Is a relationship only a success if it lasts until "death do us part"?
One day I was sitting with a client helping her investigate her thoughts about her ex-husband. She and her ex had divorced some years earlier and ever since she'd felt that their relationship (they'd been married for 10 years and had three lovely kids) had been a failure.
I asked her why she thought their relationship had been a failure and she looked at me as if I was really dense. Obviously, she said, because it ended.
When I asked her if she felt the same about the relationships she had before her marriage, she said that yes, they too had been failures. Because, she said, if a relationship ends, it must be a sign that it wasn't successful. My client believed that a relationship was only a success if it lasts until "death do us part".
Until Death Do Us Part!
Of course, she's not alone when it comes to this belief. Most of us believe this to a greater or lesser degree. This belief has some lovely sub-beliefs such as: "The longer a relationship lasts, the better" and "People who are in one long-term relationship are happier than people who have been in several shorter relationships."
These interesting beliefs, which so many of us have, can lead to some pretty unhappy consequences. For those like my client, who are in a relationship that ends at some point, this belief often results in feeling the relationship was a failure. For others, this belief can make them stay in an unhappy relationship or marriage despite the fact that the people have grown apart and the relationship is no longer working.
But is this strong collective belief about relationships true? Does it have anything to do with reality when it comes to men and women? How did this belief arise in the first place?
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Where Do These "Failed Relationship" Measuring Rules Come From?
A powerful reason why this belief has arisen can be found in the words of our Christian marriage vows:
"Do you ... take ... to be your lawfully wedded Wife/Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part ..."
But just how much do these words have to do with the reality of life in the 21st century and with modern-day relationships? Let's compare the reality of women and men today with the time when this marriage vow arose. (The precise date of origin of this widely used marriage vow is not known, but sources indicate that it dates back to the Apostle Paul's idea of men and women almost 2,000 years ago!)
- When you investigate a little more, you discover that this wedding vow comes from a time when women had no freedom or independence at all and were more or less just a piece of merchandise for men. The marriage ceremony merely sealed a business transaction between men. "I'll give you 10 oxen and 80 chickens for your second daughter". The words "till death do you part" were just another way of saying that the woman was now the property of the new man until her death (and there was no such thing as "divorce" back then!).
- In contrast to then, women today (at least in the Western world) have as much freedom as men to live and create their own lives. They can decide who they want to be in a relationship with and they can leave a relationship if it is not satisfactory to them.
- When this wedding vow was born, the average life span was also a lot shorter than it is today. So, for a couple to be together "till death do you part" back then was not as long as it is for couples today! Today, with our improved living standard, "till death do you part" can be a very long time indeed!
- Another important difference between then and now is that because of our longer life span, men and women today typically go through several "incarnations" during the course of one life. Not only do many of us have several jobs or even careers during one lifetime, many of us are also evolving very quickly on the inner plane. It's as if we go through several phases or "lives" in just one lifetime. So why shouldn't it be the same when it comes to relationships?
As you can see, there is a world of difference between the reality of life today and the way society operated when this marriage vow was born.
Living in Harmony with the Reality of Change
How would we feel if we lived more in harmony with reality when it comes to our changing relationships?
How would you feel if you viewed your relationships in the same way you probably view your career? When you think of your career, you probably feel it's pretty normal to go through various phases and periods — with changing workplaces and colleagues. When you start a new career path, you don't necessarily feel the old career path was a failure, you probably just feel you've grown and changed course and now want to try something new.
So, how would you feel if you viewed a relationship that ended in the same way? If you viewed it as a sign that you had received the gifts and lessons you were supposed to receive from this experience and were now ready to pass on to something new, something different, and maybe something even better? In other words, if you saw a relationship as complete when it was over, as a success for being exactly what it was for you — instead of as a failure just because it ended?
©2010, 2012 by Tim Ray. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Findhorn Press. www.findhornpress.com
This article was adapted with permission from the book:
101 Relationship Myths: How to Stop Them from Sabotaging Your Happiness
by Tim Ray.
Challenging many common delusions about love, this straight-talking, humorous guide takes a closer look at the insanity of modern-day relationships. The handbook uses simple “mythbusting” techniques for increasing self-awareness and avoiding misguided ideas. Guaranteed to provide greater clarity and contentment between any two people, this reference provides provocative — and much-needed — social commentary in a humorous fashion.
About the Author
Tim Ray is a popular relationship columnist and blogger, and has appeared in relationship programs on TV, been a guest lecturer at couples’ therapy school, and has a private counselling practice. He calls his work “Getting Real” and by this he means how to live a happy life by waking up to the nature of reality and the way the mind works. "Mythbusting" is an important part of this process in which Tim helps people identify and investigate the thoughts and beliefs that make them unhappy. Tim works closely with his mother Barbara Berger and together they have shared their "Getting Real" observations and tools in Denmark and other countries for many years. Visit their website: www.beamteam.com