“The beginning and the end reach out their hands to each other”- Chinese Proverb
At one time or another, we have all heard a friend say something to the effect of: “I feel like I can’t move forward from this relationship because we had no closure.” Some people feel that closure is just a person’s inability to let go and if they would just “suck it up and move on” life would be good.
In reality, if you have ever been left confused, hurt, angry, frustrated or lost at the end of a relationship, you may need to work on finding this elusive thing called closure. In doing so, you may realize that many endings deserve a proper farewell.
What is “closure” anyway?
Closure is that satisfying feeling that emotional loose ends have been tied up and put to rest. It’s when you feel there is no remaining unfinished emotional business that needs to be addressed before moving on with your life.
Twenty-six year old Rachel recently began counseling at our practice; she has been struggling with finding closure from a relationship that ended two months ago. She had been living with Sam for a year-and-a-half and they were talking about marriage.
After returning from what seemed like a great vacation, Sam announced that he wanted to separate as he “didn’t see a future together”. Within a few weeks, he had moved all his belongings to an apartment in another part of town and had stopped answering her phone calls. He said he didn’t know what to say.
We have helped people through many painful and sometimes unusual relationship endings in our practice. Like John who proposed to his girlfriend of two years only to tell her that he has been secretly married for the past 10 years. Or Heather who left a note that simply said, “Good-bye and good-luck, I hope you find happiness in your life” and left Jake with no forwarding address.
Endings are not easy even under the best of circumstances, but sometimes it can seem insurmountable to move forward when nothing really makes sense.
Why is it so hard to get closure?
Let’s take a look at why more relationships end without proper closure than end with it.
Back to Rachel. After a few therapy sessions, she decided to write Sam a letter. She explained that she wanted to move forward and heal, but felt very stuck because of all the unanswered questions she had. She made a list of the most important things she wanted to ask and then I asked her to hold the letter for a week just to make sure she really wanted to send it. She left my number at the bottom of the letter just in case he felt more comfortable talking with me.
Sam did call me within a few days and the person I heard on the other end of the phone didn’t sound like a louse. He seemed compassionate and wanted the best for Rachel. Unfortunately, he thought his silence would help her move forward quicker and worried that sharing his reasons for ending the relationship would be deeply hurtful to her. I asked him to respond to the letter and advised him that I would read it with Rachel to give her support.
In the end, Sam’s words were healing rather than hurtful. He shared that he wasn’t ready to settle down and always had dreams of traveling alone, advancing his career by being open to relocation and had no real interest in ever having children. He also shared that he loved the person she was, but knew he would only wind up hurting her. Rachel loves to nest and is certain she wants a family someday. Her closure came when she realized it was not her, but their differences that led to his departure; that she and Sam were not the right match in the long run.
Although Rachel achieved closure, there are times when trying to work with an ex on this can be the opposite of helpful. Sometimes, that one last talk can be very difficult for some. For them, the idea of a soul searching conversation seems daunting and the person does not want to “go there” for fear of opening up old emotional wounds.
At other times, the person you were involved with may have been toxic and honestly does not deserve to be in your life anymore. In this situation, it’s about self-honesty and knowing that any “closure” meeting would turn into a free-for-all of angry insults and blame games.
Whether your ex was kind and compassionate or certifiably crazy, you can use the following advice to find closure in the way that is best for you.
5 ways to achieve healthy closure
- Schedule a “closure” meeting. This is a one-time get together with your ex for the purpose of helping you let go and move forward. It’s an acknowledgment that you shared a great love and have many good memories, but that in the end there are reasons that the relationship just wasn’t right. It’s a time for asking questions that were left unanswered while being mindful that your ex may not have all the answers you seek. It’s important at the end of this meeting to accept the information you have been given and move forward. This will only work when both people are respectful and open to this type of conversation (and when two people can be grown-ups!).
- If your ex doesn’t want to meet, it can be very helpful to make a list of all the things that weren’t working in the relationship as well as all the things you learned about yourself. You can also get a journal and write “the story” of your relationship from beginning to end. What did you learn when you look at the relationship from a broader perspective? You may find greater clarity and understanding of why it didn’t work.
- Take a closer look at yourself. Examine what is lingering in your mind about the relationship. Is it anger? Are you holding onto guilt or unable to forgive your ex? True closure requires forgiveness of yourself and the other person. Take responsibility for your part, but then forgive yourself and learn from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them again. Skip the blame game as it will only cause you to stay bitter for far too long.
- Although it’s very tempting to try and find closure by talking with your friends and family about your ex, it becomes unhealthy rumination if taken too far. Initially, it’s normal and healthy to talk to people you trust and who can help you make sense of things. However, over time, you may notice that people are growing tired of hearing about your break-up. Instead of talking about him or her incessantly, try listening. The person in front of you has their own stories to tell and you may learn something valuable from them.
- Go slow. It’s easy to think that by meeting a new person you won’t have to deal with the ending of your old relationship, but getting involved with someone new before you have put closure on your last relationship rarely works. So, take your time…there is no rush to get involved right away. You can come across as desperate or overly-needy and will attract unhealthy people when you’re not at your best place.
Perhaps the alternative rock band from the 90s, Semisonic, said it best when they sang “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”. Finding closure in your relationship will undoubtedly lead to new beginnings.
Diane Lykes is a Principal of Synergy Counseling Associates in Albany where she specializes in individual and couples counseling, educational training and clinical consultation. She can be reached at 466.3100 or email@example.com