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"Failed" Relationships

This is the second in a series of posts "inspired" by a recent comment.  I'm indulging myself, and writing out the internal monologue set off by words left here by the wife of my ex-husband.  She and I do not have a pleasant or friendly relationship, and I am not at all interested in engaging her in a conversation, but I am intrigued by some of the assumptions at the heart of what she had to say.  So, I'm inclined to pick up those threads and spin them out here over the next few posts... until my head stops chattering.

So, the "second wife" believes that bad things happen to me because "God is in payback mode -- slapping me down for what I did to my ex (and her current) husband."  From my perspective, she gets to believe whatever she wants to believe, and I don't really care, but it does beg the question:  "What is there to learn about the experience of having had a failed relationship?"

My marriage ended in divorce after 27 years.  He and I married when we were very young.  We raised two children together.  But, the fact is that the marriage ended, and if we define a relationship that ends (short of the death of one of the partners) as a failure, then that relationship between the two of us qualifies.  There is no doubt that I have a share of the responsibility for the fact that the relationship ended.  When it came to the end, I was the one who initiated the legal proceedings that ultimately resulted in the divorce.

That is the plain and unvarnished truth of the matter.  However, I think that "failed" relationships are not all that rare, and I also think that the subject of relationships that do not continue on for whatever reason, is more complex than it might first appear -- and certainly, it is more nuanced than the "second wife" thinks it is.

There are lots of relationships in our lives.  We enter into relationship with family members and friends and colleagues.  Each of those types of relationship has its own dynamics, but for the sake of this discussion, I am interested in the intimate relationship.  Typically (and I do know that it is not always the case), we enter into these relationships when we find ourselves "in love" with another person.  Falling in love is, I think, an emotional state unique to humans, and most of us have a very hard time explaining how it happens or exactly what it involves.  It is not a simple thing, but at the very elemental level, when we "love" someone we perceive (often unconsciously) something(s) about them that we value.  Whether that is physical beauty, or intellectual depth, or personal ambition, or wealth, or even temperament, or spiritual/philosophical compatibility, we respond to and value the traits and qualities that attract us to our beloved.

Things get tricky because humans grow and change.  If lovers grow and change in complementary and compatible ways, the relationship is not confronted by shifting values.  But individuals can and do value things differently as they move through their lifetimes.  What may have seemed charming and exciting in a young romance can come to seem risky and dangerous or irritating and annoying as partners grow and mature. The partner who seemed steady and safe in the beginning, can come to seem stodgy, rigid, and unimaginative over time.  Even though our society glorifies the "til death do us part" vow embedded in the traditional wedding ceremony, we know that, statistically, more than half of all marriages "fail" to go the distance.

Ending an intimate relationship is hard -- even when that relationship is clearly no longer characterized by the things that the partners each value.  Separating the intimate tangles can be painful and wretchedly ugly.  The process leaves scars, but then life tends to inflict scars in a variety of ways.  I am quite sure that my ex-husband bears scars from our parting.  I would expect that it is the rare person who leaves a long-standing relationship without losing some hide.  I don't blame the "second wife" for seeing what she sees about that history (which is not hers).  I don't blame the ex-husband for telling the story that he tells.  His story is his, and the only one he knows.

For me, I remember that, although we started off with high hopes and big dreams, our lives descended into criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.  He did it.  I did it.  We did it.  It became the awkward and destructive dance we did together.

The relationship ended.  It "failed."  He did not fail, and neither did I.  We are not failures.  We are people who came to need and value things that were different than what we understood when we were very young.  That does not surprise me.  I learned and grew through that marriage, and because of it.  I am who I am because of that experience.  I have the children (now grown to adulthood) that I have because he and I were once lovers; because we parented them as best we could.  I am happier outside of that relationship than I was for most of the years I spent inside of it.  I hope that he has found his happiness as well.



  1. It seems to mouse that many relationships end not really because of failure but because of change and the reaction to change.

    This was beautifully expressed swan.

    <3 and hugs,

  2. Ordalie10:37 PM

    "I don't blame the "second wife" for seeing what she sees about that history (which is not hers)."
    I wonder why she keeps harping on a past that is not hers and that is none of her business anyway.
    As always, Swan, you have clearly defined how a marriage can go wrong. I do admire you were courageous enough to put an end to your marriage, it must have needed a lot of determination and energy.

  3. I needed to read this tonight. Thank you for your words.


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