In my teens and twenties, I had several relationships that followed the “get together, break-up, get-together, break-up” routine. This is a tired and unsatisfying pattern, but the experiences were useful because they eventually taught me that there is no point in getting back together, because it’s never going to be the same after the first break-up.
In the years since then, I had heard stories of couples of who had broken up and gotten back together, or whose marriages had gone sour and been salvaged, and the couples had discovered a completely new relationship amid the ashes of their previous one. This concept — that things could actually be better after a break-up or near-divorce — was completely foreign to me, and I considered it with the same degree of skepticism I reserved for magic dragons and small garden fairies. Clearly such ideas were cute and imaginative and interesting, but not real. Certainly not real.
My own experiences had shown me — beyond any reasonable doubt — that once you broke up or broke down your relationship, there was no real way to repair it. When my boyfriends and I broke up and got back together, we were constantly searching for it to feel as good as it had before the first break-up. But it never did. And I saw in my own marriage and that of many friends’, that when the marriage was broken, you might hope that it would get better again, you might even convince yourself — temporarily, of course — that it had gotten better again. But the truth was, it was never as good.
When my husband and I were talking about separating, we discussed attending couples counseling. Plenty of couples do, we argued with ourselves, but no one we knew had actually resuscitated their relationship that way. They might have stayed together, but they were still miserable. This didn’t surprise me, given my earlier dating experiences, and I, moreso than my husband, felt that such counseling would be a futile attempt to save our dead marriage.
But recently, I have had cause to reconsider my previous certainty that things cannot, in fact, get really and truly better. Because, as often happens, the universe has been busy showing me that I’ve been wrong about that.
In lovers should be seen and heard, I wrote about how the guy I’d broken up with in December had reappeared in my life in February, more open and real and available than he’d felt to me before. In the weeks that followed, what amazed me more than anything — beyond the change in him, or the change in me, or the way that we related to each other — was the basic, fundamental fact that things were actually better than they’d been the first time we dated. They truly were. And I marveled at this new little wisdom and held onto it like a precious jewel, lest I somehow forget that such possibility exists.
I am further impressed to discover that things are still getting better. No kidding. The relationship I’m in now bears almost no resemblance to the relationship I had with this very same man in the fall. We laugh more often and more loudly. We are kinder and gentler with each other. Fears are acknowledged and treated more tenderly. We have ease with each other than we never had last fall. And, don’t even get me started about our sex life….
That’s not to say that things are perfect. Of course they aren’t. We are two very imperfect people trying to get to know each other and figure out along the way if there is enough of that magical quality to sustain a long-term relationship. That process could not be less perfect. Add to it the various baggage that we both bring along for the ride and it gets really messy. We’ve had some serious little bumps already… times when he felt distant and preoccupied and I wondered, with a bit of a sinking heart, if we were going to slide back into the space of last fall when he felt far away and unknowable to me. And there have been times when I have felt uneasy and wanted to cut and run, an old and bad habit that is very, very hard to break…. But so far, we are both hanging in there. And we must be doing something right, because things really are better, not only than they were last fall, but better than they were last week.
Of course, the realization that it actually is possible to not only salvage a relationship but improve it even after you’re sure it’s dead, did cause me to momentarily contemplate whether I had shortchanged my husband with my contention that couples counseling would have been a waste of our time. But, sadly, I’ve also realized that there is a disclaimer to this overall idea, and that is this: there has to be something left to salvage in the relationship and two people who truly have the mutual desire and commitment to salvage it. My marriage was irretrievably broken, and had been for years, and I had neither the will nor the energy to try to save it. And that remains the sad truth.
My current relationship may also end; most do. But if it does, what I hope I can still hold, still remember and cherish, is the lesson that things really can get better, with the right motivations and right people. It’s a valuable lesson, I’m sure, because some day, in some relationship, it might mean the difference between a dying relationship and a living one.