idea of breaking up wasn’t foreign,” she says. “My parents had divorced, so it seemed like a realistic option once we hit an impasse.”

The couple agreed to separate and didn’t speak for three months. When Nick finally did reach out to Jeni, it was clear there were still strong feelings. After a few weeks of talking, the couple realized they wanted to make another go of their marriage. “It was completely mutual,” says Jeni. “Nick looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to go get my stuff.’ I was immediately relieved and felt like we could make it through anything.”

That night, the couple ordered takeout, talked about their future and made love. “It was a reminder of what we had with each other.” The two agreed that they’d need counselling to move forward, something Nick had not previously been open to. “We didn’t want to continue having the same issues over and over,” says Nick. “We knew our relationship was worth fighting for, so there was no way we would end it without doing everything we could to save it.” While in couples counselling, they were told, “You get married seven times over the course of your lifetime. If you’re lucky, it’s to the same person.”

Two children later, this sense of perpetual change and growth still guides their marriage. “We’re a lot more realistic about our expectations now,” says Jeni. “It doesn’t feel like our ‘new’ marriage is an extension of the old one but, rather, a more mature relationship. We still have disagreements, but we’re better equipped to deal with them.”

Expert tips to help you revive your marriage
Whether it’s the first attempt or a second go-round, keeping expectations reasonable is a good starting point for any marriage, says Gary Direnfeld, a Dundas, Ont.–based social worker and author of Marriage Rescue. “A difference of opinion is normal,” he says. “It’s how you’re able to work together to resolve the conflict that makes the difference.”

“Intentional commitment is key,” says Dr. Peter Williamson, a Vancouver-based psychologist who specializes in marital counselling. “Being determined to see the rough spots and behave in a healthy way toward each other makes it possible to create a positive journey together, not just react to each other,” says Dr. Williamson.

However, the longer a couple stays apart, the less likely they’ll have a successful reconciliation. “Separation runs the risk of creating permanent separations,” says Direnfeld, “and the longer the separation, the greater the likelihood that you will remain so. Life has its own momentum, and when separated, we find ourselves open to new relationships as we drift further apart from the previous relationship.”

But for those who do find their way back to each other, the bond can be stronger. “Couples who learn to overcome conflict and marital hardship tend to have a better sense of marital satisfaction and feel more accomplished in their relationships,” says Direnfeld. “There’s a sense of satisfaction from having overcome adversity together.”

You too can fall in love with your partner. We share six ways to reconnect

This story was originally titled "Marry-Go-Round" in the February 2015 issue.
           
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Boomerang couples: How to reconcile after divorce

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