When it comes to computers, it has always amazed me that the majority of issues can be solved by switching the machine off and restarting it. It is one of the mysteries of our time and one that I personally find the most effective default method of fixing anything of a technological nature. The same can be applied to a marriage or a relationship where “rebooting” it after issues can be an effective measure in bringing it back on track. However, just with a computer, a reboot will not always work, there might be different or deeper issues and there might be issues that you hadn’t thought about or appear later.
Many people might struggle to understand the term “marriage reboot” in this form and would probably relate more to another term, the “trial separation”, a very negative sounding phrase. The naming of the process is less important than the apparatus and framework that keeps it on track. Working with an experienced therapist to create and monitor this framework will ensure the greatest chance of success. However, it is not the therapist’s job to keep the couple together under all circumstances. A marriage reboot process might also reveal that reconciliation is not possible and then the focus has to be on separating as functionally as possible.
I have often suggested a marriage reboot to couples in therapy when a “release valve” is needed when the relationship is under intense pressure and daily interaction is not possible. It is then important to create a structure that will help the couple deal with the issues while apart. This is often done in the form of a contract (non-legally binding) or a formal checklist. The major points for me are listed below:
- Gain commitment from both sides. Without this, the process is doomed to failure. If one of the partners feels they are being forced into the process or shows no intention to work, there is no point even starting.
- Get all points on the table in an honest manner. Many processes of this nature fail because honesty is not forthcoming at the start. Some people will fake commitment and honesty when they know that there are factors in the background that will guarantee separation. In effect, they take part in a show process. Some have “affair partners” that they are keeping hidden. Other know they want to separate and do not feel the need to admit it. They are using the process to procrastinate and will do much to sabotage the process.
- Establish rules and a framework. A major factor in a marriage reboot is the framework that establishes how a couple will behave and interact with each other during the time apart. This is agreed beforehand in a negotiation process and is the basis for charting success. Rules will include time period (initially 3 months is reasonable), contact, living arrangements, financial aspects, childcare, dating other people (it is sometimes relevant), sex. Behaviour and interaction including conflict management can be also regulated. Equally important is the communication of any new information that might need an adjustment of the framework or indeed makes it invalid.
- Establish consequences for “breaking” rules. Any framework that contains rules at its core is susceptible to have rules broken. What happens in this case? Is it zero tolerance or held for discussion. Of course, it depends what it is and how serious but it is for the couple to decide.
- Establish positive aspects. A “date night” periodically can help this especially when the couple can share new experiences and remind themselves of what they were attracted to at the start of the relationship. Often couples elect to name “taboo” subjects and prohibit technology.
- Continue to work on the marriage. A marriage is not over until it is. Provided everyone has been honest, shows commitment and adheres to the rules they created, there is always a chance that things can be turned around. It is important to continue therapy and provide a safe place to discuss issues.
Anyone in a marriage who agrees to a marriage reboot has to realise they are at a crossroads and a crisis point in their relationship with no guarantees of a successful outcome. They have probably got to a state where the marriage has not been a priority in their lives. The outcome can go either way and the determining factor is them. A choice can be made to change but at least that choice is in their hands.