NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

In an ideal world, couples would work out the end of their relationship in a mutually respectful way that would allow for closure.  While this is possible for some couples, for many couples this isn't possible, for a variety of reasons, and each person in the former relationship has to find closure in his or her own way (see my article: Overcoming the Heartbreak of a Breakup).

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

In a situation that is volatile or when one or both people feel unable or unwilling to communicate with each other, closure might not be possible for the couple.  But most of the time, people feel a need for closure and it becomes frustrating when this isn't possible.  It can also prolong the grieving process after the breakup.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario which is representative of one of these situations:

Ina and Ted
Ina and Ted were in a relationship for five years.  They lived together for the last three years.

Although they loved each other very much, one of their ongoing problems was that Ted didn't like to talk about his feelings and he became impatient when Ina wanted to talk about her feelings or about the relationship.

Ina felt very frustrated by Ted's refusal to talk about feelings, and he felt annoyed by Ina's need to talk  (see my article:  Are Your Emotional Needs Being Met in Your Relationship?).

Ina was aware that Ted came from a family where the only emotion that was expressed was anger.  Ted's father was especially volatile when he got angry and, although he never hit Ted, Ted was frightened by his father's angry outbursts.

He also grew up being frightened by his own anger or any strong emotions that he experienced.  Whenever he experienced a strong emotion, his first impulse was to push it down.

It took Ted a while to tell Ina that he loved her, and throughout their relationship, it still made him feel uncomfortable.

Since Ted wouldn't allow any strong emotions, after five years, the relationship felt "flat" to Ina.  When she tried to talk to Ted about this, he walked into another room.

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

A few days later, Ina came home and she was shocked to discover that all of Ted's possessions were gone.  At first, she thought they had been robbed.  But when she saw that many valuable items were still in the apartment and all of her things were still there, she realized that he had moved out without a word.  There was no message--not even a note.

Ina tried to call Ted on his cellphone and at his work number, but he didn't pick up and he didn't respond to her messages.

Although she knew that Ted didn't like to deal with strong emotions, she couldn't believe that he would end the relationship this way.  She still loved him, and she hoped that they would be able to work things out.

After a few days, he sent her a text in which he told her that she needed to "move on" with her life because things weren't working out between them.

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

Ina was shocked, angry and hurt that, after five years, this is all he had to say to her and that he was saying it in a text message.

She tried, in vain, to get Ted to speak with her, but he resisted all of her efforts.

Not knowing what else to do, Ina started therapy because she felt overwhelmed by the breakup, how it occurred and that Ted refused to speak with her.  She knew he wasn't communicative about his feelings, but she never would have guessed that he would do something like this.

Ina found herself ruminating about what might have happened that caused Ted to break off their relationship in this way.

She felt a rapport with her therapist and felt safe being vulnerable in therapy.  She realized that she really missed feeling heard and understood in her relationship.

After a few weeks in therapy, Ina admitted that the relationship had been on the rocks for a while and it was bound to end.  But she still felt a need to have closure.  She would have preferred to have closure with Ted, but she knew that this wasn't going to be possible.

In her therapy sessions, her therapist asked Ina to imagine talking to Ted about her feelings and to say out loud what she was feeling.

At first, Ina felt awkward doing this, but as she opened up, she felt how freeing it was to express her feelings "to Ted" (even though he wasn't really there).  She told him how hurt she was and how disappointed she felt that he ended their relationship this way and refused to speak with her.

As she expressed her feelings, she had a realization that, all along, she had been asking Ted to do something that he was incapable of doing--to listen to her express her feelings and for him to express how he felt.

On some level, she always knew this, but when she spoke out loud, as if Ted was in the room with her, she had a deep awareness of it.

In time, this helped Ina to inwardly forgive Ted, even though they never spoke again.  Realizing that he was incapable of doing what she wanted and needed allowed her to let go of her anger.

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

Over the next several months, Ina felt that she was able to have her own sense of closure about the breakup in therapy, and she realized what she needed emotionally in her next relationship (see my article: Learning From Past Romantic Relationships).

There are many reasons why closure isn't possible within a relationship.

The scenario above presents one example, but there are numerous reasons.

Just because you can't have closure within the relationship doesn't mean that you can't have closure within yourself.

Even when two people are able to talk about the end of their relationship, one or both people might still feel that there's no closure.

Sometimes, one person in the relationship can use the idea of closure in order to maintain contact with the other person and this can lead to a form of harassment (see my article:  Breakup: When Closure at the End of a Relationship Leads to Harassment).

Therapy allows for another possibility for closure.

Getting Help in Therapy
Working with a skilled psychotherapist can help you to have closure around the end of a relationship even when you can't have closure with your ex (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

This doesn't mean that all the loose ends are tied up in a neat bow or that it will be quick or easy, but it does mean that you can emotionally heal without being in a protracted state of grief after a breakup.

If you're going through a breakup and you need emotional support, you owe it to yourself to get help in therapy.

Friends and family might be supportive, but they're not trained to help you to work through your sadness, anger and grief (see my article: Talking to a Psychotherapist Is Different From Talking to a Friend).

Getting help in therapy can allow you to heal emotionally.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.