What Failed Relationships Teach Us

Note: This is the second of a two-part series.

This is a continuation of the questions designed to assist you in learning the lessons from a relationship ending. These questions come from Karen Kahn Wilson in her book Transformational Divorce (New Harbinger Publications):

  • How did you handle the differences between you and your ex? Differences between intimate partners often form the battlefield of their relationship, and typically pull people apart. Each person fights for his or her way—as if they would lose themselves if they agreed to do what the other person wants—so it’s no wonder that relationships are fragile. Think of the most significant difference between you and your ex-partner. What happened to your connection when these differences surfaced? What role did you allow differences to play in your relationship? What caused you to resist, withdraw, judge or get angry? What kind of changes would you have to make within yourself in order to welcome differences in a relationship—instead of fighting them?
  • How did you cope with the hard times? How did you express disagreement? How would you characterize the way you argue? When your ex was not as attentive or accommodating as you would have liked, what did you do? Were there recurrent themes or issues during those times? Many people look back and characterize their behavior during these times as “childlike.” They yelled or screamed, called their spouse mean names, ran away, stopped communicating, withheld love, closed down emotionally, became passive-aggressive or stayed angry and distant until they got their way. Does any of this describe you? If you open yourself up to excavate the lessons hidden in the rubble in the ending of your relationship, you can lessen the probability that these same behaviors will interfere with a relationship in your future.
  • How would your ex-partner describe you? Imagine if you could quiz your ex and get honest and truthful answers. What would be helpful for you to know? Try this exercise and answer the following questions as you think your ex would answer them: “What did you like the most about having me as your partner? When was I the most difficult to relate with? What do you see as my greatest difficulties or blind spots? How do you think I contributed to our relationship problems—or how did I assist our relationship in failing? What could I have done differently to bring us closer together? If you could have changed me in some way, what would it have been?”
  • What feeling or thoughts has the ending of your relationship brought up for you? Some examples: fear of not being able to take care of yourself, the loss of feeling connected, concern about whether you will ever find love or have sex again, not knowing how to be happy being alone, concern about your appearance, fear of financial loss or of not having enough money to live well, concern about growing old and fear about all of the areas that you question your competency to handle. It’s as if your relationship protected you from having to think about all of these issues.

This is an exploration that requires you to have the courage to use your former relationship as a mirror in order for you to see yourself better. To see your strengths in a relationship, your mistakes, the gifts you offered, your blind spots and the areas you wish to hold yourself accountable for doing better in the future. All of this will assist you in making peace with your relationship ending, and it will also assist you to be a better intimate partner should you be interested in falling in love again.

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