THE BLOG
12/11/2013 04:19 pm ET | Updated Feb 10, 2014

Giving Your Relationship a Second Chance

Many separated couples frequently reach back to make their relationship work out and "try really hard" to get it right this time around. Why are some couples successful at reconciliation and others are not?

Why Do Couples Separate?

There are two primary reasons why relationships break apart, either permanently or temporarily: (1) people look to their partner to define them and (2) they do not have a proper relationship model -- one that considers all three entities: I, You and We.

Years of clinical work have convinced me that the core problem of failed marriages/partnerships lies in the tendency of partners to look to each other, rather than to themselves to heal their inner pain and take personal ownership for creating happiness. When one relinquishes ownership of their own deficits and looks to their partner to fill their voids, they are shifting the responsibility for their personal development onto the wrong source. Inevitably, their partner will disappoint them. Conflict will arise, placing significant stress on the relationship, often causing its demise.

The second reason that partnerships deteriorate is that many people don't understand how to build and sustain a strong relationship. Typically, partnerships are defined as consisting of two people who need to love themselves and cherish their partners. I propose that all relationships are made of three distinct entities: two individuals and the life they share between them.

What does this mean? Two individuals must be whole and autonomous, and have a unique identity separate from the relationship. Each person must also grant his or her partner the right to have their own feelings, thoughts and needs, which will be different from their own. To nourish the third entity -- the relationship -- both individuals need to be able to express themselves and reveal their inner lives while also being sensitive to how they affect their partner and how their partner affects them.

Making Separation Work For You

Separation is usually not an ideal solution to partnership problems. It is a symptom of underlying baggage that echoes past unhealed wounds. The need for separation reflects toxicity in the individuals and in the relationship.

The collapse of a relationship may be best thought of as a wake-up-call, an event with a greater purpose, not something to hurry up and get over. The opportunity for couples to work through their problems individually and as a couple should always be the first option.

Reconciliation, like all desirable goals, requires work and commitment. The following are some key guidelines to consider during a separation process:

  1. Take care of yourself. When you are hurting and feeling unsure, it can be easy to neglect your emotional and psychological needs.
  2. Make sure you and your partner have the same goals.
  3. Strengthen your identity. Explore those things that bring meaning to your life rather then waiting to reconnect to your partner to find purpose. Your life should revolve around your values, needs, and what inspires you.
  4. Agree on ground rules. If you and your partner are still speaking, agree on ground rules that will govern your time apart. These might include fidelity and how often to see each other and talk.
  5. Enter counseling individually. This is an opportunity to "get to know yourself "and realize that you hold the key to your own happiness. Chart a course for your own well-being. Gain insight and ownership of your role in the partnership problems.
  6. Pursue counseling as a couple. Create a strategy for rebuilding your partnership. Commit to resolving old habits and destructive behaviors through the help of a third party rebuilding expert,. Learn to communicate your thoughts and feelings and be open to your partner's feelings and needs without judgment.

Conclusions

Although a temporary break-up of a relationship can be painful, separation should be used as a time to make necessary changes in behaviors that have been harmful to the partnership. Issues are not resolved with the simple words "I'm sorry" or the promise of "I love you."

Relationship crises are generally the result of two underdeveloped people attempting to create a partnership. True relationship transformation can only occur when the two people in it are able to express themselves as full individuals.

Breaking up is not necessarily a solution to partnership problems. It is a symptom of toxicity in the relationship, a sign that things are not the way they should be. Paradoxically, however, separation can be thought of as a healthy signal that it is time to put some hard work into the relationship.