A Gladiator Model of Successful Relationships

[Previously on Facebook, I was convinced to cross-post here.]

Prompted by discussions elsewhere, I notice that people often define ‘successful’ relationships as those that last into marriage or are truncated by non-feelings-related circumstances. In some sort of gladiator system, successful is a mantle only for the last standing relationship one is in.

And…I wonder if this is causing some of the relationship concerns I frequently hear. Things aren‘t abusive or mean or antagonistic, so [person] feels bad for wanting to leave a relationship. Or the other person isn’t a Bad Person, so they have a hard time justifying breaking up. (See versions here and here and here.)

It seems to be a huge success (that we don’t acknowledge) for a relationship to end because you don’t think you’re compatible, or because someone realized their needs weren’t or couldn’t be met. One of my most successful relationships ever involved dating for three years -> almost getting married -> breaking up and becoming friends. Endings like “getting married and not being happy” would have been FAR less pleasant. And along the way I learned things like communicating about my feelings and fighting kindly and that pumpkin-peanut soup will be a huge messy tasteless glop that makes you sad.

Of course, many relationships that end have unhappiness, and I don’t want to create situations where people feel pressure to only describe past partners in glowing terms, or to sugarcoat bad relationships. But it seems like we lose a good deal of reflection on learning and changing and growing when we predicateĀ ‘success’ of a relationship on it not ending.

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3 thoughts on “A Gladiator Model of Successful Relationships

  1. My girlfriend sometimes talks about her “failed marriage” and it was only a failure if you consider any marriage that ended in divorce as a failure. They still get along. They got out while that was still possible. I think it was a success.

    I seem to recall hearing that Margaret Mead was asked why all her marriages failed, and she said “I’ve been married five times; none of them failed.”

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