I’m a long-term serial monogamist, and I love love — but that doesn’t mean it’s always loved me back. Long-term relationships come with their fair share of pitfalls, one of which is the intense heartbreak when it’s time to part ways.
People have broken my heart; I’ve broken theirs. Regardless of who did what to whom, the relationship ended up failing. That’s a bitter pill to swallow after so many years.
I’ve since come to learn that those failures were actually a good thing — here’s why.
I Figured Out What I Needed
Self-identifying as a serial monogamist is new to me. Before learning what it was, I never thought much about my dating history. I had three multi-year exclusive relationships before meeting my current partner. Even when I was single, I wasn’t much for casual dating. I preferred a mutually deep commitment.
But an inclination to make it work with one person does, in fact, have downsides. One such con is an inability (or unwillingness) to differentiate between loving a person and loving the idea of them.
I stayed in relationships long past the first major argument. And if I’m being honest, I stayed in relationships long after we should have broken up. I dissected, disagreed and deescalated endlessly. And after revisiting points of contention many times, I started to learn what I was missing in the relationship.
Why did I fight so much with my ex? What communication breakdown was occurring? Were my needs not being met? If that was the case, what were my needs? How did both of us antagonize the other? What made us so incompatible?
Staying elbows deep in the complexity of interpersonal relationships gave me a greater insight into myself. I learned which communication styles worked — and didn’t work — for me. I became well acquainted with my relationship priorities.
And when we inevitably broke up, I practiced taking off my rose-colored glasses. Being able to objectively assess a relationship in all its messy, marvelous glory is crucial. Otherwise, a lovesick sap is liable to fall back into the same old routine.
First and foremost, my break-ups taught me what I need to be happy in a relationship.
I Analyzed The Part I Played In It
Half of a relationship postmortem involves figuring out your part in the relationship’s failure. No one likes to admit when they’re wrong. Nevertheless, it takes two to tango.
Sometimes, these personal faults are active. Maybe you cheated on your partner and had to navigate a rocky relationship with little trust. Or perhaps you contributed to toxic dynamics by aggravating conflicts. Maybe your unchecked insecurities drove a jealous wedge between the two of you.
Other times, your part in a relationship’s downfall was passive. Did you set healthy, defined boundaries? What happened when your partner crossed them? How much stuff did you bottle up inside until you were miserable? Alternatively, were you attentive to your partner’s needs and boundaries?
My therapist (shout out BetterHelp) puts it this way: we train people how they treat us. Our actions — and inactions — play an important role in a relationship’s overall dynamic. It can be easy, even cathartic, to place the full blame on your ex. But it’d be doing you both a disservice.
Now, it’s important to note that it’s never a domestic violence victim’s fault for their relationship dynamic. And no one should feel guilty for how their body and mind reacted to the trauma of mental, sexual or physical abuse. But unfortunately, it’s common for victims to fall back into abusive dynamics.
One way to escape that dangerous cycle is through outside assistance, therapy and healing. What draws you into imbalanced relationships? Is setting boundaries difficult for you? Why?
Overall, my break-ups showed me my part in the tango — big and small, active and passive.
I Learned How To Be A Better Partner
No matter how painful the break-up, every past love was a stepping stone. From minute to major, the lessons each failed relationship provided me with have been invaluable. Most importantly, they’ve helped me become a better partner myself.
On the one hand, I’ve developed a greater respect for the amount of work a committed relationship requires. In my experience, casual dating is easier. But I also find it less fulfilling. While monogamous love shouldn’t be constant tension and strife, it’d be naive to assume it’s all sunshine and rainbows.
My failed relationships helped me practice relationship etiquette. Sometimes, I’ve been terrible at it — after all, we did break up. And other times, I’ve left a partnership knowing I did all I could. Good or bad, however, I exercised my ability to compromise. As I healed from each relationship, I became more emotionally and mentally prepared for the next.
On the other hand, compatibility is not a given. Nor should it be forced; believe me, I’ve tried. A good partner also knows when to call it quits for the sake of both parties’ feelings.
So, sure — I couldn’t make things work with my last ex, the one before or my very first serious relationship. For lack of a better term, I failed. But those failures set me up for success.
My break-ups led me to my greatest love of all.
I Gained My One True Love
If not for all the past fights, failures and tears, I wouldn’t have met my husband. Technically, we knew each other long before we started dating. But had my experience been different, he might have come into my life as a fun (or failed) fling.
I might not have understood what it meant to invest in another person fully. If I had never taken the time to understand myself, then I could’ve unwittingly driven him away. When I healed from my past relationships, I gained confidence in myself. Where would I be without it?
He’d be the same guy regardless of my past, but me? I would be a completely different person and partner — likely, not a better one, given my past relationships’ trajectories.
Of course, every relationship and healing process is different. Failed relationships can damage the psyche. Trauma changes neural pathways in the brain. I don’t want to minimalize the significance of those events.
But speaking solely for myself (and maybe you can relate), my failures prepared me for the greatest love of my life. I found my best friend, confidante and biggest fan only after dealing with a bonafide scrub or two.
Finding The Flipside To Failure
Succeeding through failure is not reserved for romantic endeavors. The phenomena can — and for me, often has — translated into almost every aspect of my life.
A friend of mine always says, “You never know what worse luck your bad luck saved you from.” And to me, that wraps up this whole idea with a neat little bow. Failure of any kind never feels good. But that failure might have saved you from an even worse fate.
Ultimately, it’s never easy when things don’t work out the way you plan. You can read self-help books and talk to your therapist until the cows come home, but that doesn’t ever completely take away the sting of heartache and disappointment.
But nonetheless, I encourage you to flip your failures. They aren’t boulders to drag behind you; they’re stepping stones leading you in another direction.
Even with a few heartaches under my belt, I can still proudly say I love love. And yes, I even love my failed loves — because those turned out to be the best failures of all.