Why Every Failed Relationship Is Really a Success

Just because it's over doesn't mean you failed.

woman in a car looking contemplative
(Image credit: Peter Beavis)

An old friend of mine recently moved back into town after about a decade in Asia. We hadn't seen each other in a while, and on a snowy evening, over a very pleasant dinner, we caught each other up on our lives. One of the big things we discussed was the relationship that had taken him to Hong Kong — which lasted about three years before the passion mysteriously petered out. I pushed and prodded my friend, asking him if he could explain why the flame died.

"I think it was just that we relied so much on each other. We each had business colleagues, each made some new pals, but with our old friends and families so far away, we became intensely symbiotic. And after a while, maybe it was just too much. In the end, she felt more like a sister to me. And we're still good friends. But the romance is gone — and I guess at times I do feel puzzled about why that's the case.

"But I learned a lot from the experience — about how to be in a relationship, and how to make small sacrifices, and how to really live with a person," he said. "It ended, sure, but I don't see it as a failure."

A failure?! I thought it somewhat funny that he would even say that. But then I realized: So many of us (myself included) see the end of a relationship as some kind of failure — perhaps we worry (if we did the dumping) that we wasted too much time with a person who wasn't stimulating enough or didn't treat us the way we wanted to be treated, or that (if we were dumped) we failed to see little problems before they became big ones, or didn't compromise enough. Or, that (if it was more mutual) we both missed something crucial along the way that contributed to the end of the love.

But perhaps a better approach to take, when any romance ends, is this: Tell yourself that thanks to the relationship, you've improved your relationship "skill set" and you've learned more about yourself — what you can deal with, what you can't, and what you yourself need to improve on. You're a little more realistic about what's out there, and who you are.

What do you say?