My client Becky (not her real name) was on the brink of failure.

When I met her, Becky was in a 4 year relationship with a guy who had been intermittently supportive of her dreams and goals, sometimes loved her, and sometimes came dangerously close to verbally abusing her.

She skirted around her unhappiness with the relationship for a few sessions, pointing to other issues as the source of turmoil in her life, but finally admitted one day that things hadn’t been good for a long time. She was holding onto the hope (or wish) that things would be different in the future.

She was desperate to hold on to this hope, because if things didn’t get better, deep down she knew she would have to break up with him.

And that’s where the failure part came in. Becky felt like if she ended this relationship, regardless of the circumstances, she would be a failure.

Most of us are hard-wired with a fear of failure. We want things to work out. We label relationships that end as a failure.

But what if not all relationships were meant to last? What if each one has a slightly different purpose?

One of my favorite sayings is: “People come into your life for a reason, season, or a lifetime.”

I see my clients getting stuck in a spin cycle of hope-risk-rejection-disappointment in their relationships when they confuse “reason or season” people with “lifetime” people.

(It’s particularly hard to accept that some family members are “season” or “reason” people and not always “lifetime” people.)

When we let go of our belief that all relationships are supposed to last a lifetime, we open ourselves up to learning the lessons that “reason and season” people are there to teach us.

Here are the differences between these types of relationships and the unique lessons each one has to offer:

1. Season People

“Season” people come into your life for a defined period of time, but once that time is over, you lose touch with them. Perhaps it is a neighbor who moves into your neighborhood for a year or two then moves away. Or a coworker you hang out with everyday until you each get a better job.

These are people with whom you share a connection that is based around what you are experiencing at the current time. Their gift to you was the support and companionship they provided during the time you were together.

You don’t lose touch with these people for any particular reason other than your time together is done. The lesson for me in recognizing who the  “season” people have been in my life has been about letting go of the guilt associated with the idea that I was supposed to keep in touch with every single person I have ever been friends with.

Sometimes season people will come back into your life for another season, but if they don’t, it’s OK. It just means your work together was done.

2. Reason People

“Reason” people come into our lives for a specific purpose….to teach us something. Sometimes these lessons are inspiring, like the mentor who sees potential in you and grooms you for leadership when you didn’t know you had it in you.

But often times, the lessons can be hard or painful. These lessons are not always something we really wanted to learn. For example:

  • The friend who walks all over you helps you realize that you need better boundaries.
  • The boss who bullies you teaches you how to stand up for yourself.
  • The boyfriend who dumps you unexpectedly teaches you how to recover from heartbreak and learn to love again.

I have found that my clients don’t often recognize the “reason” behind these relationships at first. That’s because they are stuck in a place where they are hurting, and they are focused on how the other person needs to change.

As we delve deeper into our coaching work, my clients are able to get beyond the hurt to see the bigger opportunity these situations present.

And beyond the specific way the “reason” person may nudge us to change, I believe the bigger opportunity is for us to grow stronger in our sense of self and become less reactive to the negative emotions of others. As we grow stronger in our sense of self, we are no longer reliant on other people to affirm our worth and value.

With a better sense of our own worth, we naturally attract people who treat us with more respect and kindness.

This is because we no longer feel the need to hang on to the people who don’t treat us well. We allow them to pass through our lives without having to spend the energy to “prove” our worth to them.

3. Lifetime People

A “lifetime” person is someone who loves and accepts you just as you are. And they accept you as you change as well.

In order for a relationship to last a lifetime, there needs to be plenty of room for each of you to grow and change. I believe it is love and acceptance that creates that room.

Without love and acceptance, you will outgrow each other over time and struggle to fit in the relationship the same way that you struggle to fit into the super cute pair of designer jeans you wore 5 years ago. Or maybe that’s just me 🙂

A lifetime person is not perfect, and may teach you some of the things that “reason” people do as they work through their own struggles.

But ultimately, a lifetime person will allow you to be exactly who you are, through every stage and growth phase of your life.

As we continued to work together, Becky was able to let go of the idea that she would be a failure if her relationship with her boyfriend ended. Without that fear of failure, she was able to see her relationship from a new perspective.

Becky was able to see that she wanted a deeper and more loving relationship than her boyfriend could offer. She realized he wasn’t her “lifetime” guy, and she broke up with him. The break up was tough, but in the end she said that choosing to seek a relationship that was more fulfilling made her feel like “more of a success that she could have ever dreamed possible”.

PS- If you know someone who is stuck in any type of relationship that isn’t working, please share this with them!