Splitting Up Does Not Equal Failure
We tend to equate the end of a relationship with a failure. Along with the pain and heartbreak that accompanies the end of a relationship, many of us even feel ashamed to tell friends and family about a breakup because we fear judgment. The verdict is clear: as a society, we think that a relationship reaching its conclusion must spell failure, and failure itself is attached to a profoundly negative connotation.
What if that wasn’t true? Why do we feel that a relationship not continuing past its expiration date is a defeat, whereas gritting one’s teeth and bearing with it even if things are really not working out is sometimes considered admirable or even morally correct? Allow us to present an alternative viewpoint.
Related: Gettin’ hitched checklist
Psychology Today on “Failure”
“It adds a road block, ups the ante, and makes us use our brain, cooperate and get creative with the world. This is what humans do best” (Fuentes, 2013).
Psychology Today writer Augustin Fuentes points out that most scientists are wrong more frequently than not, and athletes fail the majority of attempts they make to hit a target, get the ball, puck, or birdie in the goal/basket or over the net, or beat a certain time. Humanity itself has evolved to the point we are at now through a slow two-million year process of trial and error (Fuentes, 2013). All this “failure” doesn’t mean that scientists, athletes, or humans suck. It just means that it is through repeated failures that we progress.
Similarly, when winter ends, we don’t say “well, we failed winter”, we understand that one natural cycle is closing and another is opening. When we decide to move to a new place, we don’t (usually) move because we somehow “failed” in the last place; we move because we have done what we needed to do there and learned what we needed to learn, and now it is time for a change.
In the same way, relationship breakdown is the norm rather than the exception. It can also be a catalyst for progress and other big life changes. It shakes us up enough to spur creativity, rethink, and move forward once again. Related: Your daily dose of relationship psychology
A Buddhist Monk’s Views on “Failure”
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, one of today’s most accomplished and well-liked meditation teachers, has a very unique view on failure. He gives his students highly unconventional “homework” related to failure: If you are new to meditation, he instructs, your homework is to fail 10 times per day in your meditation practice. When you are a very advanced meditator, your homework assignment multiplies: you are to fail 100 times per day in your meditation practice (Rinpoche, 2016).
‘Failing’ in one’s meditation practice means that the practitioner notices when his mind has drifted away from the meditation. Rinpoche explains that the act of failing affords one the opportunity to correct themselves. Without ever ‘failing’ by realizing one’s mistake, it is impossible to change course. Therefore, ‘failing’ is actually a good thing. It means that you have recognized that something is wrong and now have the opportunity to take charge and improve the situation. The more times you ‘fail’, the more aware you have become of smaller and more subtle distractions and the more able you become to reorient every time.
This holds true for relationships, as well. Some couples spend years unhappy together, unable to admit or see the destructive nature of a relationship gone wrong. ‘Failing’ in this case would mean recognizing that the relationship is not working. This recognition can be empowering. Only after realizing that a relationship is not working is it possible to either take steps to change it for the better, or move on and direct one’s time and energy in new directions. In other words, the very act of failing means realizing something is not aligned; this gives you the power to correct it or to stop doing it. With relationship breakdown, it means no longer doing something that is no longer serving you.
Brene Brown’s Views on “Failure”
Prominent lecturer and writer Brene Brown deals with topics such as growth, vulnerability, shame, and courage. She’s perhaps most well-known for her inspiring and viral Ted talk, “The Power of Vulnerability”. When it comes to failure, Brown points out that without failure, innovation and creativity do not exist (Devine, 2019).
Let’s test this theory. How many entrepreneurs can you think of who achieved their target easily on their first try? How about in your own life; if you look back on the accomplishments you are proud of, can you think of some which did not come so easily? Perhaps they were underpinned by a series of failures? Here are 5 things to remember when you bring up a prenup to help avoid disaster.
Wise Words from Maya Angelou
If you don’t believe the Buddhist monk, Brene Brown, or Psychology today, believe ene of America’s favorite poets and activists:
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, [and] how you can still come out of it.” (Good Reads, 2021).
The breakdown of some relationships is a necessary and inevitable step on life’s journey. Pivotal moments of hardship can help us to realize our own strength and define who we are.
The Happily Uncoupled
If you are going through a breakup and it feels like the end of life as you know it, remember that although this is (understandably!) a painful experience, it can also be a positive turning point and need not begin a downward spiral. In fact, there are a number of powerful people whose biggest life accomplishments have occurred post-divorce or post-breakup.
It was only after divorcing her first husband that Elizabeth Gilbert traveled from Italy to India and wrote “Eat Pray Love”. Kim Kardashian didn’t reach stardom until some time after her first marriage ended (Smith, 2021). Ariana Grande’s famous song “Thank You, next” puts a poppy tune to words rich with wisdom about the good that can come from breakups with lines like “One taught me love / One taught me patience / And one taught me pain / Now, I’m so amazing / Say I’ve loved and I’ve lost / But that’s not what I see / So, look what I got / Look at what you taught me / And for that, I say Thank you, next.” By looking at past relationships not as failures but as lessons for which to be grateful, experiences integral into molding us into who we are today, a breakup may begin to seem less depressing and more inspiring.
Another gem from that same Ariana Grande song also highlights an important lesson that can come after a breakup. She notes that “she met someone else”, with whom she is having “better discussions”; it is soon divulged to the listener that “her name is Ari”, revealing that after a string of breakups the singer chose to cultivate her relationship with herself. This is one of the most worthwhile investments a person can take on in between relationships (and within relationships!), and it is also much more plausible to enter a healthy relationship with a partner after putting energy into cultivating a healthy relationship with oneself while single.
The fact is that most relationships will ultimately end, but you know that? As you may have guessed from the paragraphs above, we don’t think of that as “failure” at all. It is a part of how we learn, grow, and progress, and each relationship which has reached its conclusion represents a phase in life, along with all the lessons and memories that come with it. It’s fantastic when relationships last a lifetime happily, and it’s also not everyone’s path.
Many marriages are not horrible, but decline in love and satisfaction over time. Couples staying married as long as they do today is actually unprecedented and is due to medical advances that have lengthened our lifespans drastically. Therefore, it is becoming more and more acceptable for couples whose marriages have lost steam to decide they don’t want 20 or 30 more years of that and to go on to open a new phase in their lives post-divorce (Ellin, 2015).
We genuinely hope that your marriage really will be lifelong. However, we’re here to help you cover all your bases in case your plans eventually change. The fact that many marriages are not lifelong is a-ok as far as we are concerned, but this reality is a good reason to arrange for a prenuptial agreement. Although we control how we react to circumstances, we can neither control all variables nor predict the future. A prenup is something we can plan and control in reaction to the fact that the future is not fixed.
Devine, R. 2019. Exclusive Interview with Brene Brown: Failure is Part of the Ride. Retrieved from: https://www.theceomagazine.com/lifestyle/interview/brene-brown/
Ellin, A. 2015. After Full Lives Together, More Older Couples Are Divorcing. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/31/your-money/after-full-lives-together-more-older-couples-are-divorcing.html
Fuentes, A. 2013. Failure is Good. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/busting-myths-about-human-nature/201310/failure-is-good
Good Reads. 2021. Maya Angelou Quotes. Retrieved from: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/93512-you-may-encounter-many-defeats-but-you-must-not-be
Rinpoche, YM. 2016. Mindfulness Meditation: A 3-day lecture series in Nuremberg.
Smith, S. 2021. 5 Famous Women Who Rose in Life After Divorce. Retrieved from: https://www.marriage.com/advice/divorce/famous-women-who-rose-in-life-after-divorce/