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Closure After a Tough Breakup

Woman looking out window
These letters from guys had something in common: A need to understand why the breakup happened and to know how they can improve in future relationships.

Recently, some Boundless readers have written in to tell us of the heartbreak they experienced after a breakup. I noticed that a few letters from guys had something in common: A need to understand why the breakup happened and to know how they can improve in future relationships. I can relate. I still remember the pain and confusion after a college girlfriend broke up with me. And while the sickening heartbreak is what I remember the most, the nagging sense of not understanding why haunted me for months. Why hadn’t she felt like this relationship could continue? Hadn’t we both felt like this relationship was God’s will? Was there something incurably wrong with me?

Every relationship is different, but I think the following generalization is fair: Girls wanting out of a serious relationship owe it to guys to explain, as clearly as they can, why they are breaking things off. This is also true for guys breaking up with a girl, and it’s also important in a mutual split. Each person should walk away knowing why the relationship had failed — as best as anyone can know these things.

Finding the right words can be difficult, particularly if there are requests from the other person to “talk things over.” But a clear explanation is necessary, even if you can’t do it face-to-face. Write a letter. Record an mp3 file. Do something that clarifies. And don’t hide behind “It’s not me, it’s God” scapegoating. If you really feel that God is influencing the decision, give the other person whatever reasons you felt God has given you. Make your explanation final, if that’s what you intend. Don’t leave your ex hanging on to the false hope of “some time apart,” unless you truly believe the relationship has a future after you’ve resolved other matters.

With all that said, from a guy’s perspective, I have to wonder if closure can even come from understanding a girl’s reasoning. Most guys on the “losing” end of a breakup won’t agree with the reasons given. In fact, I think many guys need to have matters presented in straightforward terms so that they have something to push back against, a framework through which they can tell their girlfriend how she is mistaken. (“I think we have lots in common.” “We don’t really fight that often.”)

It’s natural to resist a girl’s reasons for a breakup, to present your perspective and hope she will see things your way. But once the relationship is over, I don’t think many of us are ever completely satisfied with a girl’s explanation. We might come to agree with the decision, but we’ll always remember who broke up with whom and how much it hurt.

So does anything bring healing? I suppose we’ve all heard the standard responses: We are healed by the passing of time. The presence of friends. God’s grace and the hope that He knows our future. I do think we need to give ourselves time to feel the misery and sorrow of heartbreak. We are designed for commitment and loyalty, and once our heart has made that promise, it sure feels like divorce when the girl doesn’t reciprocate. The pain is natural. And I think it helps us recognize a basic truth about how God has wired us: Love, when we find it, is meant to last.

One thing I know that will not help the healing process is to become bitter toward your ex-girlfriend. Oh, I know it’s easy to believe that we’re somehow “hurting” our ex, and we secretly hope they suffer regret or will get their own heart broken just so they know what it feels like. We may even be tempted to find someone else to be seen with so that our ex regrets the breakup. But none of this helps us heal. Bitterness only burdens one person.

A big step toward healing is to show love toward your ex-girlfriend. No, not the kind where you call or email asking to talk things over, or buy her groceries, or offer to change the oil in her car. Not the desperate, creepy stuff. Instead, let your heart simply say farewell. Let your goodbye be a manly act of forgiveness, of honestly hoping and praying for the best in her future. It’s not easy, I know. After my breakup in college, I sat at my computer one night and typed up a long prayer, thanking God for the opportunity to know this girl, asking Him to protect her and guide her decisions in the future. In many ways, I felt like I was forcing the prayer. And it certainly didn’t erase the pain. But it did help me process the breakup, recognizing the pain had a place and that it wouldn’t last forever.

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About the Author

Vance Fry

Vance Fry has been an editor in the media publishing group at Focus on the Family since 2010. Prior to his time at Focus, Vance was an editor and English teacher with Overseas Radio and Television in Taipei, Taiwan. Vance and his wife Marcia (pronounced with a silent final “a”) have four children. In his free time, Vance enjoys hanging out with his family and making stuff in the garage.

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