“Dad’s home!” my brother exclaimed as he ran to the door.

For a moment, everything felt normal. There was no fighting. No talk of divorce. No discussions about custody. Just Dad coming home.

My brother was too young to realize how close our family came to permanently falling apart, but I knew. As our dad laid his bags in the corner, I looked over at my mother and saw a strange mixture of hope and doubt. Her smile said she was happy, but her eyes cried out, Will we make it? I shared her fears.

The years that followed our family’s reunion were rocky, and there were moments where we almost didn’t make it. But more than 35 years later, my parents are not only still together, they’re happy.

Rebuilding a marriage

If you’re considering reuniting with your spouse or you’ve recently moved back in after a separation, here are some things to keep in mind on your road to restoration.

“Forgive and forget” won’t be easy

Colossians 3:13 reminds us to, Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (NIV).

Separations are traumatic. They undermine the foundations of trust and commitment necessary for a marriage to succeed. While every situation is different, one thing is the same: Reconciliation will not be possible without forgiveness.

But forgiveness does not mean we forget the offense. On the contrary, true forgiveness is only possible when, with the full depth of the offense before us, we choose to release the other person from restitution. It’s when we say, “What you did hurt me deeply. I have every right to make you pay, but because God has forgiven me, I choose to forgive you. No payment (or punishment) is necessary.”

If you’re in the process of rebuilding your marriage after a separation, you’ve likely already come to the point of forgiveness, which is wonderful. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself having to forgive again and again as secondary layers of pain come to the surface.

For example, you may have forgiven the affair but find yourself in tears one day over the realization of a lie used to cover it up. This is normal. Traumatic events can rarely be processed as a whole. You may feel pressure to “move on” and “let it go,” but don’t rush it. Issues not resolved now will only grow into fights later. Take the time you need to fully deal with the pain.

And while it’s true you will never “forget” what happened, if you allow God to touch every shadowy place, there will come a day when the memory is transformed from a source of pain to a reminder of God’s goodness. You will look back and remember how God was able to rebuild your marriage.

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Trust has to be rebuilt, too

Trust is expensive, paid for with thousands of proven moments.

Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean you immediately trust them again. After a separation, trust will take time to rebuild. If there was betrayal, infidelity, or any form of abusive behavior taking place, it will be even more difficult.

Will my spouse repeat these behaviors? Can I be honest with my struggles? What happens next time we get into a fight? 

Doubts are normal.

But no matter how deep the cracks are in your foundation, they can be repaired with a track record of honesty. If you say you’re going to be someplace at a certain time, be there at that time. If you promise to pick up milk on the way home from work, do it. Every promise kept, no matter how small, builds upon itself. So, let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no”  be “no” (See Matthew 5:37).

Over time, trust will return.

Don’t make the same mistakes

After reconciliation, there is intense pressure for things to go back to normal, but do you want to have a normal marriage or a great one?

To have a great marriage, you’ll need to do things that aren’t normal.

Openly talk about your expectations, discuss your fears, and negotiate responsibilities. Join a marriage small group at church, commit to an annual weekend getaway, and continue to meet with your counselor even after the fighting stops.

Make every effort to increase transparency with your spouse and put safeguards in place to protect your marriage from anything that could cause you to drift back toward isolation. Share phone passwords, locations, merge your bank accounts, deactivate social media accounts, or change your social circles.

Take whatever steps necessary to ensure you can’t make the same mistakes again.

Prayer is a vital tool for rebuilding a marriage

It has often been said, “a couple that prays together, stays together.” And it makes sense. It’s difficult for problems to escalate when couples are in the habit of humbling themselves before the foot of the cross and asking for forgiveness.

According to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, “the frequency with which couples engage in regular in-home worship activities (e.g., prayer, scriptural study) was also positive linked with relationship quality.”

Make time to regularly thank God for what He has done in your life and marriage. Ask Him to help you protect it and use your story for His glory.

If you would like to develop the habit of daily prayer, our Oneness Prayer Challenge can help.

Other couples need to hear your story

Often in the midst of our pain, we wonder, Why God? Why are you allowing me to suffer?

The pain that brought your marriage to the edge of divorce is probably something you would like to forget as quickly as possible. Your story’s filled with the worst, most embarrassing moments of your life – things you wish you’d never said and done.

God doesn’t waste our pain, but we do when we’re too scared to share it.

Find others who have gone through a similar struggle and help them. Start a Vertical Marriage group in your home or mentor a younger couple.

Satan likes to make us believe our situation is unique and no one will be able to relate, but that is simply not true. If God is rebuilding your marriage, don’t be afraid to let others know. The deeper the pain, the greater the potential impact we can have.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God“ (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

If you would like to learn more about how God can use your marriage story to help others, become a part of FamilyLife Local today.

Copyright © 2021 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Carlos Santiago is a senior writer for FamilyLife and has written and contributed to numerous articles, e-books, and devotionals. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. Carlos and his wife, Tanya, live in Little Rock, Arkansas, with their two children. You can learn more on their blog, YourEverAfter.org.