We’ve been spoonfed the idea of closure since way before we started our quest for love. For me – and so many women of my generation – it started when Rachel left Ross a drunken voicemail on Friends.
She left her message using an unreasonably large mobile phone (in the middle of a restaurant, on a date with another man) and talked at length about her quest for closure when it came to their as-yet-non-existent relationship. The idea was – and still can be – to tell your former beloved “I’m over you” and slam the phone into an ice bucket with gusto, 100% sure you’ve done the right thing.
But what Rachel learnt here, and later on in the show, is the same lesson I’ve learnt and relearnt over the last 10 years of falling in and out of love. Finding closure can feel like the ultimate fairytale. It’s been pedalled into our minds by films, books and TV shows as that lightbulb moment where you have all the answers you need and no longer feel hurt.
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In real life, unfortunately, you will experience this differently. In my experience, getting over someone – or something – is frustrating, incremental and, in essence, a slog. Why is this? Why can we not have that Hollywood moment of clarity that we so dearly crave?
According to Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari, a relationship and family therapist, it’s because closure is a process, not one singular moment.
“Unresolved or surprising hurt or pain might create psychological obstacles that need to be processed, reflected on and worked through before a change in the emotional state and consciousness can happen,” she says. “Closure is a process that allows emotions to come to the surface, a process of making sense of your thoughts, feelings and experiences, and reaching a calmer and more balanced state of mind about the person and the experience.”
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The idea of closure is often interpreted as the need for answers that only the person who has hurt you can give you – and this can be a dangerous trap to fall into.
While I’ve always been openly sceptical about the concept of closure itself when it comes to romantic relationships, I’ve participated in plenty of social exchanges in the hope that I would find some answers to the questions surrounding why each relationship didn’t work out. I’ve gone for an innocent cappuccino or two with an ex, I’ve drunk copious amounts of pints with an ex, I’ve experienced the bittersweet feeling of attending the same wedding (and funeral) as an ex.
But in the end, it didn’t matter how much time had gone by or how much my life had changed. Sometimes those questions can’t be answered by those who left you behind or, equally, those you left behind.
“We might think that answers will offer us comfort, and while at times it can, many other times it doesn’t,” Ben-Ari says. “It is not therefore necessary to receive answers to our questions in order to achieve closure.”
Getting over someone – or something – is frustrating, incremental and, in essence, a slog. Why is this? Why can we not have that Hollywood moment of clarity that we so dearly crave?
Obtaining closure from, and with, the person who hurt you can work, she says, in some cases. But only when both parties are “willing to have an open and healing dialogue and what happened”. She even holds specific therapy for this stage in the process, where people can say “goodbye” to each other, or a chapter in their life, or a person who has passed away, but must be done after emotional processing.
Whatever your situation, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to be in touch with the person who hurt you to work on getting closure. It’s a journey, and a tough one at that, but there are certain changes to look out for to make sure you’re making strides.
“You know you are making progress when you start to see the person in question and your relationship in a more balanced way, whereby you are able to see the positives and challenges you experienced, the lessons you learned, what went wrong and what worked well,” Ben-Ari says.
“You might start to feel more at ease when thinking about them, and might feel empathy, forgiveness and compassion for yourself and the other person, as well as what happened between you.”
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Most importantly, don’t berate yourself for any residual sadness or emotional responses you may have to the situation, she adds. The aim is to work on making those reactions feel less raw to you. “These memories may still bring you sadness, but it will not be at the same level of intensity and frequency as the raw feelings you once had.”
Over the years, when I’ve struggled to move past being hurt, there have been moments of clarity, for sure. When I’ve ran into a former flame in a bar and they’ve acted selfishly and inappropriately, for example, and I’ve realised I’m better off. Or when I’ve recognised toxic behaviour on a TV programme I’m watching or in a book I’m reading, because a person I’d loved acted in exactly the same way towards me.
But has there been a big hallelujah moment where all the answers come raining down on me – from my own subconscious or from the mouth of someone who has broken my heart? Not even once. Rather, it is an ongoing process, choosing every day – or in my case, most days – to choose progress over speculation of the past.
Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari’s top practical tips when it comes to closure
Q When should I try and get some closure?
A Closure is beneficial when you have had time to reflect and process on what happened, rather than when you feel very reactive, enraged or stormy. You want to make sure you are intentional, grounded and calm.
Q What can I do to try and achieve some closure?
A Try having a conversation with an empty chair that represents the other person. Another way is to write your ex partner, or the person who has hurt you, a letter. Then reflect on the letter, edit it, and rewrite it. Read it aloud. This by itself will help you to process and reflect on your thoughts and feelings. You can then choose to either send it to your ex, or burn it, as a symbol of closure. You can also process your feelings with a close friend or family member.