In my article, 7 Key Components of a “Therapeutic” Separation Agreement, I covered the key elements that should be included in any therapeutic separation agreement.
The 7 components are:
- Length of separation
- Who will leave the home
- Access to the home
- Household/childcare matters
- Goals for reintegration
- Post-reintegration agreements
While each of these is vital for an effective and productive therapeutic separation, #7 is often the most crucial because:
One of the biggest mistakes couples make when ending a period of separation is having no agreements about what will happen going forward. It is not uncommon for the unfaithful spouse to return to the family home and within a few months to have significantly reduced his engagement in recovery activities—or worse—abandoned them altogether.
This article covers the 7 most important actions I recommend each betrayed partner—and couple—take before ending a therapeutic separation period and reintegrating.
Review original agreements
If you created a therapeutic separation agreement when you initially separated, review the agreements to determine whether any milestones requested or agreed upon have been accomplished. If they haven’t, either wait until they are completed or carefully consider whether you want to alter your initial request or agreement.
The only time you may want to discuss reintegration prior to all agreements or milestones being met is when there are circumstances outside your spouses’ control that prevent him or her from being able to meet the commitment. An example would be not having an opportunity to attend a workshop or intensive because it is not being offered in a timeframe that fits within the separation.
Identify requests for post-integration
Once you’re clear that all requests or milestones from the initial therapeutic separation agreement have been met, determine any ongoing trust-building actions or behaviors you would like after the separation ends.
Your list may include recovery work, individual therapy, couples therapy, after-care polygraphs, attendance at 12-step meetings, and any other trust-building or relationship restoring actions you would like. On a practical level, include what you would like in terms of sleeping arrangements, childcare considerations, attendance at social or family events, or other items covered in your original separation agreement.
Make a requests list
Post-integration agreements are best created through a request-making process.
Once you have identified specific post-integration requests, write them down and include as much detail as possible. For example, asking your spouse to “go to therapy” will probably not get you the results you want unless you only wanted him to go to one therapy session, and he did.
Effective requests should include timelines. If attendance at 12-step meetings helps rebuild trust for you, ask for a specific number of meetings per week, or month, and include a timeframe. For example, “I would like you to go to two 12-step meetings per week for the next year.”
You can be even even more specific and identify the type of meeting you want your spouse to go to. Some people who struggle with out of control sexual behavior, and are already working an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program, prefer to attend AA meetings and avoid “S” recovery groups. They go where they feel more comfortable, or where they don’t have to address deeper issues.
If this level of detail, including timelines, sounds too harsh or rigid, ask yourself how you will feel in 2-3 months post-integration when your spouse is back in your home and has stopped taking meaningful action toward becoming healthier and restoring trust in your relationship. Sadly, this scenario is more common than not.
For each item you identified in #2, create a request that is clear, specific, actionable and has a timeframe. For most recovery activities, I recommend they continue for no less than one year post-integration. For more information about how to make effective requests, read my article Requests, Demands & Ultimatums, or Chapter 7 in Moving Beyond Betrayal.
Be 100% clear
Deciding when and whether to live with another person is an example of a physical boundary. Physical boundaries are non-negotiable personal boundaries, which means you do not need the agreement of anyone to decide if, when, or how you want to live with another person.
Before having a conversation with your spouse to discuss your requests list for post-integration, make sure that you are 100% clear you are ready. Reflect on your spouse’s ability to listen, to be empathic, avoid defensiveness, and to be accountable. Review the requests you want to make and ask yourself, “Am I truly ready to end this separation? If my spouse agrees—or doesn’t—to most or all my requests would I feel differently?”
Unfortunately, betrayed partners are sometimes pressured by their spouse, their therapist, a clergy member, or even their own family members to forgive, forget, and let the unfaithful spouse return home. However, I encourage you to take your time. It is far better to wait until you are absolutely clear and ready, than to make a decision that is not completely yours.
Have the conversation
If you’re clear that you’re ready to proceed, have a beginning conversation with your spouse so that you can present your post-integration requests. Ideally, this meeting should take place in a therapist’s office.
Your spouse may not agree to all your requests. He may say no, or he may want to negotiate an alternative agreement to one or more items you propose. If his or her attempt at negotiation is in good faith, keep an open mind and compromise where you can. If you have any hesitation at all—which you can often sense as physical responses in your body—either delay entering into an agreement or simply say that it’s not workable for you. The best approach is to avoid making any agreement you’re not comfortable with.
Enter post-integration agreements in an agreement journal
Once you have a list of agreements, write them down in an agreement journal, sign and date them for clarity and for future reference.
Reintegrate in stages
Reintegrating is best done in stages. Couples often benefit from starting reintegration by spending one or two nights under the same roof, adding weekends, and then increasing to full reintegration over a period of weeks, or even months, depending on the couple, the length of their therapeutic separation, and their particular situation.
Although sexual reintegration is a more complex and detailed topic to be covered in this article, sexual reintegration in stages is also recommended. Whether you’re reintegrating living arrangements or sexually, the best course of action is to take your time and pay attention to your thoughts, physical responses, emotions, and intuition.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2018)