Who Says Divorce and Breakups are Failures?

One of the things I don’t understand is the reason most often given for not wanting a divorce. Or similarly, the way people look back on their former marriage as a “failure.”

In reality, this usually isn’t true. Most often, the now-defunct relationship was right for its time but not for all time.

What’s so bad about that? Many relationships, even “failed” ones, start out strong or at least enjoyable, but eventually they play themselves out. Why does the fact that something ends automatically mean it was all bad? We don’t view other things that way. For some, high school or college years are pleasant. We don’t call them a failure because they ended. Many of us willingly move out of a house we love in order to pursue new adventures. This doesn’t mean the prior home was a “failure.”

Failure would consist of staying in an unhappy relationship — knowingly. Perhaps that’s why people tend to view former relationships as failure. They project on to the past their present needs or knowledge. “Knowing what I know now, I’d never be in that relationship. So it was a waste of time.” Well, it might be a self-defeating waste of time to be in that relationship now. But does that automatically mean it was a waste of time back then?

I’m not saying there’s no such thing as failure. But I am questioning the idea that just because a relationship ends in divorce, it was definitely a failure.

When people contemplate break-ups, particularly divorce, they frequently (almost always, in fact) say to me: “I don’t want this marriage to have been a failure.”

I inevitably reply: But wait a minute. You’re so unhappy in your relationship that you wish to leave. You want out. And “failure” would consist of ending it? It seems to me that failure would consist of staying in an unhappy relationship and living a lie.

The implication of such an attitude is clear. The implied assumption is: “What other people think is what’s real.” So if you stay married, other people will think you’re happy, or at least satisfied, which in turn means … you are happy and satisfied. Even though you’re not. But if you make it official, legal and public — via divorce — then it’s a “failure.”

Such an attitude makes no sense at all, unless the perspective of other people (as opposed to actual facts) comprise what’s real.

Most people are too governed by what “others” think. That’s the crux of it. The interesting thing is that the concept of “others” is usually non-specific. The hesitation in breaking up is not so much, “My mother will think I’m a failure” or, “My best friend Jack will think I’m a failure.” Sometimes that’s the case, but usually not. In fact, mother or Jack might be divorced him- or herself. The issue isn’t anyone in particular … it’s simply “others.”

How’s that for sacrificing your life or your happiness? Not only are many of us sacrificing ourselves for others; we don’t even really know who “others” are!

If you ask me, it’s a waste of time and energy expecting the impossible. We cannot always know now what will please us in 10 or 20 years. That’s why many of us make choices at one point in life that we wouldn’t make 10 or 20 or 30 years down the line. So what? Are we supposed to see into crystal balls and foretell the future? Are we supposed to know everything by say age 25 that we really cannot know or grasp until much later, from both knowledge and experience?

It’s also a tragic waste of time trying to please others. Especially when we have no idea who ‘others’ are.

The only person you need to please is yourself, along with (at most) a handful of significant others who share your values and have your best interests at heart (intertwined with their own).

You should never hesitate to end a relationship or otherwise move on because of an irrational fear of what unnamed ‘others’ will think. Growing, learning and moving on (when necessary) is never failure.


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