Are Some Relationships Meant to Expire?

Written by: Dené Logan


Published on: May 16, 2024

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Photo courtesy of Daniel Ernst

Dené Logan is a marriage and family therapist and author. Her latest book, Sovereign Love: A Guide to Healing Relationships by Reclaiming the Masculine and Feminine Within, is available for preorder and excerpted below.

We live in a society that uses longevity as our method for measuring the success of a relationship. For instance, have you ever been to a wedding where they ask all of the couples to stay on the dance floor until they call out the number of years you’ve been together? They continue to call out years in increments of five or so, until the couple who’ve accumulated the most years together are celebrated by the entire room as an example of what a successful union looks like.

But no one ever takes the time to ask those couples about what their lives together have actually felt like. No one asks if there’s been a sense of mutual respect present in their relationship. Nobody wonders if they’d do it all again if they knew back then what they know now about marriage. No one seems to ponder if they’ve been challenged and inspired to reach their full potential while in the midst of their partnership.

We don’t ask couples these types of questions because they’re not the priorities that a linear, patriarchal society is taught to value. What matters most is that the structure remains intact—regardless of how those inhabiting the structure are feeling about their lives.

But what if we did care? Acclaimed marriage and family therapist Esther Perel is often quoted as saying, “It is the quality of your relationships which ultimately will determine the quality of your life.” If our intimate relationships end up being one of the most significant factors influencing how we feel about our lives, it would seem that experiencing a sense of authentic fulfillment in these relationships would be something our society would collectively prioritize.


But I’m not sure that we do. We’ve normalized relationships that feel more like life sentences than something that’s life affirming. A partner who feels more like an irritating roommate than a lover and best friend. More often than not, we re-create the most contemptuous family dynamics from our childhood.

My perspective on this is drawn from the people who show up regularly for couples therapy. These are the people who are actively making an effort to find more authentic fulfillment in their relationships. We can make some pretty significant assumptions about what the felt experience is like within the relationships where people are not actively seeking to be more conscious. But the fact that people seem to be choosing to enter into committed partnerships much less frequently today suggests that the collective perception of romantic unions has created an image of them being less than fulfilling when all is said and done.

Some might suggest that this is because our cultural values have become distorted, or that people are much too quick to give up when the going gets tough—and they might be right. But if we ask ourselves what the actual purpose of partnership is in a society that is beginning to question all of its dominance-based structures—like White supremacy, misogyny, gender binaries, and socioeconomic inequity—it stands to reason that some of the historic motives for joining together in union might need to be revisited as well. If a mutual sense of dependency, the fear of immorality, and the honoring of sacred vows are no longer enough to maintain the sanctity of a union between two people, what would a sense of authentic fulfillment look like in a modern-day partnership?


The range of answers to this question could conceivably be as vast as the number of people questioned, but from my perspective, a sense of fulfillment in modern marriages is going to require more than the security of knowing the other person isn’t going anywhere. Our modern partnerships are going to require a sense of Shakti, life force, inspiration, expansion, receptivity, and Soul—in short, our partnerships have been missing the exploration of the healthy feminine energy within.

Just as we’ve done in every other aspect of our culture, we’ve normalized relationship structures that are severely lacking in healthy feminine energy. Our partnerships value safety but not aliveness. Enmeshment without sensual connection. Comfort that is often lacking in curiosity.

Anyone who has ever been married can attest to the fact that what goes on in a marital dynamic is not only unbelievably complex, but also, not something that can ever be fully understood by anyone from the outside. I’m not even sure the two people in the dynamic have a full grasp of what’s going on between them. I feel that way about my own marriage to my child’s father. The layers of complexity that led to the expiration of our marital relationship are dynamics that each of us have worked to understand (both together and separately). But they are dynamics that can never be fully understood by anyone but the two of us. I will say that the two of us were uniquely fortunate in having the shared understanding that our relationship had reached a point where it needed to change form. In my experience, most marriages don’t end with that level of mutual understanding.

More often than not, there are feelings of abandonment, betrayal, and heartbreak that make the expiration of a marriage one of the most painful experiences people go through. This is completely understandable. Not only because there’s a tremendous sense of grief that the human psyche is confronted with when facing the ending of something we’ve built our entire life around, but also because the socialized understanding of divorce equating to a failure often cultivates the feelings of ostracism and exile from our communities in its aftermath.


The felt experience of my own marriage ending gave me a unique opportunity to take a long, hard look at some of the cultural ideas about partnership that we’ve been spoon-fed. For instance, what if what defines success in a relationship is not longevity, but the amount of authenticity and respect that exists between the people involved? If that were the case, my relationship with my now ex-husband has been unbelievably successful, long after we decided to end our time as husband and wife.

What if we defined success in a relationship by how much it inspires us to continue growing and reaching the full potential of who we are capable of becoming?

The truth is, some of the constructs of what previously equated to a successful partnership have needed to evolve because we as a human race have evolved. We (hopefully) no longer see people (of any kind) as property. And given the influx of technological advances we’re exposed to on a daily basis, we’re suddenly faced with an entire world of options, distractions, concepts, and coping mechanisms at our disposal—instantly.

If we’re going to make a commitment to something that has the expectancy of becoming less and less engaging over time, security and morality cannot be the only motivating factors keeping our relationships intact. Because ultimately, what lies at the root of our desire for security and morality in our relationships is fear. Fear of what will happen to us if we lose the security of this attachment. Fear that we will be judged by the people around us as a failure or a bad person. But underneath the fear of exile from the collective status quo is a wounded feminine attachment. It’s the part of our subconscious that still believes that being alone would mean certain annihilation or being cast out into the wilderness of life and forced to fend for ourselves.


On a Soul level, we know that we came into this life to face these fears. We were not meant to sit on the sidelines and safely hide from our internal dragons. We are meant to face our dragons head on—to slay them if we must, so that we can continue to move forward on our own unique path.

I find it so interesting that we have a collective understanding that children are meant to continuously grow and change—both internally and externally from birth to around eighteen years of age. But for some reason, we carry the false notion that this growing and changing should cease once we reach adulthood, and that along with a license to drink alcohol, by twenty-one you should carry a clear idea of who you are and what your life is meant to be.

To me this is such a gross misunderstanding of what we came into this life to do. We are meant to be in the consistent processes of growth and expansion—from birth all the way up until the moment we take our last breath. If the container of a relationship is able to hold space for that expansion—through shared values, ideations, creativity, and mutual respect—that is when a relationship offers a sense of authentic fulfillment.

But sometimes, what once offered a sense of fulfillment changes as we change. And when we don’t allow space for that truth to be normalized without it being perceived as a failure (by ourselves or others), there’s a very real cost to the human psyche. That cost comes in the form of an internal deadening that manifests in the form of sorrow, resentment, depression, or grief at the realization that we’ve been sleepwalking through our entire lives.


One of my favorite phrases from the spiritual teachings of Abraham-Hicks is when they periodically joke that their perspective on long-term relationships would sound something like, “I like you pretty good. Let’s see how it goes.” And while for many of us, this level of ambiguousness does not provide enough containment to feel fulfilling, the larger truth I believe they are alluding to is that the sense of certainty we believe we’ve been offered within the boundaries of a marital contract is always an illusion. People die. People fall in love with someone else. People change their minds about what they want.

And sometimes, relationships are meant to expire. It’s an uncomfortable truth for us to sit with, but a truth that is nevertheless based in the reality of potential marital outcomes. The resistance to opening our hearts and minds to the possibility of uncertainty is not only what causes our deepest suffering when and if these shifts do occur, but it can hold us back from facing the truth head on. And without truth, we end up swimming against life’s current, making it impossible for us to be carried downstream to where we are ultimately meant to go.

Excerpted from Sovereign Love: A Guide to Healing Relationships by Reclaiming the Masculine and Feminine Within by Dené Logan (May 2024). Reprinted with permission from Sounds True.