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5 steps to avoid feeling like a failure when relationships fail

Posted November 21

Undergoing my second divorce was certainly not what I foresaw on graduation day as I walked with my Bachelor’s Degree in Family Life Studies. I have spent a great deal of my time learning healthy communication, conflict resolution and constructive relationship strategies because it’s what I find fascinating. But no matter the amount of passion I pour into growing happy, healthy marriages, each and every relationship in my life is made up of two human beings with the ability to choose for themselves.

When my first marriage ended, I felt like a complete failure. I felt like I must have not given enough of myself or ‘been a good enough example’ of healthy habits and loving responses in our relationship. When marriage number two turned into separation I quickly found myself looking in the mirror and asking myself the same questions.

I am not perfect. I made mistakes as everyone does in relationships. However, I gave all that I was capable of giving at that time in my life and under those specific circumstances. It took time to be at peace.

Sometimes relationships just don't work out even when you have done all that you can. Especially in a relationship as sacred and special as marriage, it is easy to find yourself feeling like a complete failure when a relationship in your life comes to a close.

Through this process there are five strategies that I have put into practice to help me remember this and maintain an attitude of gratitude, high self-esteem and hopefulness.

Start a gratitude journal

My mom challenged me to find a cute little notebook to carry around and write down one thing from each day to be grateful for. She also suggested to find three things about myself that I am grateful for each day. Whether that was three attributes or three things that I did that weren’t easy for me, I needed to recognize those efforts and thank myself for them. Some days this included acts of selflessness towards others, and some days it was simply that I got out of bed.

Nurture healthy relationships

Surround yourself with those who encourage you, those who are not judgmental and whom you value in your life. Call them, spend time with them and express your gratitude to them for the positive relationship that you share. These are the relationships that will remind you that you are capable of having successful relationships that bring out the best in you.

Take Care of Yourself

This applies to your physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health.

Physically keep yourself healthy by eating well, exercising, and most importantly (to me) getting enough sleep! It’s much easier to handle the stresses and emotions that come with ending a relationship when you feel good and are well-rested.

While talking with friends and family is helpful emotionally, seeing a licensed therapist is one of the best decisions I made in learning how to handle my emotions and process my experiences from my first divorce. I don’t believe that you need to be "broken" to go to a counselor. Everyone can benefit from talking with a counselor and finding new ways to thrive emotionally.

Spiritual health includes following your moral compass and beliefs, even on your hardest days. It’s not uncommon for people going through tough break-ups and divorces to panic and abandon beliefs out of doubt and discouragement. Staying true to my religious beliefs and values provided me peace and direction in moving forward. I also maintained a clear conscious in knowing I did not rebel against what I felt was right.

Learn Your Lessons

Certainly at the conclusion of my first divorce, I was convinced that I had marriage figured out. I knew what I would look for in future dating experiences and all the ways in which I would avoid ever divorcing again. I had a long list in my journal of all of the lessons I had learned and I would be happy if I ever remarried. Throughout my second marriage, I quickly realized there was much more to learn. I had grown and changed very much since my last relationship and I was in a relationship with someone completely different. I learned new lessons.

When you feel emotionally ready to reflect on your past relationships, there are lessons to be learned from every one of these involvements. Each person holds new experiences and opportunities to grow and develop. I made this a part of my gratitude journal as I wrote down these lessons ways I was grateful for what my ex-husbands had taught me.

Practice positivity

It’s easy to complain and be negative about our situation or the person with which our relationship has ended. It’s a common defense-mechanism to use hatred and negativity towards someone to protect ourselves from feeling sadness, hurt and loss. However, learning to speak positively about that individual as well as finding the joy in our situation can help us to quickly heal and become genuinely happy. Use positivity in your gratitude journal. Enlist the help of your support groups and loved ones to also stay positive and speak positively of your ex-friend or ex-significant other. Stay positive as you embrace living a healthy, balanced schedule and implementing the lessons you’ve learned into your daily life.

These five strategies have given me the opportunity to grow and become a better person from my ex-spouses. I've been able to maintain a sense of self-worth and avoid the trap of feeling like a failure when relationships in my life fail. We will all have relationships that don’t last and rather than let ourselves become destroyed because of the heartbreak and guilt, approach the healing process in a productive way to grow and stay happy!

Brittani Naegle graduated in Family Life Studies and currently advises undeclared students at her alma mater, Utah State University. Contact her at brittani.wade@usu.edu

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