Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The snake oil that is "closure"

"It think closure is a perfectly good word for business deals and real estate...but closure is a terrible word in human relationships."
~Pauline Boss on NPR's On Being with Krista Tippett

How many of us are convinced we'll never move on from emotional struggles because, as we put it, we never received "closure"? Closure, in our culture, generally means something like this: The person who inflicted the wound recognizes the error of his ways, apologizes for it, we accept that apology, and, like magic, all bad feelings vanish.
Closure, we believe, will loosen that knot in our stomach. It will unclench our hearts. Closure is the vocabulary of soap operas and texting teens but it's a powerful enough idea that it seeps into the mindset of even those of us who know better. It is the snake oil we buy that will cure us of heartache.
Closure is dangerous.
Dangerous because it hands over all control over our healing to someone else, or to some set of circumstances that we, on our own, can't possibly create.
We imagine "closure" if only the OW would apologize to us for the pain she's caused. Or "closure" might come if our husband admitted that she meant nothing. Perhaps closure is about seeing her fired or divorced.
It might be about flying to Peru or Cincinnati, Ohio, to revisit every site he visited with her.
What closure promises us, what makes it so alluring, is a door slamming shut on our pain. Closure, we believe, is about facing forward instead of backward.
But life and loss are not that tidy.
The desire for closure is powerful. It's what makes the "dump him" narrative so appealing and so entrenched in our culture. To stay with the person who hurt us doesn't give us or those who love us "closure". Here we are, sleeping with the enemy. There's an ambiguity to our pain, as Pauline Boss would put it, that makes it profoundly uncomfortable. The person we love is still here. But, at the same time, he's not, replaced by this "new" person who's capable of inflicting such pain. How often do we say to ourselves in the wake of betrayal, "I'm married to a stranger." Who is this person who did this to me?
Those of us who stay married might, eventually, come to a place where the "old" him and the "new" him converge and we're able to see that he was this person all along: Someone capable of loving us but also capable of hurting us.
Those who, on the surface, have less ambiguity because the marriage dissolves, are nonetheless left with this idea that the person they loved and who loved them was never that person. That we were duped. Conned.
Closure, we imagine, puts everything back in its rightful place. An apology from him. An admission of total responsibility. The chance to reassemble our lives in a way that makes sense.
I don't believe any of it.
Whether we stay or go, we are left with heartache. And the clearer we become about what we can control and what we can't, the more quickly we begin to heal.
This means abandoning the notion of closure and replacing it with an understanding that healing is incremental, that there will be no magic moment in which the door slams on our pain and we move into sunlight.
By refusing to wait for someone else to deliver us the liberation from pain that we need, we can control our own narrative. By giving ourselves the validation we need, we free ourselves from relying on another to provide it. By taking steps to care for our own broken heart, we not only treat ourselves as worthy of time and attention, we make it clear that another's time and attention is simply icing, not the cake itself.
As the saying goes, if you're waiting for an apology, then give yourself one.
Take a blank page and a pen. Or look at yourself in a mirror:
I'm sorry you're in pain.
I'm sorry others don't always see your worth.
I'm sorry you didn't trust your own wisdom.
As for closure?
I'm sorry but I'm not waiting for you to follow this script I've written in which you magically deliver the words or actions I think I need in order to be freed from my pain. Instead, I will sit with my grief, trusting that I am strong enough to feel it and knowing it that I will move through it. With or without you. 


  1. Realizing this is when I started to really heal. In the beginning I was obsessed with every detail and exactly what he said. In the end I realized he could never say enough, I could never learn enough to ever make it better or me okay with it. It was horrible what he did and seeing how much he beat himself up for it and how he wanted to change made me realize this. Once I made the decision to move forward vs obsessing over the past actions and decisions we started to heal at such a rapid rate. It also allowed him to just feel the way he felt vs working so hard to provide explanations. I also found that over time his perspective shaped how he saw his actions and decisions. On dday he was pretty defensive and had his guard up and over time he just sees everything so differently. I think as he has evolved he sees himself almost from the outside too.

    In the end neither of us can change what he did all we can do is work together to make a future together. If one of us does not want that then we will find a way forward. So far so good. And as far as closure I do not even see that as a realistic option. It seems fake. As of now I do not see it going away. It is a part of our marriage. It is part of our history. At times sad but now I see it more as something we have made it through and I am proud of both of us. I feel like if we said closure had happened and wiped our hands clean that would be short sighted. The topic comes up once in a while but honestly it is in a constructive way. It is how it affects or applies to our current or future. I do not see it ever not being a consideration in many ways. What is interesting is I talk about it in such a mater of fact way no emotions really connected to it, however my husband is still really emotional about it.

    Giving myself and us as a couple the permission to not need closure or feel like we are done with his betrayal really has helped us move to the next level. Thanks for this post.

  2. This is amazing. I have struggled with the idea of when, if ever I would have closure with this. This is exactly what I needed to hear. There is no such thing as closure after the A. i so needed this. Thank you Elle. As always you have the right words I need to hear

  3. I have secretly longed for some kind of closure with the OW's. I like the statement about moving on with or without them. Accepting the apology I will never get is hard; but some kind of closure event with them is a silly thing to hope for and gives them too much power over my path.

    1. I feel you ann. In my case the COW was a married relative. My dday 3 mos ago wasn't until 11 years after the PA. This is someone I cooked for. Someone who's dinner at a restaurant I paid for. She invited my H for sex when I was 8 mos preg with our 2nd child. Yes, he said yes and he broke his vows. But it is a double betrayal when you knew the COW. She had stayed 'friends' with me on FB all those years. I sent her a private message "I know what you did". Her response was to block me. No apology. I think all I wanted was "I am so sorry" - nope, nothing. Her character is clear to me and now my H - unremorseful lying cheater. It's going to take me a very long time to forgive the COW but I will eventually because I am nothing like that self-serving evil manipulator.

  4. I knew you would have brilliant things to say about this interview. Thank you for bringing such clarity.

  5. Closure is such a powerful word but I agree it is not something that should be used in context with regards to human relationships, especially ones that have been practically bulldozed by an affair. If anything that word should not be used at all. I would also like to add that the term 'moving on' should be put on this list of no-nos!
    The concept of closure as well as 'moving on' implies that there is a line drawn underneath the emotional offence that has been committed against us. That it has been forgotten. Well, unfortunately, our hearts and minds do not work like that. You'd have to be a Saint to be able to give full closure to something like an affair.
    Instead, I believe, the best way to deal with the emotional fallout of an affair is to 'adjust and adapt' because this horrid act has become part of our lives and it is something we will take to our graves.


  6. I never expected an apology from the OW. She went after my husband in front of me and clearly told him in an email that she didn't care about my feelings and what she did to me or our kids. We were all coworkers and I would watch her follow him around like a dog in heat. She had no dignity, no self respect or morals and neither did any of her friends who all were encouraging her to try and break up our marriage. But, she demanded that my husband end things with her face to face after he tried to take his life, so that she could have closure. Go figure..

    1. Oh my goodness, Anonymous. Your post practically mirrors my situation! The OW actually said that I should be happy (once she ensnared my now ex) by saying '...that I was free to find someone else and that I should give thanks for that!' She too made it clear that she wanted him and effectively wanted the life that I had. Her actions broke up two families and she has justified it by saying that 'we will all get through this eventually' and that her 'faith' in God keeps her going. How do you deal with someone like that?!!
      Love and hugs to you, Anonymous. I know how you feel :-)


    2. mumstar1969, It's funny how they bring God into this mess. And how God keeps them going. If it wasn't for God I don't know how I would have gotten through my husband's suicide attempt and deal with this woman and her friends. She bought him a phone so he could hid it in his truck after he came back home after I found out. He called me from the hospital and told me where to find it and I smashed it to pieces after I told her I had it. She didn't care she didn't want it back. I then blocked her phone numbers and she would use other people's phones to try and contact him along with emails. He finally had to threaten her with a restraining order to get rid of her. This affair only lasted about a week and a half. But, she thought that she was going to be taking my place in his life. I often wonder what really goes on in these women's minds. Part of me would really like to know how they can do the things that they do and still think that it's all right and that everyone involved, kids and all, will get through it eventually. My h got told from the manager of the restaurant we worked at, that his kids will adjust. <3

    3. Anon and Mumstar,
      This is an ongoing issue with me. How could she?
      In my case, the OW had an opportunity to walk away when I found out but still believed it was an emotional affair, yet she didn't. She re-initiated contact with my husband and I happened to walk in as he was responding to her FB message. I called her and she attempted to lie to me. I was furious so I texted her at which point she attempted to turn the situation around on me with more lies, all the while knowing that she had been having sex with him and I had no clue. She "wasn't the problem". in my relationship. (No, but she was at least 50% of it.). She then lectured me about forgiving my husband even with broken trust and "allow him to move forward" because he loved me and my kids. I ended it by asking her to be respectful of my marriage. Within a week, she was having sex with him again. When I discovered the full truth about two months later, I texted her to let her know I knew the truth. The next day when I had calmed down, I sent her another text that was very straightforward and said that she owed me an apology and thug I knew all the details of what happened between them and was now also aware that she had no class. (The only place they ever had sex was in his vehicle in public parking lots and mostly on lunch breaks.). I told her she knew full well along what she was doing and that she wasn't a victim but that she was incredibly selfish and lacked morals. She responded with a lengthy text saying she never intended to take my husband away from his kids (Apparently, I was the only one she wanted to take him away from, hence the ultimatums to stop having sex with him until they were "both single".). She told me she wasn't a bad person despite what I "viewed as" her character. She said she had put her "own selfishness above common decency and common sense". If her actions following that had been in line with her apology, maybe I would have believed she was sincere. Sadly, they weren't.
      This is a woman in her early 40s, married with three children of her own. I don't know that I will ever understand her behavior. I should also mention that her sister, who she ran crying to after I found out the full truth, was cheated on by her husband. (I know this because the sister then texted my husband, compared him to her ex-husband, threatened both of us and defended the OW, saying she had done some bad things but didn't deserve to need "attacked" by me.) So the OW had some concept of how damaging infidelity is, yet chose to participate in causing that kind of damage.
      I think a major part of the problem is that I keep trying to apply rational thought to irrational behavior. There are definitely some major issues with a person who behaves this way. I think I've come to terms with my husband's issues and while it doesn't excuse his behavior, it at least helps me to understand that he was not in a good place. Maybe it's just my personality, but not knowing what her issues are, I find it harder to come to terms with her behavior. I wish I could just tell myself, "She's broken." and move on. It's a struggle. I suppose betond the basic expectation of human decency, I expected the commonality of being wives and mothers would have prevented her from hurting me in the ways she did. But if you're that broken, I guess that never enters your mind.

    4. Dandelion. You are right they are broken. I think they like the challenge of trying to destroy someone else's marriage. This wasn't the first time the OW in our case has tried to destroy someone's marriage. She has a history of it. When she was getting chummy with my h, she told him that her sister destroyed someone's marriage and then left that guy. It wasn't her sister it was her. She also tried to get sympathy from him saying that her live in fiance was abusing her and that's why she left him. That wasn't true either because she ran right back to him when this mess blew up in her face and put all the blame on my husband. And then she told anyone one and everyone that we worked with that my h went after her and that blew up in her face too. Just show's you what kind of liars these women really are and what they are capable of getting away with until it backfires on them.

    5. Anon and Dandelion,
      I read both your responses and I just see a pattern of behaviour from the OW which was the same in my situation. Anon, you used the words '...kids and all will get through this eventually'. I had to gasp when I read that line because they are the exact words that the OW spoke to me. She presented herself and her reasoning as the source of peace and calm during this horrific storm. This was truly unbelievable as she was the cause of the storm! To this day she acts pious and holy and believes that we should all be friends. Only recently, she sent me an email saying 'we should bury the hatchet' WTF!!!! For my own peace of mind I feel I may need to go to a magistrates court just to see if I can get some sort of order banning her from contacting me.
      Dandelion, you said that the OW in your situation lectured you on how to behave towards your husband. I too received a lecture not on forgiveness but on how to behave! Apparently my grief and anger was not allowed. I was supposed to accept and almost be happy for them and the fact that they found each other in this life.
      If you add her belief in the second coming and that Satan has dominion over this world you are dealing with something / someone who is so disconnected from their actions and has no understanding of the consequences of them and then uses the shield of religion to hide behind.
      Anon and Dandelion, I feel for you and I send you my love. We deserve peace in our lives.


  7. Snake oil is a good description. Closure is one of those things that like happily ever after is an illusion. The first few weeks after DDAY are a loopy blur in my head. Somehow in that haze I made the choice to stay. Since then it's been like a series of small goals.if I could only get through the holidays, if I could make it to the new year. If I can just last through the kids basketball season. If I can hold it together for our spring break trip.
    With each milestone I look for closure.....and it fails to find me. The pain and anger are just as strong as the day of reckoning.
    I can control the urge to let the darkness take over....but I cannot control the darkness. It is there, lurking, waiting to catch me driving to the store alone or in a movie that breaks through my resolve and opens the floodgates.

    Closure....sneaky bastard. Guess I have some learning to do. Closure and forgiveness....

    Oh and then there is the whole pock myself up off the floor and pretend to be human thing.

    When does it get easier? When does the hurt not feel stronger than the rebuilding?

    1. Anonymous, I have been asking myself those same questions.

      3 mos. after dday and I have not had a single day that I haven't cried because the man I loved could hurt me and our family so cruelly. Most of the time I am alone so he has no idea. I did cry in front of him the other day and he said "I thought you were better". I asked him how long after the PA he felt guilty and he said "the whole time" (11 years). I think with that question/answer he finally realized I will never not have pain that HE caused.

      How far out are you?

    2. I am about 5 months out.

      And it hurts every single day.

      I will say that he knows the pain he caused. He knows I may never "get over it".

      I still cry. A lot. A lot.

      Every day I fight the urge to lash out.

      I constantly question am I doing the right thing?

      I question my own judgement on everything.

      Closure is so big...

      This journey I didn't chose to be on.

      It's hard to really feel not alone.

    3. I do not think there is any time frame we can apply. I will say at 3 months I was a mess still navigating this and crying every day too. Dday 2 came at month 5. I kept pressing him. It was not new behavior but he lied about how long both affairs lasted.

      I would say at almost 2 years since dday we are in a really good place. I have worked through it and have little emotional response. He seems to feel it more still. Our marriage, relationship, friendship and family are stronger than ever. Not perfect but we are communicating well and working so hard that we are benefiting from it all. This is after my husband had two overlapping affairs for 10 years, lied to my face... I know we were helped by the fact that he ended both of them before dday and didn't want to be with them etc. but on dday he was unsure what he wanted or was capable of. I knew based on who I was that I needed to give it my all. It was a hard 9 months. At that point things began to move forward and peogrsss. But I felt like a roller coaster even then. Once things got a lot better I struggled with feeling like we were in the status quo and it felt too similar to before.

      Sorry for the long post but I came here, went to my therapist and gave myself a year and at that point would re-evaluate. It feels like forever when you are in the deepest darkest spot but you will find your way whatever you choose!

    4. Anonymous 2/22,
      I know the feeling of being alone. Please know you have a great support system here. There are so many of us who understand.
      I think it's normal to feel how you do at 5 months. I have shed more tears than I knew I could and we are approaching the two year mark. My anger toward my husband has died down. I'm able to be more compassionate because I see the work he's doing. I go back and forth with my anger toward the OW. Some days I see her for the broken mess she is and other days I fight the urge to expose her so she feels the same pain I have. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the healing has come in phases. Elle has said, and you will probably read many times on this site, all you have to do is take your next right step.

    5. Goodness ladies, I was a sobbing mess for the first year and probably 6 months with more non-crying bouts towards the end of the first year but I have to tell you that at 20 months out I still have moments when I sob my heart out for all the things I still grieve about the past but I'm learning that nothing can be changed about the things that happened in the past and that I do not want to live there because it robs me of the joy of today and being in the moment. With the help of this blog, feedback from my anonymous friends here, therapy, mindfulness, time, exercise and a whole lot of self-care I'm slowly putting all of this behind me with a new perspective on the why and how of addiction in my husband's life. The scar is always there and there are many things that touch and irritate that scar on a regular basis but the scab is almost gone so the bleeding is far less. I'm learning just how tough I am and I'm liking what I see. Please, please, please give yourself time and grant yourself grace. This is an awful thing to experience whether you are young or 65 like me. Betrayal by the one person you trusted with your whole heart is devastating. Getting over this is not possible but getting through it takes time, sleep, and attention to yourself. Much love to all of you new members. This sucks big time but it feels so much better with 20 months behind me then it did the first year.

    6. Anonymous,
      Let me start by assuring you that you are not alone. There are, literally, thousands of us on this site alone each day who are struggling to find a way through the pain of betrayal.
      Let me ask you: What steps are either of you taking to process this? Is he in counselling? Is he taking a hard look at himself to figure out why he made this choice? Is he supporting you as you struggle to feel safe in your marriage? Five months out is actually not so long, though I know it feels like an eternity. What support do you have?
      Please feel free to share on this site, bring your questions and concerns, or just write your pain. There's tons of good advice here and plenty of women who know what you're going through and can share what helped them. Welcome to the club nobody wanted to join. We're glad you found us.

    7. Thank you ladies. My solitude is something I both value and loathe.

      We are both in counseling, me trying to deal with the massive issues his actions caused and him dealing with his massive issues that caused this.

      We are taking life a day at a time.

      We are trying to rebuild.

      Some days the burden feels like it is mine alone.

      Because basically I have to decide to move forward every day....with someone who has broken me beyond repair. Or to walk this journey alone.

      Rock and a hard place.

      Not a soul I can talk to, to really just let it all out.

      Some days I just want to scream at the world to f off.

      Other days I just want to wake up whole again.

  8. Timely post for me. After Elle's last reminder that it's unlikely we ever put this in the past I've been thinking and reading about living life with a man like my husband. I came to the conclusion that there is never "closure" because once something has touched your heart and soul, it leaves a mark forever. It is the accepting of this new landmark in my heart that allows me to move on and focus on today and my future. It saddens me to think that I'll likely never fully trust my husband again and I can live with that because I do trust him in so many important ways. I do trust myself however and that is not only major progress but something I feared I'd lost after the knowledge of D-day shattered my life and belief system. I read the transcript from the link and liked it. I also read one of the older posts referencing closure which lead me to some other things to think about. None of us will have the life we thought we would have, uncluttered and untouched by betrayal but we can still have a good life if only we trust in what we need to help ourselves feel whole again.

    1. Exactly, it is not closure but acceptance. And it has come with time and a lot of hard work. I agree with everything you say. It is how I feel both about my husband and myself.

  9. Elle, good for you challenging the status quo of what is suppose to work, be good for me and is a poor excuse for get over it.

  10. Wow. I couldn't pinpoint what I've been dealing with the last few months. This is it. Thank you again for your wise words. I so needed to read this in order to move toward healing.

  11. Love this! I had to take a break from counseling because I kept looking to it as a a gateway to "closure". At the time, I didn't understand why I needed such a break but after reading this is makes so much sense! I was getting frustrated and let down because counseling wasn't giving me closure. There really is no such thing. I have had the OW grovel for my forgiveness..,no closure.,,my husband spoils me rotten and has bent over backwards to do the things for me he once held without regard (such as couple time away from kids)...no closure...my husband is every wife's dream husband (now!)...no closure...

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article, and quite frankly it actually give a piece of "closure". It answers that undying question of "when will I ever get over this"... I won't. We will learn to live through and along side the pain vs past the pain. I love Lynn Less Pain's description of a drunk driver (probably since we are both ER nurses👍🏻). It's truly an analysis I can relate to and a perspective I can embrace. My H always says his pain is so great because he has live with the fact that HE did it. I could never come to a point of giving a rats ass for this pain he cried over, but after Lynn's description it is so much easier to comprehend now. Elle, thank you for posting such a thought provoking article.



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