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Healthier Morals of Your “Failed” Relationship Stories

Just because a relationship ends doesn't mean it was a failure or that you are.

Mrs. Percy Dearmer (1872-1915) Public domain
Source: Mrs. Percy Dearmer (1872-1915) Public domain

You may have heard it said that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince (or princess). But when your frog-kissing fails to reveal that perfect partner, you might wonder if the problem is you.

Before you compromise yourself or your standards because you assume the problem is you, here are some things to think about.

Sometimes you have to try a relationship out to determine if you and another person are a good fit.

People are imperfect, quirky, and complicated. They tend to show their best selves at the beginning of a relationship and keep their emotional baggage packed up. You won't really know whom you’re really dealing with until you see each other at your worst and that takes time.

And some relationships are fun or sexy for a while, but once the bloom is off the new relationship rose, it’s obvious there’s just not enough similarity in interests, values, goals, etc., to sustain a long-term relationship. The moral of this story: It’s not a relationship failure if it ends after fundamental incompatibilities are revealed.

Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them.

At one point in my life, I became concerned about my serial monogamy. My romantic relationships lasted about 18 months before I moved on to the next. I decided that part of the problem was my high relationship standards and my inability to commit. And so I was determined to stop seeking perfection and up my commitment.

But my desire to avoid another failed relationship led me to “overcorrect.” In my next relationship, I disregarded some serious red flags and committed to a narcissistic and possessive partner.

The moral of this story: Don’t ignore red flags because you assume problems are your fault, and you don’t want another “failed” relationship. Dodging a relationship bullet isn’t the same thing as being a relationship failure.

“Failed” relationships often carry the seeds for later, successful relationships, so maybe they’re not failures after all.

My partner and I sometimes joke that our first marriages were “starter marriages” that prepared us for a successful marriage the second time around. If you’re paying attention, even the worst relationship can teach you a lot about the kind of relationship you want and need, the ways you can be a better partner, and the traits you value in a relationship partner.

You can learn about the kind of people that bring out your best and the kind that brings out the worst. This helps you do a better job of pursuing relationships that have a good chance of being a good and healthy fit and knowing more quickly when it’s time to cut your losses and get out.

The moral of this story: Today’s relationship failure can be tomorrow’s relationship gift.

Commitment isn’t always a good thing.

Even the best relationship requires effort and commitment, but if a relationship is characterized by incessant drama and/or requires constant compromise and negotiation, then it’s not a very good relationship. It’s better for your romantic relationship to be your port in the storm, not an unrelenting storm itself.

Yes, through commitment and sheer determination you may be able to keep a challenging relationship going. But if a relationship is mostly stressful, or you have to shut yourself down or accept the unacceptable to stay in it, then you shouldn’t stay to avoid a “relationship failure” (or just so you can have a relationship).

The moral of this story: Commitment and effort may be able to make a bad relationship last, but that’s not the same as having a successful relationship.

Just because you’re not in a long-term romantic relationship doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or that you’re unlovable.

From religion to movies, we’re bombarded with cultural messages telling us we should be romantically partnered and that we’re incomplete without a “better half.” People that get divorced are blamed and said to have “failed marriages.” When you’re single, you can feel judged for your “singleness” and pressured to find someone.

If you don’t resist these messages, you can end up pursuing or staying in relationships destined for dissatisfaction. But contrary to popular belief, single people aren’t incomplete people with incomplete lives.

The moral of this story: Reject judgy social messages suggesting something’s wrong with you because you’re single, and resist the temptation to settle for unsettling relationships to satisfy social expectations.