Divorce is hell. But reconciliation?

Harder.

For it requires not only the seeing, but the fixing of oneself. Or, in the very least, an earnest willingness to try.

My husband and I are rebuilding our marriage. In May 2018, after four gut-wrenching months of divorce proceedings, we stopped the process entirely during our final court hearing.

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We chose to stay together.

But if you’ve been married for longer than an hour, your heart already knows a painful, yet essential truth: love isn’t a fairy tale.

But is it possible to chart love all over?
Can you forgive each other for the hurt?
Can you trust again?

The answer is yes. And here’s what I’m learning:

1. You’ve got to let go of blame.
Just the other day, my old marital playbook re-emerged: “Blame him, Lauren.” My husband had been traveling for a week, and the stress began to pile:

The first days of school.

Our daughter coming down with hand-foot-and-mouth.
An ongoing transition to a new city, a new house, and a new community with two kids.

Truthfully, I wanted to blame my husband for everything (and had countless times in the past). But the trauma of almost-divorce has made me wiser. So I named the temptation and released it. And, suddenly, my partner stopped feeling responsible for every disappointment of mine.

This freedom has now trickled into every part of our relationship and keeps unnecessary conflicts from forming.

2. You’ve got to give your spouse a chance . . . every time.
I’ll be honest, nothing prepares you for the patience it takes to execute this in marriage.

For my husband and me, home repairs most often bring the breakdown. And my classic response—the one that has eroded my husband’s confidence more than any other?

Doubt.

Recently, my husband informed me that our garbage disposal was malfunctioning. I knew it was my chance to finally lift him up with a chance to fix the problem.

Instead of blame, I encouraged him.

Instead of skepticism, I believed in his skills.

Instead of superiority, I crawled under the sink with him.

I’m telling you, when you give your spouse permission to try, you will discover new layers in the person you know best.

And love him even more.

3. You’ve got to remember each other.
The world tells us women that we need to have it ALL:

Perfect job.
Perfect home.
Perfect weight.
Perfect kids.

And, honestly, it’s freakin’ easy to lose sight of our partners.

Earlier this month, our daughter battled an allergic reaction over the weekend, and her Monday morning appointment couldn’t come fast enough.

I had a plan. I was focused. I was ready to fix the problem.

Only, I completely forgotten another important event that day: My husband’s first day of teaching . . . a new group of students . . . at a new university.

In my pursuit of perfect motherhood, I had failed to look past what feels urgent and see—truly see—who is most important.

But the look on my spouse’s face when I embraced him and promised to listen better?

It simply replied, “I am loved.”

4. You’ve got to keep dating.
Truly, my husband and I suck at it. We’ve never really lived close to family, so childcare takes work . . . and money. So, we give up.

But when you stop making your time together feel special, you’ll stop spending time together.

Guaranteed.

So the new approach my partner and I are taking? Morning dates while the kids are in school.

We are learning that when we sprinkle spontaneity over the necessary, it doesn’t feel at all like work.

And, I’m telling you, a part of you is waiting to come alive again over shared scones, coffee, and dreams.

5. You’ve got to say “yes”.
I don’t know if time makes us lazy or creative, but the excuses just flow the longer you are married.

Serving each other isn’t always natural. And, frankly, it won’t be each day of your marriage.

It hasn’t always been easy for me to say “yes” to my husband’s needs. Recently, however, I decided to respond differently: my partner had forgotten something at home, and I immediately said yes to helping him.

Here’s what sharing 30 minutes of my morning taught me:

1. Saying “yes” lets our partners know they can rely on us—that they can trust us with the stuff of life.

2. Saying “yes” renews our purpose in our relationship. We are needed, even in the small things.

3. Saying “yes” prepares us for when we don’t get a choice—when life throws trauma, tragedy, and grief our way. It also builds endurance for when the seasons are marked with more pain than bliss.

Because deep down our hearts know what that three-letter word really means: you matter.

Google any marital struggle and “divorce” will almost always be presented as an option. But I want to share that even in the most hopeless of circumstances—the former state of my marriage—my partner and I are loving our way out.

It’s requiring growth.

It’s requiring honesty.

It’s requiring forgiveness.

But it’s yielding the closest thing to a fairy tale that I have ever experienced.

And, in the depths of my soul, I can now testify: love conquers all.

Lauren Fortenberry

Lauren Fortenberry is a storyteller and recovering perfectionist. A former educator, Lauren lives as a freelance writer in Mississippi with her husband and two children. Follow Lauren's adventures in loving better on Facebook.