One very common topic in the correspondence that I sometimes get is the topic of closure. Everyone who has been through the aftermath of an affair seems to be seeking it. And this includes both the spouse who cheated and the spouse who was cheated on. Closure can be very elusive. Sometimes, it seems as if the more you chase it, the harder it is to obtain. People often seek it in a variety of places. They think that they will get it if they confront the other woman or make their spouse fear for their marriage. They think they will get it when they lose the weight, get the upper hand in the marriage, or go through months of counseling. Some even divorce and find that they still don’t have it. Because of course, none of these things guarantees it. People tend to keep track of how long it takes. Most every one who I hear from seems to think that they should have found it by now.
I might hear from a wife who says: “during this whole process of getting over the affair, my number one goal has been closure. I don’t have a lot of demands and expectations, really. I don’t wish to turn back time. I am not stupid enough to think that I could convince myself that the affair never happened or that it’s possible to never feel the pain again. But what I want more than anything is closure. Because I feel that closure will lessen the pain significantly and allow for me to move on with my life. I want to wake up in the morning and feel relatively normal. I don’t want the affair to be on the forefront of my mind all of the time. I don’t want to feel so wounded most of every day. The weird thing about all of this is that I have done everything that I know to do to move on. I’ve gotten counseling. I had a nasty confrontation with the other woman and I wrote her out of my life. I have tried very hard to rebuild my marriage. And I have even told my husband that I have forgiven him. And yet, I still feel trapped. I don’t feel closure. My friend says that this is all a fallacy and that there is never truly closure. My friend lost someone she loved to illness and she says that she will never feel at peace with this loss no matter how much time goes by. She says that an affair is similar in that it can never be OK again, which is what you truly need for closure. Is she right?”
I’ve heard people compare affairs to tragedy like death before. I can see why the comparisons are made. But, with death, there are no second chances. It is final. And that is tragic and so painful. With an affair, you do sometimes get a second chance. And if you save your marriage, it doesn’t need to be final. However, I do see the friend’s point somewhat – in that it can never be erased.
However, I don’t think erasure is what you need for closure. And, I think that the way that people define it is often why they think they can never achieve it. Let me explain what (at least in my opinion) closure isn’t.
What Closure Is Not: I find that people tend to think that when they obtain this closure, their life (and their marriage) will automatically be fine again. Or they think that the pain will just be mostly gone (or at least significantly lessened.) They think that the slate will be wiped clean. They hope that they will suddenly get their confidence back and feel good about themselves once again.
People tend to think of closure as almost a threshold that they must step over and then see a huge transformation. It’s as if once they take that step, all of the things that I mentioned above will happen at all once. They envision that on the day that this happens, all the weight is lifted.
Why I Think Closure Is A Gradual (And Sometimes An Ongoing) Process: In my experience, it did not happen all at once. Instead, it was small improvements in little increments during separate periods of time. It was a gradual improvement. And some days I didn’t even notice it. But people did start to comment that I looked better and seemed to be more at peace. And over time, I realized that they were right. I started to have strings and strings of good days. I started building upon my confidence to transform my life in areas outside of my marriage. But I wasn’t always consciously thinking about it. I just moved forward as I felt better.
But never did I think that one day my life was going to be without conflict or pain once I reached that threshold. I believe I do have closure. But there are still struggles in my life. There are still occasional issues in my marriage, although I am now well-educated on how to address those immediately so that they do not grow. I still feel pain sometimes from all areas in my life.
The difference is that I now realize that I am better-served by addressing these things for myself. My husband doesn’t always notice when I’m not at my happiest or at my best. And, even if he did, he wouldn’t know how to best help me. But I know how to do that. And because of all the work that I have done, I am very proactive when something isn’t right in my life. And I know that I have the power to change the things that I can and handle the things I can’t. And I believe that this is what closure is, at least for me.
My Definition: I am by no means an expert. But I hear from an awful lot of people who feel that there is something wrong with them because they don’t have closure yet. I think that this partly because their definition of it is different than mine. You can’t undo what has been done. You can’t forget the past or erase the hurt.
But here is what you can do. You can come to the very hard-won (but very precious) realization that you can only control yourself. But if you learn to do that well, you will have all that you need. Your well being, your sense of self, your confidence, and your knowledge that you are going to be OK – all of these things all come from you.
And as soon as you realize that and accept that power, then to me, you have closure. Because the truth is, once you understand that you are still going to have your best self no matter what happens in your marriage or with your husband, then you really can close this chapter. Because you don’t need for someone else to act in a certain way in order to fulfill your needs. You can do that for yourself. I know that this sounds simplistic, but it is the best, most honest answer that I have.
Closure is really about making a very conscious decision that you are going to give this peace of mind to yourself. You don’t need it from him and you most certainly don’t want to spend another moment in the other woman’s presence. No one else can give it to or take it from you. It’s the knowledge that you have closed this chapter regardless of what happens next. Because you are going to be OK no matter what.