The philosopher George Santayana famously said that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to relive them. So when it comes to a failed relationship, it is worth our while to shed whatever light we can on our part in the failure. Surely it isn’t enough to just blame the other person, even if their faults are objectively egregious. But it is important to ask: how did I contribute to the demise of love?
There are many factors to consider. Was part of the issue that I chose a person with whom I could not possibly succeed? Did I get involved too quickly out of neediness? Or did my early conditioning cause me to be leery of intimacy? Did I try to avoid the difficult issues? Did I respond to difficult discussions with defensiveness or counterattack? Did I expect too much? Or was I willing to accept too little? These and many other questions deserve consideration.
I often tell people that conflicts in couples are not only normal, but inevitable. Even when we have much in common, we are still different people, with different tastes and different backgrounds. We want different things. So a lot of relationship success, given a reasonable level of conflict, is in our ability to accept this as normal, and to learn to be constructive in negotiating conflict, in a way that doesn’t just blame the other.
The goal of such reflections is to avoid, if at all possible, repeating the same pattern. Having said this, however, we must also remember that some of what we bring to relationships is determined by experiences that occurred early in life, and which determine our course in an unconscious way. We can try to learn about these through therapy and other means, but we can never become fully aware of it all.
And if we do well to try to understand this as best we can, we must above all avoid self-flagellation. If we shift from laying the blame totally at the feet of the other, to laying it totally at our own feet, this misses the point. Our analysis must have a huge amount of kindness toward ourselves first, and then toward the other person as well. We are allowed to be human, and that means imperfect.
Plato famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living. So by all means, do reflect on your relationships!
But be kind to yourself.