The Reconciliation Jigsaw Puzzle

Common Troubles in Reconciliation

Infidelity Jigsaw Pieces

  • My cheater doesn’t really ‘get it’.
  • My cheater seems to be carrying on with life as normal, while I’m struggling.
  • They say they’re sorry but it doesn’t feel enough.
  • We’re reconciling but I’m miserable.
  • I want to see change but I’m not.

If these things sound familiar it’s because they are common concerns, regularly voiced by faithful spouses who want to successfully reconcile their marriages after an affair. We get a lot of visits from Pixies who want their marriages to survive and are willing to do what it takes to Maximize The Likelihood - their confusion, disappointment and distress is sadly common.

The Puzzle of Reconciliation

Why, if reconciliation is so achievable and common (according to the pro-reconciliation boards), does it all seem like such a difficult puzzle for so many willing Pixies? Why do so many Pixies struggle to solve the reconciliation puzzle, even if they’re doing The Same Right Things that the pro-reconciliation boards advise? Where are they going wrong, why can’t they achieve the same success, why are they failing where others succeeded?

The answer is twofold:

  1. The pro-reconciliation boards stories of reconciliation success largely downplay or disregard the ongoing struggles in relationships that are apparently reconciled
  2. The puzzle is solvable when you act on the correct information

Solving the Puzzle

Let’s assume that I’ve given you a boxed jigsaw puzzle with this picture of Monument Valley in Arizona on the lid. Solving a jigsaw puzzle isn’t tricky and most of us would take a typical approach to solve it.

Straight edges and corner pieces are quickly identified as the key pieces in a jigsaw puzzle to get us started, so they are often the first pieces we try to fish out of the box. Most of us look for specifically identifying shapes or patterns that we can match with others as we search for the edge pieces and that might be the sum total of the sorting for many - but the methodical among us might further organize the process by separating the pieces by color or pattern.

This particular jigsaw would have us looking for the obvious blue pieces and orange pieces from the outset but we might find ourselves immediately trying to piece together the darker brown pieces that evidently create the center of the picture, even while we’re still familiarizing ourselves with the pieces. It’s not rocket science, right?

But … whatever particular jigsaw puzzle strategy we have -or even if we don’t have a strategy at all- we are essentially trying to recreate the picture on the box.

What if, in some cruel jigsaw joke, I gave you jigsaw pieces that formed an entirely different image than the puzzle on the box? What if, in my wicked pursuit of a jolly jape, I put the pieces from an air balloon puzzle into the Monument Valley jigsaw puzzle box?

*Gasp* How could I???

I know - my cruelty knows no bounds. But the pieces in that jigsaw box that I gave you are from an entirely different puzzle. HA! Joke’s on you! HA! You’ve got pieces that make up a picture of hot air balloons not Monument Valley. Hahahahahaha.

Ahem. Anyway - you are not going to be able to recreate that beautiful photograph of an Arizona landscape with these air balloon pieces, right? Of course not - duh! If you’ve got pieces that make a picture of hot air balloons anyone would be able to see that the pieces don’t match the image on the box when they try to solve the puzzle.

Picture Perfect

But what if you really WANTED that beautiful picture of Monument Valley? You could make those air balloon pieces work, right? After all, there’s some orange and some blue and even some brown in the air balloon pieces and those colors are in the Arizona picture too! You can work with that, right? With enough time and love and effort you can make it work and turn those air balloon pieces into the perfect picture that you want! Because you like the landscape best, dammit! You WANT it! *stamp foot*

Would it be absurd to then dedicate the next few years of your life to trying to force the pieces to make the picture you want, not the picture they actually form? But … what if you tried REALLY HARD? What if you went to art classes to learn about colors and shapes and how to mix paints from a qualified professional? What if you learned art history, how to recreate the old masters, and the fine art of fine art forgery?

What if you got out your own oil paints and, armed with your newly learned skills, pour your love into the process of ‘retouching’ some of the air balloon pieces so that they looked more like the Arizona picture you prefer? Would you berate or ignore those who might suggest that you throw away those old, over-painted, flaking, nasty air balloon pieces and instead go looking for jigsaws that you DO like?

What if someone dared point out that if you are SO desperate to have the first picture you could just go out and find the jigsaw puzzle that DOES create it? Would you dismiss them as bitter and wrongheaded because they don’t understand your ‘special’ circumstances??

Would you consider any of this absurd? Irrational? Deluded? I would tend to agree - it really doesn’t make any sense.

Reconciliation Rationalization

Yet, this is a situation that we see with concerning frequency in Pixies: they start at their desired end point of Happy Ever After and work backwards to try to make their situation fit. 

Pixies share a common trait: reconciliation rationalization. A Pixie starting at what they want and trying to crowbar what they have into their ideal outcome will readily inform us:

  • my cheater is broken (even if that’s not true of other cheaters)
  • my cheater is confused (even if that’s not true of other cheaters)
  • when the affair fog lifts I will get my spouse back (because my cheater isn’t choosing this in the way that other cheaters might be)
  • my cheater keeps lying to protect me (because they care about me even if that’s not true of other cheaters)
  • maybe marriage counseling will fix our issues (because my cheater and I have a strong foundation to fall back on unlike other couples going through this)
  • I share blame and must work to correct myself (because that means I can fix it)
  • my cheater is under the influence of dopamine (even if dopamine isn’t that powerful)
  • my cheater is having a midlife crisis (because my therapist agrees that it’s real, even if reputable psychologists, psychiatrists, and research say otherwise)
  •  my real spouse got abducted by aliens etc.

Pixies work to create their magical Happy Ever After picture despite the pattern, shape, and color of their actual jigsaw pieces. Even when it’s evident that their jigsaw pieces build a different picture than Happy Ever After they are determined to try to force them to fit.

The pieces that you have in your puzzle box form a particular picture. The issues that prompt you to join infidelity support forums, or to go to marital or individual counseling? These things are your key puzzle pieces, your straight edges and corners.

That sense that things are amiss, that you don’t feel as if your cheater is doing the necessary work, that feeling that they blame you or expect you to stop talking about it and just get over it? These things are the reality of your circumstances, the colors and identifying patterns on your jigsaw pieces, and they form a particular picture.

Instead of trying to fit whatever pieces you have into a picture perfect Happy Ever After, try piecing them together without forcing them into your preconceived wishes. See the true picture that the pieces create - you will either like that picture, or not. If you like it, fair enough. If you don’t, get rid of it and get one you prefer.

Retouching Reality

Of course, you could just continue to paint over the picture that your jigsaw pieces really form if that’s what you’re determined to do.

You might have acquired the skills and tools of a master forger post-affair, but repainting the Mona Lisa over an elephant’s splatter painting doesn’t give you a valuable treasure - it gives you a fake with tacky paint that you’re constantly having to retouch because the underlying mess keeps seeping through your paint job.

You might claim that you can live with it, but you won’t be able to sell that - to me, to others, and ultimately, to yourself.

Like most jigsaws, the reconciliation jigsaw puzzle isn’t really a difficult puzzle to solve. It’s a simple question of putting the pieces together to reveal the image that they form - and there isn’t a Pixie in the world who can stamp their feet and magically change it to Happy Ever After, just because that’s the picture they wanted.

(This post is a comment-disabled duplicate: comments may be posted to the live article: The Reconciliation Jigsaw Puzzle)


“I'm not a teacher, only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead - ahead of myself as well as you.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

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