Breaking Up Requires Effective Closure

Dear Neil: I was in a two year relationship with a fifty year old man who asked me to marry him. But Bob had both second thoughts and anxiety attacks, and eventually he ended the relationship saying: “I don’t want to talk anymore, and I don’t have to tell you why I don’t want to marry you.”

I had no feedback from him about what happened, and subsequently there was no closure for me. It’s now been eleven months, and I still don’t understand what happened. Not only do I want closure for myself, but I want some closure for my two, three and four year old nieces who visited us frequently when we were living together.

The girls still ask about him and why he’s not around. I’ve answered these questions as best I can, but finally I asked Bob to talk to them. His response was “just distract them.”

Can you write about the importance of closure in a relationship and how to achieve it?

Incomplete in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Dear Incomplete: Putting closure to an intimate relationship which has ended is essential if you are wanting to move on. Closure consists of four components: figuring out what happened or what went wrong between the two of you; making peace with the relationship ending; figuring out what you can learn from the experience so you don’t repeat the same scenario, and visioning a positive future for yourself with someone else.

The following questions are designed to assist you in gaining greater awareness of what happened, and how to make sense of your experience. On paper write:

  • What you will miss about the relationship and about the person you are involved with
  • What you will not miss
  • Acknowledge what your role was in causing the problems in the relationship, or in assisting the relationship to fail.
  • Lessons this experience has taught you
  • Concerning this relationship, what are you sad about?
  • Concerning this relationship, what would you do differently if you had to do it over again?
  • What relationship skills do you need to develop or perfect in the future?
  • Explore each of the following emotions carefully: anger, passion, loneliness, happiness, grief, pain, joy, guilt, shame, fear, terror, love, hate, resistance, depression, blame.
  • What did you gain from the relationship? How are you richer, deeper or wiser because of the experience? What did the relationship give you that you are grateful for?
  • What did your “ex” give you that you are grateful for?
  • Concerning the relationship with your former mate, what are you willing to forgive?
  • What are you wanting to be forgiven for?
  • What are you willing to forgive yourself for?

Breaking up destroys the idea that if you only try hard enough—or love more—you will be able to fix or solve the problems so that things will get better again.

Letting go of the dream we create about a relationship—and about the future—is a whole lot harder than letting go of the person. Be willing to do this unfinished business of the heart.

“Seldom, or perhaps never, does a marriage develop into an individual relationship smoothly and without crisis; there is no coming to consciousness without pain.” —Carl Jung

“When you’re in love, you put up with things that, when you’re out of love, you cite.” —Miss Manners (Judith Martin)

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