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.