Why No Marriage is a Failure
I bet a few of you read that headline and thought, hmmm Gillian doesn’t know my ex and the trauma I went through!
It’s true, and I accept that many marriages are painful, end badly and caused a lot of grief along the way, however what I want to talk about today, hopefully will help you to see a slightly different perspective. Or at least a little less animosity towards your ex.
In this modern world, we find ourselves called from within and driven from without to find new and ever-expanding levels of personal fulfilment, and that’s great – it helps us not to waste a moment of our precious lives.
Along with that aspiration comes an equal need to feel successful in everything we do. So if everything has to be a ‘success’, then it is assumed that the opposite is ‘failure.
I’d like you to cast your mind back over your life and try to remember a single instance where you mastered something at the first attempt. If you’re honest you’ll realise it never happened, because that’s not how life works.
Reading, writing, riding a bicycle or driving a car, cooking, dancing, even sex; it all takes practice. Practice makes perfect, and anything worthwhile always requires a period of learning, of trial and error, so why should we expect something as complex and challenging as marriage to be any different?
The average child falls down 8,000 times while learning to walk.
Can you imagine the amount of courage and determination it takes to ‘fail’ at something 8,000 times and still not give up? But because the child never thinks of failure, but is simply determined to learn how to walk and will do whatever it takes, he eventually succeeds.
That drive is hard-wired into every creature that goes on two or four legs, but only we humans have an equally powerful desire to learn how to love. We can’t deny it, and we’ll do whatever it takes to achieve it.
It can be a very hard row to hoe, as you certainly know by now, but everyone who doesn’t give up on this most difficult and rewarding of all challenges will eventually succeed. Fortunately, it doesn’t take 8,000 relationships to finally find love, but it will almost certainly take more than one. But hopefully you didn’t marry them all!
In most of our countries partnerships tend to begin with romantic love, or at least infatuation, and we assume that these unions will be more successful than those of cultures where marriage is arranged by the parents. Yet, surprisingly, statistics reveal that arranged marriages tend to outlast our own. This is no doubt partly due to a more rigid social structure and lack of choice, but not entirely.
The big difference lies in the expectations of the people involved; one believes that love comes first and then marriage, the other believes that marriage comes first and love grows later. We tend to want love now and forever, and the moment it fades or falters we feel betrayed, while they are more willing to wait, to learn and work within the relationship.
One learns about love from a single partner, and the other from multiple partners, but what they have in common is that both must learn how to love over time. We have more choice to enter relationship, and much more to get out, but the results still depend upon the individual.
We want to succeed and we hate to fail, so it’s natural to carry a certain amount of anger or resentment towards any person or situation where we feel ‘unsuccessful’, and that certainly includes marriage.
‘I have never failed, I have simply found 9,999 ways that did not work, and every one brought me closer to success.’ Thomas Edison
But if you know with absolute certainty that there are no failures, merely ongoing lessons in love, then instead of resenting them and feeling guilty about yourself you can be grateful for everything you learned, and carry that knowledge into your next relationship. It’s wise to focus not on your hurt, but on your growth – what you gained and how you matured through that experience.
So let’s check in, has the feeling that because it ended, your previous marriage was a failure lessoned at all? No, OK let’s look at some other areas of life to see if we can change that attitude a bit.
When your shoes wear out, is it a failure to buy new ones? No, it’s exciting and pleasurable. If your zippy little sports car no longer suits your larger family, was it a mistake to have bought it in the first place? No, you just outgrew it.
If you change career at 50 (whether by choice or necessity) is that a failure, or is it an opportunity to learn new skills and find fulfilment in another sphere? It’s not the event itself, but your attitude toward it that determines the success or failure.
“We seem to gain wisdom more readily through our failures than through our successes. We always think of failure as the antithesis of success, but it isn’t. Success often lies just the other side of failure.’ Leo F. Buscaglia,
And even further, when you graduated from high school or university, did you feel that because you left, you’d failed? Of course not, because you graduated! You learned what they had to teach you, got your diploma, and automatically moved on to the next level to apply your new knowledge.
Well, love is exactly the same; the purpose of every relationship is to teach us about love (what works and what doesn’t), and as soon as we learn all we can from that relationship, or circumstances make further growth there impossible, we graduate.
You receive your diploma (aka divorce papers) and go on to the next higher lesson in love. Far from being a failure, the end of a completed or futile marriage is a great success. Life itself took you out of that situation, and the moment you let go and allow it to act, it will give you the next level of learning.
Almost all of us complete primary school, most finish high school, fewer go on to university, even fewer earn master’s degrees, and only a very few achieve their PhD. If you’ve been through a series of intense relationships, in or out of marriage, you must really want to master this most challenging of all subjects. That’s not a failure, that’s determination, and it deserves to be recognised as such.
It’s important to realise that marriages don’t fail, they end, and that understanding changes everything. If anything, failure is to remain for years, decades, or a whole lifetime in an unfulfilling place where you were no longer growing but merely surviving.
That would be a tragedy, because one of the great compensations for this stressful new world is the freedom we have to choose our own destiny – all it takes is the courage to exercise it. Sooner or later, the time will come when you’ll see that there were as many positives to that relationship as there were negatives, and on that day you’ll be free. It’s called ‘the wisdom of age’ but you needn’t get old to have it; all it takes is insight and honesty right here and now.
Another compelling reason to banish the idea of failure from your mind is the effect it can have on your children. Children often blame themselves when their parents separate or divorce. They believe it was somehow their fault, and that if they’d acted differently mum (mom) and dad would still be together.
Children are also highly sensitive; if you’re resentful over what you believe to be a failure they’ll feel it, which can compound their sense of responsibility and guilt. But if you know with absolute certainty that there was no failure so no need for blame or guilt, they’ll pick up on that and have an entirely different attitude to their parents, themselves, and marriage itself. Not only your decisions but also your feelings have a profound effect on those closest to you.
At this juncture though I should make a ‘disclaimer’ statement, as I can hear you the outrage in your voice concerning marriages that end due to abuse, whether it was physical, emotional or substance abuse.
Author and experienced relationship coach, Gillian Andale is the owner of Love2Last, a coaching and resource centre dedicated to couples who have found love again, want a new beginning and aim to strengthen and grow their relationship as well as need help in blended family situations. Visit www.love2last.co to browse and see the wealth of information available.