Before my seemingly charmed courtship with my husband, Kevin, I took part in my share of “failed” relationships. I can think of three in particular. Each lasted between six months and a year. The guys were Christians with good character, but for whatever reason, the relationship simply didn’t work out. The main factor in each break-up was a lack of momentum toward our end goal, which was marriage. Something just didn’t “feel right.” And, in some cases, it couldn’t exactly be explained.
I remember after one break-up, a friend lamented, “I am devastated to hear this.” I was in my late-20s at the time, and perhaps she thought I might have given up on my last chance. But I wasn’t devastated. I felt peace that breaking up, regardless of what lay ahead for me, had been the right thing to do. I’d sought the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and when my boyfriend and I agreed to end the relationship, I felt relieved. Yes, I was disappointed that my dream of marriage seemed that much further away, but I also knew the relationship wasn’t meant to continue.
In the three relationships I just mentioned, I was the one who felt confident in the break-up, but I experienced the other side of things at the end of a long-distance relationship I had in college. After almost a year of phone calls, mailed cassette tapes (it was the ’90s, people) and a week-long visit that seemed romantically ideal, my boyfriend unceremoniously announced that he didn’t feel ready for a serious relationship and broke up with me. I had felt like he was potentially the one, and we had a special friendship, so I found it difficult to let go. I analyzed and re-analyzed why it didn’t work out — and hoped against hope that he’d change his mind. In tearful conversations, I begged him for answers (none of which I truly wanted to hear). And after many months, I finally moved on. Though the relationship had been fine, the end wasn’t pretty (for me).
When a relationship ends, I think most of us ask, “What was the point?” You invested months and maybe even years into a relationship that proved to be non-permanent. And if you’re serious about getting married, it can feel like a total waste or like you’re back to square one. But I believe that failed relationships do not constitute actual failure. Here are a few of the benefits to be gained:
1. You engage in a deeper-level relationship, which teaches you new things about relating to the other gender. While you shouldn’t pursue a series of short-term, disposable relationships just to “gain practice” for relating to your future spouse, an intentional relationship can give you valuable experience in showing Christ-like love and respect to another person, resolving conflicts and doing life together.
2. You refine your “must-haves” and “can’t-stands.” Before you find the person you’re going to marry, you may not realize that it’s going to be essential that your future spouse be intuitive, enjoy outdoor activities, manage money well, etc. Relationships can be a testing ground for making discoveries about what type of person you may be compatible with. In one relationship I was in, we didn’t find the same things funny. This led to our relationship being very serious (even though we both had a sense of humor separately). After we had broken up, I knew I needed someone who would make me laugh, so it was a characteristic I looked for right from the start.
3. You have the opportunity to live out purity, stewardship and discipleship in the context of a deeper relationship. With each relationship that ended, I asked myself one question: “Was I a good steward of the other person?” Did I enrich their life in a way that did them good not harm? Did I operate within the relationship in a godly way? Was I obedient to what I felt God calling me to do? If the answer was yes, I knew that even though it may not have ended the way I desired, the relationship had pleased the Lord — and I counted it as a success.
The main point of romantic relationships should be to explore the possibility of marriage. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict 100 percent how the relationship will end. But even relationships that don’t “work out” can build maturity and character. Tweet This I learned something from each relationship I was in. Some of those lessons I brought into my relationship with Kevin. And when he hears stories of past relationships, he doesn’t have to cringe (too much). He can respect the men who interacted with me in godly ways, while I was waiting for the relationship that would end in marriage.