I’ve been divorced twice.
And there was no emotional closure either time.
Neither parting was easy. There was a lot of hurt on both sides, and I shared in the responsibility of the failure of both marriages. I felt tremendous shame.
Later, I hoped for some kind of closure. Both of those men had been extremely important in my life. I yearned to meet with them to thank them for what they’d offered to me. I hoped that we could sit down to discuss as reasonably and respectfully as possible what had occurred. What we got right — and what was terribly wrong. We might not agree, our perspectives might be quite different, but at least we could listen with a caring ear. I didn’t expect it to happen immediately but hoped that, with time, we could manage it.
It never happened. From my perspective, I tried. But my overtures were met with disdain. Ironically, I realize that the marriages might not have ended had we been capable of such a conversation… but that’s hindsight.
Why do I share this particular part of my life with you?
If you long for emotional closure…
Many people long for emotional closure in their relationships. This is true not just for divorce, but for friendships that suffered from misunderstanding or betrayal of confidences, or estrangement from a sibling or a parent. Even if there isn’t hope for complete reconciliation, people can carry tremendous pain that a relationship that was once extremely vital in their lives — a relationship that they nurtured and sacrificed for — a relationship that had so much incredible power — will never end respectfully. Or have the potential of having some kind of mutual understanding.
“I wish we could both talk about how our relationship suffered. I’m quite willing to take my share of the responsibility, but they refuse to talk. I haven’t seem my parents in years.”
“I’ll never know what her true feelings are. I hear that she blames me for everything, but I’m willing to hear what she has to say. I want her to know that I really cared for her.”
“He just disappeared out of my life. I still don’t have a clue what went wrong.”
What do you do if a relationship ends and there’s no emotional closure? Or they completely cut themselves off from you? And remain angry and bitter toward you?
Unfortunately, it happens all the time and you can be left not knowing what to do. It’s a helpless feeling.
What You Can Do to Get Closure On Your Own…
There are things you can do to help yourself get the closure you need. It takes time and patience. But you can do it. Here are four ways to you to get emotional closure — for yourself.
Realize that not everyone has the willingness to take responsibility for themselves.
Often the conversation you can imagine having is just that. It’s in your imagination — or your fantasy. The other person doesn’t have the capacity to have an objective conversation with you. They’re not withholding something from you. They weren’t ever capable of doing that in the first place. You misjudged. You thought you could fix them. They don’t know how to take responsibility for themselves. They want to blame you, and live in that blame. Maybe they’re a narcissist and can’t fathom their own culpability. But there’s simply no way they’re going to sit down with you, and rationally and reasonably talk about the issues that ate away at your relationship.
You’re only in control of half of that discussion. You can’t force it to happen. It won’t work. You may have to grieve this.
Quit trying so hard and give it time.
If someone is blaming and even vicious toward you, your attempts at fixing it by trying to change their mind is probably only fueling the flame. Your own anxiety will stay ramped up. Give it time. Give it space. Maybe slowly, with time, things are likely to cool off.
Maybe you’ll get closure. Maybe you won’t. You can live with both .
Maintain your own integrity.
This lack of closure is especially hard if the two of you have children together. If they have an agenda to disparage you in front of the kids, or maintain a blaming stance. you can worry how your kids will handle that. If it’s an old friendship that has deteriorated, it can feel awkward to maintain other shared friendships. If family, you may have to explain that you don’t have a relationship anymore with a family member, and set a boundary about discussing it.
You can grow to trust that who you are will shine through. Be mindful of your own integrity and don’t be controlled by what the other is doing or saying.
Guide your own life in a way that reflects your values. Your children will learn. Your friends will take sides or they won’t. If your biological family is not available, you can create your own family full of people you choose to have in your life.
Make sure you’re moving through your own feelings.
It’s hard enough when relationships end that you’ve valued or worked hard on. Add a lack of closure to that picture, and it can cause a more complicated grief.
As in all grief, try to notice whether or not you’re moving through all the emotions of loss: denial, anger, fear, sadness. Bu take time to grieve. It’s when you get stuck in one stage of grief that your feelings can become completely overwhelming and entrenched.
You can give yourself closure. You can accept it’s never going to happen within the past relationships. And you can move on. Whatever shame or anger or disappointment you feel, you can let go.
You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
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This was originally published on July 30, 2016 and was updated on March 2, 2019.