So often I hear scenarios like I keep picking the wrong person over and over again to be in a relationship with. I’m a failure when it comes to relationships. Or, I’ve had four failed marriages and I’m not going for a fifth. Or, I’m a loser when it comes to relationships. So why bother trying again. How can I be so successful at work and be such a loser when it comes to women? Men?
Meetings of adult children from dysfunctional family systems are full of participants that can rattle off and analyze compelling reasons why their numerous relationships don’t work out leaving them feeling not good enough, adequate enough, loveable enough or in some way just not worth it. What this does is heighten the shame each already carries and reinforces being defined as a loser and a failure.
I remember the great cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead when asked why all her marriages failed responded by saying “I beg your pardon I have had three marriages and None of them was a failure”. I don’t think that most couples that marry today are mature enough for marriage. I stand by that. At the same time I don’t consider any person in a relationship, mature or immature, a failure at relationships. I do believe relationships do change form. They all will and sometimes it means it’s time to move on.
Anyone who was ever a success at anything just didn’t get that way overnight. My career was that of a family therapist. I was in private practice. In a joking way and with a lot of honesty, as well, I often asked clients when they were stuck in judging themselves harshly in regard to relationships, why do you think we in private practice call it a practice? It took years of successes with clients and so-called errors in judgment to be considered a success in my field. It takes perseverance and time to succeed at anything, including relationships. The point being, are you willing to learn and grow and let go of the harsh judgment?
Relationships work as long as they work and all relationships change form. Sometimes people stay together as the relationship changes its form and sometimes they part company. When I look back at relationships that I had prior to meeting my husband Tom, I realize that even though when one or the other in the coupleship decided to move on and there was pain, it was the pain or the problem(s) that led up to the pain, that always gave me an opportunity to strengthen my connection for my emotional and spiritual growth. I could have beaten myself up with what a failure I was, as many do, or I could have looked at what my role was and what I could have done better and then decide to change my ways.
In one relationship I rationalized not sweating the little stuff to excess. In other words, I simply let too much go that bothered me and what do you suppose happened. Eventually the negative energy that had been building up inside of me began seeping out and it wasn’t always pretty when it came out. When my inner pressure cooker really exploded he decided I wasn’t for him. That was when I took my first workshop in assertiveness training and learned how to be honest in my relationships so whomever I was with didn’t lose their dignity when I had an irritant. Some future relationships appreciated my honesty; some didn’t and didn’t stay around. That didn’t make me a failure or loser. It just meant the one I wanted hadn’t shown up yet.
I’m a big believer in The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. (other people, places, things)The courage to change the things I can. (me)
And, the wisdom to know the difference.
You see I believe maturing in a relationship is about having the willingness to take a look at your role when things aren’t going well and making the changes you need to make to clean up your side of the street. It’s responsible, it’s also loving and it’s definitely a step forward even if it takes you a lot of tries until you finally get the best outcome.
I didn’t sweat the small stuff with this particular person for more than a year and for more than a year there were several aspects that worked really well. We had fun and for a year we enjoyed each others company. However, the not so healthy thing that worked for a while, while I dated this man, was what led to the problems that required change. I got to have the illusion, like the words in the song by Billy Joel, “I Love You Just The Way You Are”. In the beginning, when we were in the honeymoon stage of our relationship those little irritants seemed like no big deal and I probably swallowed them down with a chocolate chip cookie refusing to be honest even with me. Doing that made me look and feel like such a nice easy-going person that truly led me to believe he was really lucky to have me as his girlfriend. I didn’t have to deal with being told “no”, becoming a nag, or getting rejected. Neither of us had to learn how to deal with conflict. I denied my own needs and desires to look good in his eyes and mine. In those days I would do whatever I had to do to avoid a conflict. Today, I truly believe what makes or breaks a relationship is how well couples deal with conflict.
In today’s world a relationship that starts out fun can change form just because each individual has a different idea on where the relationship is to go. He may want to get his career stabilized and she may be ready to say I do and have a baby. If they part ways does this make them failures? I don’t think so.
A person that stays in a relationship with a blamer, a control freak, a couch potato, an abuser, a bore, or an addict of any kind has their good reason for staying in that relationship too. This is why I say relationships work for as long as they work. Dr. Phil quite often asks his guests when they describe their conflicts in their relationships “how’s that working for you? Inevitably they say “not very well” but the truth is something is working well or they would change the form of the relationship. It may be something as simple as they know how bad, “bad” is in the relationship as it is and don’t know how bad, “bad” might be if they made a change and change may be more frightening so they stay with familiarity. They may believe they don’t deserve better or can’t do better and putting up with the way it is feeds that belief.
The purpose of all relationships is to learn and grow and sometimes mustering up the courage toward changing our ways can take several attempts and sometimes it may take a while to get started. But you are not a loser if at first you don’t see progress. It just means you may have a little more to learn or some belief is in your way that doesn’t serve you. The important thing is to not give power to a harsh judgment that shames you and if what you are doing isn’t working to your liking and you don’t see a way to correct it, you can always find a qualified professional to help you. I’m all for never giving up on loving yourself and asking for help when needed.