The Relationship Expiration Date

“And if you find that you are labeling yourself a “failure” or putting yourself down in some other way; remember that relationships don’t fail, they run their course.” 
– Michael S. Broder, Ph.D., 4 Reasons to Swap Regret Over Your Breakup for Excitement, Huffington Post.

When I read this article in the Huffington Post divorce section, this particular line really resonated with me. When a relationship ends, we spend so much time questioning ourselves and overanalyzing every second that we spent with the person to figure out what went wrong. Even when we had already begun to feel that the person wasn’t a good fit for us, it still hurts when a relationship ends.

In most cases, the hurt and sadness comes from a sense of failure, rejection and the very common belief that one or both of the parties did something ‘wrong’ to cause the breakup. No matter the reason behind the breakup, this is a very natural reaction to losing someone that you care about (or in some cases, just someone you had A LOT of fun with).

Society tells us that a successful relationship is one that lasts forever, which means that any relationship that doesn’t last for life is a failure. But what if we acknowledge that a relationship can still be a success even if it doesn’t last forever? Could we accept the notion that some relationships, like milk or bread, have an expiration date, after which the relationship would curdle or go bad? Especially in today’s society, where divorce is becoming almost as common as marriage and where people change their minds about their relationships as frequently as they upgrade their iPhone, expecting a relationship to last forever can be unrealistic. 

I agree with Michael S. Broder that perhaps some relationships end simply because they have reached their end point. Perhaps relationships end because you have learned everything that you can from the person and staying together would just be ‘beating a dead horse’. If we can understand that not every relationship is meant to last forever, perhaps we can avoid feeling like failures when the inevitable happens. 

What really demonstrates whether a relationship was a success or failure should be the effect that it had on each person’s life, both during the life of the relationship and after it ended. After each breakup, we should be doing a relationship post-mortem and asking ourselves: Did both of us leave the relationship better, smarter or stronger people? Did we learn something from the time that we spent together? Do we retain our sense of self and do we both feel confident that we will find love again? If your answer to these questions is ‘yes’, I think that your relationship can be considered a success.

So let’s change the criteria that we use to define success in relationships to fit our current reality. Once you’ve accepted that not all relationships are meant to last forever, you can stop beating yourself up over every breakup; instead, look back fondly on the time that you and your ex spent together. You can be thankful for the lessons you learned and, as a result, you will be more open to future relationships. You will feel less dependent on relationships for validation of your personal worth and will be able to withstand a breakup without your self-esteem taking as serious a hit.

Overall, people will have less emotional baggage to bring to their next relationship and will find that the quality of their relationships improve as they learn more about what they want and what they have to offer a partner. Maybe, just maybe, accepting that some relationships have expiry dates could help us to regain our long-lost belief in true love and the possibility of forever. 

I say that it couldn’t hurt to try.