When crisis forces you to face your ex, tread lightly

Nov 4, 2015 at 12:03 p.m. ET
Image: Jason LaVeris/Film Magic/Getty Images

Khloé Kardashian surprised everyone when she put a halt to her divorce proceedings. It begs the question, can a crisis bring a couple together?

Khloé Kardashian and Lamar Odom called off their divorce, shocking many. Though she filed for divorce more than two years ago, they are technically still married and she has allegedly been making all the medical decisions for Lamar since his overdose. Khloé stated she is not getting back together with Lamar, but the crisis ultimately did reunite the pair.

Dr. Christina Hibbert psychologist and author of Who Am I Without You: 52 Ways to Rebuild Self-Esteem after a Breakup, believes that a crisis can be just what the doctor ordered to bring a couple back together. “Major life stress can either make or break a couple. For many, it will tear them apart. But for others it can remind them of what really matters — namely their relationship.”

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That’s not to say the process is going to be easy. It’s not simply about getting back together and pretending the past didn’t exist or letting bygones be bygones. Psychologist and director of Theory & Therapy, Dr. Paul Murdock, says, “Each individual needs to own up to their own emotions, reactions and behaviors. Typically one of the partners feels betrayed and can lash out. This is never successful and can lead to long-term bitterness. If one or both of the partners is not willing to take responsibility for their own emotions, they will not be able to move forward.”

Author and relationship expert Sherry Amatenstein warns that, “A reunion can be lovely in the moment but the actuality is you’ve had serious issues that have caused you to break up. A crisis isn’t automatically going to change that. It’s just going to add to it. A couple in crisis needs therapy. Otherwise it’s the same people in an even worse circumstance.”

It’s important to work on the issues that drove one another apart in the first place and codependency is often at the core of many roller coaster-type relationships.

“Codependency involves enabling the other person, making it possible for them to continue unhealthy or addictive behavior,” adds Dr. Hibbert. “[In order to break the cycle, the other partner needs] a willingness to set boundaries to keep the relationship on healthy terms.” Don't forget tough love and patience.

The toxic up-and-down relationship between Khloé’s sister, Kourtney, and her ex, Scott, is a prime example of not breaking the cycle. Her efforts to make her relationship work with Scott despite multiple stints at rehab, anger issues and incessant partying finally came to an end after nine years when he was spotted with another woman.

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If a reconciliation doesn’t work out, the consequences can be doubly painful. “If the couple puts time, energy and often money into repairing their marriage and they end up breaking up, it can lead to another grieving process,” says relationship expert Audrey Hope.

But for some couples, there can be a happy ending. Snoop Dogg and his wife Shante were in the midst of filing for divorce when their daughter was diagnosed with lupus, a trying event that he credits with saving their marriage. “It can work out and in higher numbers than people realize. I have worked with many couples who have been through traumatic addictions and affairs and rebuilt their relationship successfully. Often they feel stronger than they did before,” says Hope.

“When the crisis is able to ‘shock’ the couple and give them a reality check, it can be just what the couple needed to do the necessary work to stay together and build a healthy relationship. However if it’s just another part of a pattern of breaking up and then getting back together after a crisis, it’s probably better to go your separate ways,” says Dr. Hibbert.

Ultimately there is no right or wrong answer here. If you find yourself wanting to reconcile after a major crisis, it’s important to ask yourself if you’re prepared for the long road ahead of you. Not only do you have to be ready to make the changes necessary to make the relationship work, your partner has to be willing as well. Making sure your needs are met and keeping your happiness paramount are key when it comes to navigating through a sticky reconciliation.