I've read stories about near-death experiences that change people, made them better somehow than they were before the scare. For me, it was a near-divorce that knocked me flat on my butt.
Failing at marriage, as painful as it was at the time, helped me learn how to be happier.
My mistakes made me more compassionate.
I played an active role in trashing my relationship with my husband, Jared. I hurt him in a hundred ways, big and small. Never once could I claim to be the victim of a bad marriage.
The guilt and shame of my mistakes weighed me down for months.
When they finally lifted, I was left with a scar of compassion.
I am slower to judge. I understand weakness and bad decisions because my own story is filled with them. I see good people make hurtful decisions and I remember my own trudge through the muck. I offer others what was given to me: faith in character despite actions.
Having compassion makes me happier.
Anger and resentment weigh us down. They do more damage to us than to the people we think we are punishing with our judgment. It's easier to let go of that crap when we can see ourselves, flawed and yet lovable, in someone else.
Facing being wrong showed me how much there was to learn.
I was known for having strong opinions. I would insist that I had invested a lot of thought and research into forming them, and therefore it made perfect sense for me to cling to and defend them vigorously. I was insistent because I was right.
Being right led me to the brink of divorce.
When we went to marriage counseling, I had to hear all about all of the ways I had been wrong. In some cases, I had been wrong for years. The things I'd been sure I needed to be happy proved to be utterly useless in improving my life or my relationship. I had to start over with brand new paradigms, behaviors, and tools.
I'm more likely to keep my mind open to other options and opinions now. I assume this makes me more pleasant to live with, but it also opens me up to new opportunities for learning. Come to find out, discovering new things makes me happier. It's fun to find out something you didn't know before.
I still struggle with my fear of being wrong, but I also know on some level that getting it wrong doesn't have to mean the end.
Disappointing people made me realize who matters most.
Telling Jared I thought I wanted a divorce was hard. Telling my parents, his parents, and all of our friends that we were splitting up was almost harder.
I had to face my own fears about disappointing everyone and being seen as a bad person. I was more afraid of what everyone outside my marriage was thinking than about what Jared thought or felt. But when the proverbial shit hit the fan and the dust began to settle, the only thing I cared about losing was Jared and the kids. I wanted our family. I wanted my relationship with my husband.
Ironically, as Jared and I started to put our marriage back together, people did share their opinions about me. Some of my biggest fears were realized: I was a disappointment to some and I did become a bad person to others.
I braced myself for the inevitable crush of being hated... but it never came.
Disappointing people didn't kill me.
Being unliked didn't kill me.
Not only didn't it kill me, it really wasn't all that bad. I still got to laugh and love and go out in public and eat food I liked and dance to my favorite music and pretty much go on exactly the same way as before. I learned that there were very few people whose opinions could affect my day-to-day life.
That freedom not only strengthened my marriage, it gave me the courage I needed to chase after my personal dreams.
When I find myself imagining what I assume people say and think about me, I try to stop and remember how irrelevant and unlikely those scenarios are. I imagine those other people getting out of their own bed, slipping their feet into their own slippers, and focusing on their own worries and people who matter most. I remember that none of the thoughts they might have in their own bedroom can change what happens in mine. I look at my shoes and affirm that I am the only one who has to walk around in them today.
I know it sounds silly, but doing that exercise gives me the guts to walk where I want.
Our failures give us room to rebuild.
Do I wish I could have gotten to where we are today without all of the pain Jared and I inflicted on each other? Absolutely.
But I'm grateful for the rebuilding that has taken place since our near-divorce.
I'm grateful for the humility that comes from falling on your face; life is a little sweeter when you realize how utterly fallible we all are. I appreciate the things I've learned that I wouldn't have noticed when I was certain I already knew everything. I'm glad to be able to worry less about what other people think of me.
I am not glad for having hurt my husband, but I am thankful for the lessons we've learned.
Of course, none of us gets it right all the time. We are, all of us, failures at some point in our lives. Probably more than once. If we're lucky, these failures help us tap into our common humanity and we learn something along the way.
Have you been humbled by failure? Do you think any good has come from it?
This post originally appeared on the blog In Pursuit of Happiness.