Why failed marriages are not ‘failures’

‘They were simply made for each other’ is what my friend’s auntie told me at the party.

While I nodded, I took a big sip of my glass of sparkling and hoped to God she would just keep talking.

‘Perfectly matched,’ she said.

‘I mean, I don’t know another couple that were so meant to be, it’s amazing, a true love story.’

I physically had to stop my eyebrow from arching. I’ll tell you what was amazing about this couple – their façade as they teetered on the precipice of the fail of all fails.

The failed marriage.

You may have heard of the sex advice columnist Dan Savage. In 1991 he began writing his Savage Love column for Seattle newspaper The Stranger, which in 2006, led to the podcast. In 2008, when I used to drive an hour and a half to work and back every single day, you got to know what was a good podcast. And this one? Addicted.

Savage’s advice is to-the-point and so matter-of-fact that when he pares back all the drama surrounding a caller’s problem, the answer is pretty simple. So simple it can be breathtakingly brutal…

You’re about to marry a guy you’re not sexually compatible with? Don’t marry him.

You cheated on your partner that one time four years ago? Take it to the grave.

You identify as heterosexual but had a same-sex experience a couple of times? Savage would say you’d be somewhat more ‘heteroflexible’, and that’s OK.

Some of the phrases he has coined are…


… stands for Good, Giving and Game. Savage says we should aim to be Good in bed, Giving of yourself to your partner in ‘equal time and equal pleasure’ and Game, meaning that – within reason – you’re up for anything.

‘Fuck First’

…a policy that usually gets rolled out around Valentine’s Day but is now gaining traction for couples getting married.

You know the scenario: you have the best intentions of knocking boots with your partner after a few romantic pints, a parmigiana and a McFlurry on the way back to your place. Then you realise you’re just too full, too tired or too ‘Drunky-McDrunk’ to get it on. Disappointment all round. Valentine’s Day (or really, any other date night) is ruined! *shakes fist at sky*

Same with a newly-wedded couple. You’re usually so exhausted from the ceremony, saying hello to every single person, having a smile plastered on your face all day, not eating, having a bottomless glass of champs and dancing all night, that the only thing you want to get aboard at the end of the night is the snooze-town express.

And we all know what happens to couples that don’t have sex on their wedding night: they have to lie about it for the rest of their lives.

Savage asks, why not ‘fuck first’?

That way, we’re able to get it out of the way and face the rest of Valentine’s Day or the wedding day or Tuesday night’s dishes without the intense expectations, assumptions and disappointments that can surface if we don’t sign off on the night with some slap and tickle.

Yes, I hear the ‘but it’s the wedding night and that’s what makes it so special!’

I get it. I hear you. By all means, have your tired, obligated ‘wedding night’ sex.

All I’m saying is, if you’re not into it, you’re not into it. Some say they would rather tired, bad sex than no sex at all – and that’s just fine, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing. But how about ‘celebrating’ the first morning of waking up together as Mr and Mrs? I know which I would prefer.

‘A failed marriage is not a failure’

Can we consider for one second, that although we may have every intention to make our relationships last ‘forever’… they simply may not?

Can it just, end? Can we just shake hands and call it a day? Can we still completely care for someone, even love him or her, and still acknowledge that, as a couple, it’s not really going anywhere and that it’s OK?

We can’t, can we?

We all know that a ‘successful’ marriage is one that until death do us part.

So let me get this straight. Basically, if your husband or wife dies, you can chalk your marriage up to being successful. Congratulations?

A few months ago, Dan Savage referred to an absolutely gorgeous essay about ‘modern love’ written by actress Maria Bello published in the New York Times. There is a lot going on in the article, you can read the full piece here, but essentially Bello reflects on what it means to be someone’s partner.

The take-away? That marriages and relationships don’t have to last forever to be considered successful.

A very dear friend recently emailed me something very similar about her own divorce –

“This is your life, honey, and you are the author. I learned a lot about myself in the [separation] process. That there’s absolutely no right, wrong, failures, etc.

As early as when [Mr McWhiskers] and I got engaged, I knew it didn’t feel quite ‘right’ or that he was The One. But to admit that to myself, let alone anyone else back then?! No way!

I went along with it. I settled for a lot of reasons: fear of being alone (probably because I didn’t really love myself), because I loved the idea of a wedding, that my parents would be proud of me for ‘settling down’ and how I perceived it looked to others. We can be so good at manufacturing our feelings. Fitting those square pegs in the round holes and ultimately compromising ourselves. Having said all of that, we were absolutely meant to be for that period of time.

I have no regrets. We just weren’t right together for any longer than it lasted.”

Chris Martin + Gwyneth Paltrow on announcing their 'conscious uncoupling'
Chris Martin + Gwyneth Paltrow on announcing their ‘conscious uncoupling’

Who are we to say that, while this marriage failed, it was a failure?

I’ve seen people unleash some pretty full-on (and somewhat litigious) things about their (ex)partners – particularly on Facebook – when going through a divorce or break-up, I’m thankful for those rowdy ones that create such a distraction that you never really hear about the amicable, quiet ones.

And although there may be no hostility at all, ‘conscious uncouplings’ (I promised myself I would not say that, sorry) are still heart-breakingly difficult and painful. Purely as there isn’t anything that’s traditionally ‘wrong’.

And you know what?

Some couples are ‘made for each other’ and are ‘perfectly matched’. Some couples do stay together for life. But some, while ‘perfect’, are perhaps only perfect for each other for a certain time in their lives. They may even marry during this time… only to find that a few years down the track they don’t tick each other’s boxes the way they once did.

These relationships are still successful. Just because it ran out of steam does not mean for one second it wasn’t a perfect love story.

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