Messy Break-Up? Here’s Why You Need To Stop Trying To Get ‘Closure’
When endless movies, books and TV shows focus on the need to seek closure when a relationship ends, its no wonder we all reckon we need it. But Paula Lyne's wondering if we can get along juuust fine without it.
Walking on stage at the American Music Awards in November 2014, Selena Gomez looked composed and utterly confident. But a few lines into her new single, The Heart Wants What It Wants, the tears began to fall. She’s since said that the performance was her final goodbye to her on-off boyfriend Justin Bieber; her way of telling him it was over for good.
“Everybody was talking about the same thing: my relationship,” she recalled in an interview with Elle magazine. “I was so exhausted. I said, ‘I want this [performance] to be the last time I have to talk about this. And acknowledge this feeling. All I want is to move on.’”
Walking away from a relationship that holds so much emotion is an extremely hard thing to do, but according to psychologist Sharron Grainger, it’s infinitely more beneficial than the alternative: returning again and again to the same person in a misguided attempt to seek closure.
The whole idea of ‘closure’ is something that’s dangerously persuasive, says Sharron. “We don’t need closure to end or finally walk away from a relationship,” she confirms. “What we need to do is heal, but returning to the same person will not help with that.”
Walking away’s easier said than done, of course, and we can all point to at least one person in our lives who just can’t decide to stay or go.
“My sister’s going through a terrible time with her boyfriend at the moment,” reveals Rachel*, 25, from Dublin. “He’s a really great guy but the two of them argue a lot, and his family background is pretty complicated, which has caused some problems. She’s just exhausted from all the fighting, and last month she told him it was over, and that he had to move out.
“But for the last three weeks she seems to be changing her mind every day and is constantly calling and texting him. She goes back and forth between needing space and wanting to be close to him. It’s like she’s waiting for some sign to tell her which way to go. What I think she doesn’t understand is that he can’t – and we can’t – tell her what the right choice is, and that she might never get that closure she’s looking for.”
“Don’t try to get the answers to all the questions.”
Sometimes the simplest fix is to accept that there’s no solution, is Sharron’s advice. “Don’t try to get the answers to all the questions,” she emphasises. “Sometimes we just aren’t ready for those answers, and in the end they may not help in the quest to move forward with our lives.”
Sarah*, 27, went through almost two years of back-and-forth with her boyfriend before realising their relationship was a lost cause. “I first ended things in the summer of 2014 after finding out he’d been sexting another woman. That should have been the end of it, but after a few months I took him back,” she explains.
“He really did want to fix things and change his ways, I do believe that. I’d so many doubts about us but I pushed them down because I wanted the future with him we’d always talked about. He’d always talk about how happy we were when we first started dating, and would say he knew we could get back to that point again. So I went along with it and tried to fix things.
“I broke up with him again last February, but got cold feet after a few weeks and started calling him, asking if we could try again. We lasted another year together before I finally accepted that if it didn’t feel right in my gut, then it probably wasn’t right to begin with. Now, all I feel is relief. It’s very freeing.”
By shunning the need for closure, you’re taking ownership of your own happiness, which is an incredibly gratifying achievement. Yes, you can expect to feel anxious and confused at times, and that’s fine, but the key is learning to sit with those emotions and process them, rather than running straight back in the direction you came from.
“Now when I feel myself getting into a negative stream of thought, I call my best friend rather than my ex-boyfriend,” says Sarah. “It’s incredible how much calmer I feel after finally calling it a day. It’s like a switch has flicked in my head.”
Let’s face it, there’s never going to be a quick and easy route out of an on-off relationship. Hell, even Selena was spotted looking cosy with Justin recently despite her forceful goodbye at the AMAs. But if you can accept that you’re the one in control of your own happiness – and no-one else – then you’re definitely off to a good start to opening the door to a brand new life.
This article first appeared in STELLAR’s June issue. The October issue is on shelves now.
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