Saturday, January 16, 2010


When I tell people who don't already identify as poly about choosing this for myself, one of the usual responses is that this won't be a successful relationship model. After all, if over half of traditional marriages end in divorce, how can something that is more complex survive?

This viewpoint is based on a pass-fail way of looking at things. If you do a relationship "right", you'll be together, forever, until you die, and anything else is a failure. To that, I say: Crapola! Each and every relationship I've ever had, including the ones that would be considered failures by this measure, has taught me new skills, brought fresh perspectives, more awareness, and a more developed sense of self.

Relationships are often about learning things from others that you might not stumble across on your own, so even when it isn't something that lasts forever, there's still value in what is learned, and from what is taught in return. Some of those lessons aren't as easily accessible in a day-in, day-out relationship, others seem to require a level of consistent exposure that scours away artifice, where routine becomes a path to deeper understanding of self and other. Some of the things learned show us paths that aren't desirable, others grow even more enriching upon repetition.

Having been in a space where the dissolution of my marriage was a distinct possibility over the past several months, I've thought about that whole pass-fail dynamic a bit. I'm very happy that the reset button has been hit, and things are on a positive track, but even in the darkest time I wouldn't have seen a divorce as a failure in the sense that most would. I've been blessed to be in a wonderful relationship with a caring and supportive partner since I was 18 years of age. If it had ended or changed significantly, that wouldn't have changed. There are a great many ways that having a stable connection for my entire adult life has been beneficial, and that value doesn't just go away.

That said, one main thing I seek in a relationship is continuity, so it's something that I select for with partners. I'd rather have good long-term relationships than something fleeting, no matter how intense. The difference is that, if things don't work out as planned, it isn't a failure. It's an opportunity to learn and do better the next time. It's only if you stop trying, allow the fear of failure to limit your opportunities to love, that failure becomes part of the equation.


Christy said...

Yes. This is exactly how I look at things, with one difference. Sometimes, divorces ARE failure, but they don't necessarily have to be. If, for instance, we break faith and agreement with a partner in whatever way, then we've failed the relationship.

If, however, we keep faith, but realize that we want different things, then divorce doesn't mean failure.

livingtotears said...

yes! this is how it is for me too. yet it's being very interesting lately because i seem to be close to several people who are having serious marital issues.

it's seeming like people's reasons for marriage play into whether they see possible divorce as a failure.
someone who loves her husband, but married mainly for financial support is viewing possible divorce as a failed marriage because the reason she married instead of living together was based on the goal of marriage providing financial security. although she could look for that again if necessary, a divorce for her means that marriage "failed" in meeting her goal.
someone else sees marriage as a strategy for choosing specific individuals as intentional family till death do they part. in their relationships, marriage seems to be the strategy to pool specific people and their emotional and financial assets to create resources bigger than the sum of the three of their individual assets, thus enabling them to offer more being-there ability thru life's ups and downs, including/especially health issues as they age.

in that connection, the person i know best also considers that possible divorce would mean the marriage failed ~ if it isn't able to fulfill the intent of those specific people to remain as family, and provide life long emotional and financial support for each other, the goal of their marriage was not met.
it's being very interesting, challenging, and heart-tearing for me to hear these perspectives. in a way, i can sort of understand how they get to those views, based on the reasons they convey for having chosen marriage in the first place.

yet for me, marriage was so specifically about choosing a best-best friend person to be family with me; to build a life and future together. we want and intend and are committed to work through bumps to be together forever; but our higher priority is supporting each other's happiness. thus, in my marriage, the goal is really to be best friends, building a life and future together for as long as our connection is mutually happy and life-enriching.

in my paradigm, a possible divorce isn't a light, easy, inconsequential thing. yet it's absolutely not a failure either. the goal itself was met, even if life-long turns out not to be possible.

and ironically, if our connection became not mutually-happy, a split might even be perversely fulfilling the goal of our marriage ~ separating might enable mutual happiness if/when we are not able to attain that together.

and even there... who's to say i can't support an ex-husband/great friend in his pursuit of happiness just because we might not be living together or married anymore? even beyond marriage, i can fulfill that aspect of my marriage vows.

it's a little hard for me to understand why people wouldn't choose my oh-so-sensible reasons for marriage. but seeing that many people have other reasons and goals for their marriages, i'm beginning to see a little bit better about why some people equate divorce with failure. it's a sad understanding though... sigh.

Anonymous said...

I think that if a relationship is intended to be forever, and it doesn't reach that lofty goal, then it is a failure. But nobody ever said failures are without merit! The important distinction in poly, though, is that most of us realize that not all relationships will last forever. So while we may part ways after a couple years and call it good, the outside world wonders why it "didn't last".