We do not usually talk about our failure in a public forum. This is especially poignant during a presidential campaign where the only failure talked about is the opponent's. Failure is understood to mean when something falls short of what is required or expected; it is unsuccessful, the desired goal is not achieved. There is something negative about failure and yet conventional wisdom of successful people is that they often learn more from their failures than their successes. I wish the political process would allow for that but in America it is all about being right and winning. American culture does not tolerate failure very well.
I am in a business where what we do, therapy, often fails; at least in the short term it appears to be a failure. This week I have seen two marriages fall apart, one that is farther down the road of divorce and one that is dangerously tittering on the precipice of divorce. One might be salvaged; one most likely will not be salvaged. So what have I learned from my mistakes, from failure? What can I take away from this that will make therapy more successful next time?
I think I am asking the wrong question and looking at this failure the wrong way. Yes, I expect to help every marriage that walks in my door. I expect success because I am trained and I have seen much success before with couples. I am trained and learning more about EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) which has a great research track record of significantly improving marriages 75-80% of the time. But what makes the difference? Why do some respond and others do not?
I wrote to one of the spouses who do not want to end their marriage that without vulnerability love does not happen; it cannot thrive. It is choked off in self protective armor that stifles and restricts and bounces back every attempt of love's embrace. What in the world would make someone reject love? Why would anyone do that!? Because what is offered is not perceived by the receiver as love; the source of love is seen as anything but loving. They are afraid, for whatever reason(s) to be vulnerable.
I am grieved by these couples' pain. I hate that our efforts ended in a lack of success; that love did not win the day but disappointment and rejection did. I don't know if there is anything more painful than a failed relationship except that it is tempered by the hope of finding love somewhere down the road. We are usually eternal optimists when it comes to love. In fact, many relationships end precisely because someone decides they can find love with someone else. But in divorce someone has decided that love does not happen for them in this relationship. How sad and painful is that.
I want to be honest about my failure to help and to love. It does no good to pretend we have all the answers or pretend that we will not fail. In fact, if conventional wisdom is true, failure is necessary but this conventional wisdom is only true if we do not quit trying. We are meant to love. It is what we are designed to do. We are lovers, and love is most fully realized in a monogamous relationship. It cannot be found in a series of relationships because serial relationships do not require commitment and thus avoid vulnerability. If I am never safe enough to risk being hurt, that is be open to being misunderstood, not valued, or accepted then I can never know love. This is the paradox of love; it can only happen when we are open to its failure. For us to know love, to experience love in our life we must be willing to suffer the pain of rejection, the disappointment of being misunderstood, and still hold out hope that love, in the long run, will not disappoint.