The Death and Rebirth of a Relationship

Crisis as opportunity to develop resilience.

Posted Jul 24, 2019

aliceabc0/pixabay
Source: aliceabc0/pixabay

Linda: Those with great relationships have an exceptional ability to learn from life’s challenges. Some people come into a relationship with a high level of resilience; others don’t. Most long-term couples claim that they have become more capable of handling stress than they were prior to marriage. They attribute their enhanced resilience to a willingness to wrestle with life’s challenges. Resting into the security of their mutual commitment to support each other, it becomes easier to transform the breakdowns that inevitably occur in marriage into powerful learning experiences. As one partner stated, “Each time we hit a major problem, we came through it with more understanding, forgiveness, and compassion. It wasn’t always easy and it wasn’t always a direct path, but looking back, it’s obvious that the outcome was beneficial to both of us.”

Strongly-bonded couples are not afraid of failure. They have learned how to learn from their experiences. They view what some people would call failure as a learning experience to effectively respond to life’s challenges. When a serious betrayal takes place, and disillusionment and despair fill the mind, there is a high risk that the relationship will die. For many couples, this is a point that they go their separate ways.

Seeking relief from the extreme discomfort, leaving can seem like the only way out of the pain. Like those contemplating suicide, they see no other way out. There is an alternative, but so many couples don’t see it. The option is to stay to work with the terrible pain, the destructive patterns, the unconscious conditioning that runs both partners, and to communicate about what rebuilding the relationship into a form that serves both partners, would look like.

For many, when they look at the wreck that their relationship has become, they can hardly imagine rebuilding. For others, there is an inkling of what might manifest in time, but the work appears so overwhelming that they prefer to cut their losses and begin fresh with a new partner.  For those who leave, life after divorce is rarely the imagined picture. There is often terrible grief, loneliness, and unresolved anger that turns into bitterness and long-term distrust.

Although no one tells us that sometimes a relationship has to die in the form that it is in to be born into a brand new form, many couples figure this out. They hold the idea that the terrible breakdown in trust is the death of the old relationship. It’s as if there had been a devastating fire that burned the whole structure down to the ground. Now there is a chance to rebuild from the ground up, with a chance to search through the rubble to find anything worth saving. Rarely is the relationship completely destroyed; often there are pieces that are salvageable that become parts of the new structure.

Many long-term couples report that the relationship they enjoy now barely resembles the one they started with. There have been numerous remodels, and a number of rebuilds. They tell us that rebuilding took place after the most destructive periods when the relationship in its old form died. The rebirth was not an easy process, and yet they are exceedingly grateful that they did not bury the relationship permanently, but were willing to do the work of starting over.

One woman told us, “I can vividly remember wondering in the midst of the chaos if the anger that made me want to gnash my teeth and chew nails would ever go away. I wondered if the trust would ever return to feel ease with each other again. Then, in only a matter of months, we found ourselves enjoying levels of relating that we had never known. I am grateful that my husband and I didn’t bail out when the going got tough.”

What can seem like impossible, can, with dogged determination and the right help, transform a relationship. Many couples stated that they were strengthened as a result of the challenges they went through. They have the wisdom to see the choice when a serious loss occurs like the loss of money, power, health, trust, or control. When they take a big hit, they are humbled, and rather than stay angry in the position of the victim and stew in self-pity, they choose to learn from the trauma.

Many couples have learned how to use life crises as growth opportunities. They are committed to avoiding the trap of blame and empowered to examine their own responsibility to learn the lessons that are inherent in their life challenges. They are not defeated by hardships but grow from them. Their thinking tends to be non-dualistic, not either/or in their response to circumstances, and are skilled at discovering creative alternatives to even the most difficult situations. They demonstrate an optimistic view of the future. As one husband summed up: “There’s always another way beyond just the obvious one. You just have to look hard enough to find it.”