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On Closure: Don't be a hostage of someone else's narrative

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

Closure: Peaceful acceptance that something has changed or ended.

I have counseled many people who, at the end of a relationship, pursue what they think is closure from the other person (or group or organization). As a consequence, they sometimes stay in a relationship that has run its course, or even one that is damaging, hoping that they can arrive at an agreed-upon story of the relationship that is copacetic to both. Or, they continue contact after the supposed ending, seeking this agreement.

By the way, this is not just about romantic relationship, but also applies to friendships, employment relationships, and other changes in our lives.

My advice? Find closure within yourself. Review what you did, and how you and the other person felt, and accept it. How the other person interprets the history is not in your control and trying to convince them that:

  • you’re not a bad person,

  • they wronged you or misunderstood you,

  • there should be no ill will between you ,

is more likely to delay your resolution than to help in any way.

After a relationship ends, it’s natural to need a pause for reflection and healing before being ready to incorporate the change and start fresh. But delayed closure can impede our ability to to live a “regular” life and do the normal things we have to or want to do. It can distract. us and cause us to think so much about the former relationship that it occupies the center of our consciousness daily. Lingering in this pre-closure limbo can cause a feeling of general bitterness and/or longing, and just feeling sad too much, for too long.

Erroneously, many of us, including myself in the past, thought the way to get closure was to engage the other person in some kind of dialogue where you each come to accept the other’s narrative about what happened — or at least come to a common compromise.

More often than not, each party has their own narrative about the relationship and the ending, that the other will never share, and that has to be okay.

Those narratives are generally self serving and arise out of a combination of objective facts, biases and schemas held by each, and the human need to see ourselves as the protagonist, hero, and/or victim. In a couple where one party has the belief that partners are generally unfaithful (based on their own history or what they observed in their family of origin), that partner may push their spouse away with accusations and aggression regardless of the spouse’s disinterest in getting involved with another person while in a relationship. At the end of the relationship, the spouse will probably never make the insecure partner believe that the end of the relationship was because of meanness and hostility — not because of any infidelity. The insecure partner will have mounds of “evidence” (confirmation bias -- only considering information that confirms their general belief) they will use to support their belief that their spouse was always on the prowl. It’s painful to be seen that way — to be unfairly accused — but efforts to convince the other party are destructive, and just keep the dynamic going and prolong the agony of the breakup.

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