Is the End of a Partnership a Failure or is it Just an Ending?

You may have read about my last partnership. The one with the neighbor-from-hell who left me for another female: Mother Nature. Seriously. You can read the details here. (You can also find the story in my new book, coming soon-ish, hopefully this month but probably July! I went indy so no pre-orders.)

Because I have acquired expertise in partnership endings (I’ve only had two of significance, but still), I have some opinions to share. These opinions are not just based on my personal experience, of course. I am a psychotherapist, after all. I’ve heard many stories about relationship endings and beginnings. I’ve read Esther Perel and Alain de Botton. John Welwood, too. So, I know a little something about this.

But what I am here to tell you today is how to rethink the ending, particularly if you label it a failure. (Parts of the following are excerpted from that guided journal I keep telling you about! Very tricky of me.)

Just because a relationship ends doesn’t mean it’s a failure. Or that you are a failure!

Why? Because maybe it was a good decision to end it. Maybe you both received what you needed and it was time to move on. Perhaps your partner was unwilling to do deep inner work, so the relationship could not evolve.

In any case, it’s likely that unhealthy patterns were being replayed. Maybe you were afraid of getting too close for fear of abandonment. Perhaps the relationship reminded you or your partner of experiences in your family of origin that you or they did not want to see. We often unconsciously select partners who reflect unresolved issues from our past. In the best case, this gives us the opportunity to heal those issues when you and the partner are willing to examine the patterns that come up. In the next best case, the end of the relationship leads you to therapy! The more you examine what happened, the more clarity you will find, and this will inform future relationships. So, one way to think about it is, it’s not a failure if you learn from it. Another idea: it’s an ending, not a failure. It’s a loss, not a failure.

See what I’m saying? I wonder if we need to redefine failure.

In my personal experience, I have partnered with men who, no surprise, joined me in repeating some of the dynamics in my family of origin. I found passive-aggressive, intelligent nice guys who were in denial about the deep wounds they carried from critical, abusive fathers and depressed mothers. The men carried a good amount of repressed rage and grief that showed up in physical ailments, anxiety, depression, and addictions. They, then, needed to abandon the relationship when we came too close to opening up access to their buried losses. I grew up with similar family dynamics. Abusive father, depressed, passive-aggressive mother. (Often the themes are similar for both partners.) The difference has been, I am not in denial about the resulting rage and grief and have worked over the years in various therapies to find healing and growth. The abandonment I experienced when the two relationships ended, facilitated my expression of deep grief that was not safe to express in childhood. It made me aware of my coping strategies: extreme independence and need to control born out of a belief that there is no safety or nourishment for me on Planet Earth. And, so, no surprise, that belief was reinforced as the relationships played out.

Over the years, then, I finally rescued my abandoned, lonely child self and I continue to give her the love, safety, and nourishment she needs. I have discovered a clearer picture of who I actually am versus who my family thought I was. I am experiencing exuberant interdependence, intimacy, safety, and nourishment with my fellow humans here on planet Earth.


I didn’t expect to be telling you all this. I hope you don’t mind my vulnerability. But having to articulate and clarify my own relationship patterns for you has been useful, even after all these years. The healing process is on-going, in case you were wondering. Writing about it is a powerful tool. (Ahem, another reason to get my guided journal!)

And so, my dearest chickadees, thanks for listening! I hope this helps you rethink your own relationship endings and gives you the nudge to redefine failure. And, also, I hope you, too, find your path to exuberantly experience interdependence, intimacy, safety, and nourishment with your fellow humans here on planet Earth.


To my bloggEEs: Well, that turned into something I didn’t expect! Thank you, as always, for being here. Let us know your thoughts on partnerships, endings, and failure. Love to you all!!

Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

16 responses to “Is the End of a Partnership a Failure or is it Just an Ending?”

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  1. Sheep's Wool Avatar
    Sheep’s Wool

    Thank you for sharing on this issue, Paula. This is maturing; we are maturing; I am maturing.

    I very much appreciate your writing.

    Only recently, I was wondering about rainforest minds, childhood trauma and inner child work. It is deep and ongoing work. It is real growth and is messy at times, I think. But we get to reclaim ourselves. Many thanks to you for being a beacon – I know you won’t see it like this, but it is great kindness, that I feel in my heart.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Thank you, Sheep’s Wool. <3

  2. Petre Avatar

    Ah, how I long for the day
    When an instant’s separation from thee, O Govinda,
    Will be as a thousand years;
    When my heart burns away with its desire,
    And the world without thee is a heartless void.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Thank you, Peter. <3

  3. Marina Avatar

    How brave of you to show us your vulnerability, Paula, thank you for sharing. It is a bit scary, though, to be so personal so publicly, don’t you think? When I did, I was immediately excluded from family (and especially in-law) circles.
    I do look forward to your new book. Thank you for being brave and vulnerable, an avid blog writer as well as a tango-dancing therapist with beautiful, curly hair!

    1. pprober Avatar

      Oh, and thank YOU, Marina for being an avid blog reader! <3

  4. Joan Avatar

    I have a pattern of picking emotionally unavailable men who are usually narcissistic and always have addiction problems.
    My main failure with my last relatiinship was that I didn’t listen to people’s warnings and got involved with the guy anyway. I contorted myself in every way possible to try to make it last, and I put up with way too much.
    Since the relationship ended (25 years ago!) , I really haven’t wanted to date. I think that is a failure on my part. Maybe I could have met someone nice.
    Anyway, these relationships very much mirror the way I grew up.

    1. pprober Avatar

      It can certainly feel like a failure, Joan. The insight about how it mirrors childhood and the support of a counselor can help you get to some self-compassion about the situation which can be healing, whether you decide to date or not.

  5. Nimue Avatar

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

    1. pprober Avatar

      You’re welcome, Nimue!

  6. Jen Avatar

    I really appreciate you writing this, Paula. It’s always a good reminder and also for non romantic relationships too.

    “Often the themes are similar for both partners”. I read this recently too in John Cleese’s “families and how to survive them” and have found it very useful in understanding myself and my partner further.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Thanks, Jen. I’m glad it was helpful.

  7. Clignett Avatar

    I’ve really never looked at a relationship end as a failure. Both have learned (at lest I have, I can inly hope the man in question did too). They were all toxic relationships for me, one abusive (physically and mentally), the next abusive (mentally mostly), then we had a guy who thought that in a relationship there was no need for considering the other. I could go on.. unfortunately.

    Recently I’ve ended two “could be” relationships, one who was completely presumptios about me and Indie, thought he could pressure me into forcing his way into my life, said some things that were completely out of line, and I got fed up. Maybe a bit harsh on my side, but I got him to apologize and then said to him that his apology was too little too late, and that he should forget my number. I was done.

    The second one appeared to already have a girlfriend, but according to him he wasn’t really happy in that relationship. I’ve known him quite a few years, ignored him quite a few years as well, but as I had to dig deep in my brain as to why I ignored him, it finally came back to me last night. He was married, divorce papers in the courts, but… he told me he would give it another try with his wife. But still wanted me by his side. Eh… NOOOO!! So I ignored him after I said that. Recently, after about 4 years, he contacted me again. Couldn’t remember what the issue was before, so we texted a bit to each other. Then he texted me that he loved his girlfriend, but wasn’t really happy with her. And that he missed me and wanted to be with me. Lying about the past (I really don’t believe he didn’t remember!). So finally the pieces in my mind connected, the red flags made sense again, and I basically told him that we could be friends, but nothing else. His choice. Rely or don’t, either way is fine with me.

    Point is: I choose me and Indie every time. No concessions, no shenanigans. And I feel relieved, no guilt, no failure (absolutely not!). I live my life, and I will not be a second choice.
    Of course that is the result of therapy relating to my past, intense long years of therapy, a lot of work, and finally setting my own boundaries and taking good loving care of myself.
    But no failure! Quite the opposite: a victory!

    I’m happy to be alone, only someone who sees me as a first priority and who actually sees me, and is interested in me (and Indie of course!, is worth my time and energy.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Sounds like you’ve worked hard on healing, Clignett. Good for you!

  8. Lily Avatar

    Thank you, Paula. You have helped me and my children immensely. You are a beautiful soul x

  9. Me Avatar

    Thank you for sharing, Paula!

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