Redefining Success and Failure in Relationships

Success and failure are familiar structures that we experience in our everyday lives within modern society. Perhaps we don’t notice how necessary we find it to grade our successes and failures in some kind of comparative hierarchy where we fall in different areas of life. While our fascination with success and failure filters through most eveyr aspect of our lives, in my post I am again choosing to focus on relationships. This post leads on from previous posts in this series, Relationship Shapes, Spaces and Spacemaking, and On Relationships.

Once again I’d like to emphasise that I do not speak from any position of authority or expertise. I speak from my deep commitment and passion for the subject of love, intimacy and relationships. I’ve invested immense amounts of time, care, conversation, listening, reading and study into these concepts and spaces. It is from this space that I speak and create a space for conversation and consideration where we can explore further together.

The purpose of this post is to begin to reveal questions worth asking so that we may explore in relation to how we culturally construct our relationships according to success and failure markers. This post focuses on the concepts of success and failure as a meta-narrative for how we impose these ideas in our relationships and thinking. I hope to reveal the spaces where assumption underpins our actions and beliefs around relations and the perceptions or success and failure here. In examining how we construct and understand success and failure markers in relationships I hope to create an opportunity for us to take on new constructions, or embrace existing ones with conscious thought.

As a culture worker, I am constantly aware that no action we take, no word we speak, no thought we think is separate from, or occurs outside the influence of our individual surrounding cultural concerns. At which point, if the idea of escaping this seems attractive I would also note that this firmly implants the notion of being trapped by culture. We are not trapped… we are subject to culture in all the ways that culture is subject to us and we have immense influence over this if we choose to utilise it. This interconnectivity is as fascinating and awe inspiring as it is potentially terrifying – intent and what you choose to put into the world is in my experience, what it is important to count.

Arbitrary designations such as success and failure are other traps of culture that we buy into and perpetuate willingly. With relationships the loops of thinking can become particularly vicious and complexly layered in their shared reinforcement. So in order to examine the context for success and failure markers in relationships, first we need to address the existence of success and failure.

I have a fairly fundamental philosophical approach to this kind of thing, namely: success and failure exist only because we say they do, and collectively we agree on that existence. Once I began to operate with this assumption that things exist only through statement and agreement… it became easier for me to willingly re-examine and redefine how I wanted to mark my relationships and my approaches to relationships.

The other trap of how we conceive success and failure is that we set them up to oppose one another as a dichotomy. I’m not suggesting that this can’t be useful on occasion, but I find generally that especially in consideration of living life, that such simple good/bad designations through dichotomy are more harmful than beneficial. I find that it is useful to allow space for elements of success, failure – both and neither to exist as a spectrum for relating to our relationships.

The array of my relationships involves many lessons of success and of failure and how I’ve conceived of and refined my understanding and construction of these ideas. One particular failure comes to mind in that I was abandoned… the person I’d been in a relationship with for some years just stopped contacting me. There were issues at the time, but the last communication I’d received from them had emphasised their commitment to the connection and to being in contact. I don’t have any other way to frame the ending to that relationship except as failure. And it is failure I’m unwilling to take on as my own, and yet I don’t actually feel better about it for that, though by now I’ve mostly stopped asking myself how I could somehow have been better to not have been abandoned.

Thankfully, I have many more constructions for success in a variety of ways:

  • My fiance and I realising that we were personally committed to each other getting to have the most amazing life possible, and that this transcended the need to cohabit in the same house/state/country if opportunity should knock. Knowing that he is always completely in my corner, and me in his is an incredible feeling whatever other difficulties we may face.
  • My lover of over two years has recently entered into a new and very different relationship and I am delighted that they will get something they’ve been seeking for years so much that I find I have incredible space for our connection to shift and change to accommodate that, though both of us wish to preserve the ‘more than friends’ nature of our connection and the related emotional closeness we’ve developed.
  • Someone incredibly special to me who is an interstate connection also shifted their relationship focuses this year and we shifted our connection to focus on our friendship and emotional closeness rather than our sexual connection because it worked better in context for where they were heading.
  • Sharing an incredible trust with my interstate lover where one of her partners had become an ex-partner to me where we both trusted in the integrity of care and support for each other despite the dissonance of the other broken connection. Trusting her that she understood and validated my experience of things and her trusting me to be happy and supportive genuinely of her relationship with the person in common.

You’ll notice that not all of these are elation based successes. Also, none of them focus on longevity and rather draw on flexibility and a willingness to trust and work together for needs to be met and happiness to be shared. My experience of success and of failure is different from even a year ago and my practises and thinking reflects this. Taking into account all of my own experiences, all of the conversations I’ve had, the study and reading I’ve done, I believe that how we conceive and engage with the idea of successful and failed relationships is a subjective and personal thing.

There are common elements where discussion is worthwhile, but ultimately it has to work for you and those you have relationships with. Mindfulness and thought here can mean that there is a progression where how well things work can improve that also allows for how we change throughout our lives with the passing of time and taking on new experiences.

So, now we understand that we’ve nominated and defined the existence of success and failure in our current understanding of where we fit in society. Time for questions! How do we mark success in relationships?  How do we mark failure? Do we use these notions to inform us of worthwhile relationships to enter into and exit from? Do we use it to justify those relationships we choose not to enter into? Can there be successful entry and exit from relationships? What constitutes failure of relationships, failure of entry into or exit from relationships? Does our questioning of success and failure in relationships fundamentally reinforce the notion that we *must* seek out relationships and connection? How do we choose markers for success or for failure consciously? Do we *have* to choose markers at all… can relationships form some kind of understanding like breathing: they simply are? How do our experiences in the past, or our fears about living in the world inform our relationship choices and how we understand success and failure?

How do we begin to make sense of all of this?

So here we have a very meta-heavy context for examining of success and failure as a fundamental idea about relationships. What is important now is drawing these questions and concepts down into the context where the personal is a critical defining context. The personal experience you wish for and seek is of vital importance here for definition of success and failure (or not). By creating and nurturing some mental and emotional space around your personal views and thinking around success and failure in relationships, it follows that there is an opportunity to balance this by allowing similar space for others to have their own construction of relationship success and failure. The final key to this personal spacemaking for relationships and how we conceive of success and failure is the need for non-judgement and non-imposition of other structures and standards to other people and their constructions of relationship success and failure.

This is a beginning discussion, there is a lot here that can be examined in more detail and I’d like to do that in future posts. However, I’m interested in your thoughts at this point and how you understand your own constructions of success and failure. How do they work or not-work for you? Have you been through experiences that have led you to examine and redefine how relationship success and failure looks like? Have you experienced this in different kinds of relationships? Talk to me about what success and failure look like to you now, about what experiences have contributed to your understanding. I’d also really love to hear about how you think relationship success and failure in our social understanding and practices could be improved?

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