The pain of the dissolution of a relationship can linger, intruding on peace, and burdening our minds. We suffer. Even mutual separations leave lasting impacts. For most, cycling in and out of relationships does not lend to the meaningful life we desire. Happiness studies repeatedly have found that stable relationships are an important factor to well-being. However, not every relationship is stable or has the capacity to become stable. Sometimes the players involved are incompatible or incorrigible. We must step away, salvage our mental well-being, and rebuild our lives. The whole relationship shouldn’t be counted as a loss. Lessons from failed relationships provide a wealth of information.
After the failure, we may conclude, the break-up was simply a case of committing to the wrong person. Wrong partners are a plausible cause; our passions often drag us into the impractical relationships. By singling blame to our ex, making them the goat to pin on the failure, we make a huge mistake.
Failed relationships offer insights valuable for improved futures. The struggles provide insightful fodder to investigate, exposing intricacies of our flawed relationship beliefs and behaviors. Since most relationships take years to develop, settle and then deteriorate, missing this golden opportunity to learn is significant. We may stumble into the same problems with the next person, lose several years of our lives, and find ourselves alone, and blaming another idiot for failing to create our dreams of stability and happiness.
Relationships Don’t End; They Change Status
When the final door slams, and the moving truck arrives, the relationship is far from over. The hurt continues to live in our hearts. When lives were built on expectation of ‘til death do we part,’ the early departure leaves many intertwining threads dangling that force continued interaction.
We must find avenues of healing during very demanding circumstances of child custody agreements, financial negotiations, and shared friends. Long relationships make clean splits impossible, the ripped edges continue to jab, reminding of the past, igniting thoughts of injustice, and hurting our souls.
A study of divorced Christian women unveiled that clergy and therapy were the most effective factors for recovery (White & Berghuis, 2016). College students self-reported in a study of their relationship breakups relying on new partners and drinking to heal (Knox, Zusman, Kaluzny, & Cooper, 2000). It appears with maturity, we tend to make healthier choices. Our futures depend on this critical time of healing to prevent nasty spillovers of emotions from one relationship to the next. We need to heal, learn, eventually forgive and move forward.
Romantic Relationships and Emotions
Romantic relationships magnify emotions. Mary Ainsworth wrote that the most intense emotions are associated with the different phases of relationship attachment. (Siegal, 2015, loc. 2674). The amplification of emotion creates an opportunity for examination. Emotional bursts sear memories into our mind for recall and for examination.
In the heat of the relationship, the emotions narrow cognitive functioning, interfering with healthy examination. Arousal, common during relationship conflicts, forces attention to the issues. Depending on the strength of stimulus, we often are drawn from optimal learning states into highly protective states where biases and misconceptions percolate and misdirect. (Baumeister, Heatherton & Tice, 1994, p. 25).
When the dust settles, and the angry ruminations subside, we can better focus on the issues. We still often need a crunch to keep our observations objective rather than self-excusing. Yet, with caution, we can proceed to examine the past, gather wisdom from the lessons of a failed relationship.
Following a particularly perplexing relationship after my divorce, when I thought I had it all figured out, I landed in an emotionally driven attachment, decorated with disagreements, shutting down, and continual discontent, I sat down after the relationship ended, documented several of the more emotionally laden events, and then evaluated my behaviors and responses to a list of fifteen thought construals I stumbled upon in a fantastic book I recently read (Epstein, 1998).
The construal allowed me to view my behaviors more objectively, seeing how my reactions contributed to the downfall of the relationship. The relationship may have been doomed from the beginning because of a variety of significant differences but armed with new knowledge on my own propensities of unhelpful responses, I was able to move forward in a more productive way, rather than blindly working through another relationship.
Pain is unavoidable. It is a significant part of the process of living. We, however, do not need to repeatedly suffer the same setbacks, opening vulnerability to the same causes that have harassed us in the past. We can learn from the pain. After a failed relationship, the experience provides many important lessons. The lessons from failed relationships may give us the wisdom to succeed in our next opportunity.
We must extract wisdom from the hurts in life to better direct our futures. Success and failure in love provide glimpses into our internal love maps, giving light to patterns that build and destroy closeness. Experience, when integrated, enlightens us to the process of ‘knowing and being known by others’. We must mindfully work to improve this process if we desire the vast benefits of healthy connections.
After the initial bouts of grief following a breakup, when our minds begin to settle, we must take advantage of this passing moment to take a microscopic look into our souls to examine bits and pieces previously hidden but relevant information. Only through detection can we make improvements—essential adjustments necessary for future success. Healthy relationships are not the product of finding the right person—our soul-mate—but in the more pedestrian work of cultivating closeness with another loving, living being.
Baumeister, R., Heatherton, T & Tice, D. (1994) Losing Control: How and Why People Fail at Self-Regulation. Academic Press. Kindle Edition
Epstein, S (1998). Constructive Thinking: The Key to Emotional Intelligence. Westport, CT: Praeger. Kindle Edition.
Segal, D. (2015). Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. Second Edition. The Guilford Press. Kindle Edition
White, G. M., & Berghuis, D. M. (2016). Self-Identified Christian Women and Divorce: The Recovery and Discovery of Self. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 35(2), 175. Retrieved from Questia.