Getting Closure When It's Over

Dear Toni--

My boyfriend and I broke up two days ago over the phone. For the last nine months we were together, I felt uncomfortable about telling him what was lacking in the relationship due to fear of losing him. I finally got up the courage to share my wants and needs with him. Unfortunately, I did not receive any feedback nor see any improvement. He never opened up with me, so I started constantly reminding him about my feelings (and no, I don't believe I was nagging). He finally gave up and told me that he was unable to provide the kind of emotional support I deserve. I felt wounded and even had the urge to ask him to reconsider. But I thought about it and realized that he may never be able to open up with me, so I decided to let it go.

I'd like to know what really went wrong in our relationship in order to move on and I have a feeling that there were issues he would not address. In order to find closure, I suggested we meet this weekend, which he agreed to. My question is--considering that he seems to have difficulty sharing his feelings (even when he tried to break up with me on the phone he sounded apprehensive), how do I get him to open up and share his honest feelings with me? --In Search of Answers

Dear In Search Of Answers--

You sound like a bright woman who is capable of making good choices even when they result in (at least short term) pain. The sad truth is that we can't make anyone do anything. We can try to help create an environment that encourages honesty and safe sharing, but that is all.

Begin by making sure you use "I" statements in your meeting with him. This is an easy technique in which you begin each statement with I instead of "you." For example, "I didn't realize my behavior was contributing to your feeling that way." "I never intended to be so critical and place all the blame on you." By speaking to your own feelings you are not placing blame, rather you would be helping to facilitate the creation of a climate that encourages open and honest communication, thus allowing both of you to safely share what you need to. It will also assist you in getting his involvement if you ask him for his help. Try something like, "I have been having difficulty because I don't understand. I would really appreciate it if you could help me with this." It would be hard for anyone, especially someone you were once intimately involved with, to turn down a sincere and gentle plea for assistance.

Secondly, listen deeply to what he has to say and don't interrupt until he is finished. Maintain eye contact and when he is done, try another technique called reflective listening. This is done by paraphrasing back to him what he has just said. An example of this is, "When I said that it made you feel inadequate and unappreciated by me." It helps him to feel heard and understood which should help the discussion to continue. If you feel it is necessary to refute something he has said, do this again using an I statement and a neutral, calm tone of voice.

Most importantly, don't approach this closure meeting with any hidden agendas. If you are harboring any thoughts of changing him in order to get the relationship with him that you have always wanted, he will sense this. He could see this meeting as a trap in which you are trying to manipulate him, rather than an honest attempt to put this ended relationship to rest.

This is your best shot at getting the closure you seek. However, the rest is really up to him.

(from September 2005)

Want to read other columns on this subject?

"How do You Know What to Believe?"
List of more
"Grieving Lost Love"

"Being "Nice" Holds No Guarantees"


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


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