We Need To Open Up About Closure

Closure

EXT. DAY. BOLIVIA.

Butch and Sundance emerge from the barn at a run, guns drawn. Both fire a couple of rounds.

The shot freezes on them and slowly begins to close in. As it does, we hear the commander of the Bolivian force surrounding the pair’s hideout give the order to fire.

There is a long volley of shots. The firing ceases momentarily before the commander repeats the order to fire. There is another sustained volley of shots, during which the image of Butch & Sundance begins to fade to sepia, and then melts away entirely.

It’s arguably one of the greatest endings in movie history.

The moment when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid bet the farm on escaping capture is significant because although we’re reasonably sure they’ve actually bought the farm instead we’ll never be completely certain.

There is no closure to the movie. There’s no girl-gets-guy moment, no defeating of the villain, no Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Akroyd on the beach.

In our hearts, we kind of hope Butch and Sundance made it, that they got to Australia like Butch planned. We want to know if they did, but at the same time we don’t. It is, without doubt, the most satisfyingly unsatisfying film ever made.

And we can learn something from if for ourselves, because life is pretty awful when it comes to tying up loose ends for us. Life is a spaghetti-like nest of hanging threads that we’ll never be able to pull through – and we have to learn to deal with that and move on.

We see many clients who are upset, heartbroken or just plain angry and pissed off because life has been the end of the rake they suddenly stood on and smashed them in the face with a bad ending.

Make no mistake – life is the absolute king (or queen) of leaving you hanging from sudden abandonment followed by ghosted calls, no explanations and no opportunity to find out what went wrong.

But no matter how ‘ouchy’ bad endings are, you make things worse for yourself – and take a sandblaster to your dignity in the process – if you become hellbent on finding what that elusive things we call closure. 

In an ideal world, we’d always get to understand why things happen to us and at Zoe Clews & Associates we’re big advocates of conscious relationships, counselling people to be kind enough to end things with love.

If something isn’t right then leave with love, but make sure you leave. Both elements are crucial for your own emotional health.

The only exception is if you’re a teenager, in which case it’s totally fine to end a relationship by throwing chips in their face.*

But in addition to sometimes being cruel, life is also rarely ideal and people don’t always act as we’d generally prefer them to.

The reality in all that, of course, is that it emphasises the real and uncomfortable truth that ultimately we’re powerless over what other people do, so harking on about closure is often more detrimental than giving you the ‘rounding off’ and ‘boxing away’ that you think you want.

In practice, time has a lot of say in the way things end. A marriage or years-long relationship requires closure and a suitable parting, if it’s possible to deliver them – you’ve both invested huge emotional currency in each other and no matter how difficult the relationship has become, you probably owe it to each other to explain why you no longer felt the way you did.

We are in many ways the product of the junk-food society we’ve created for ourselves. We get high on choice and what we serve ourselves is increasingly disposable as a result. If you get bored with McDonalds, there’s a KFC two doors down and a Burger King around the corner to satisfy your needs.

We turbo-bond with others, but that connection (and therefore commitment) is inevitably shallow. If you haven’t put in the early work to invest in another person and how they fit into your life, it’s the easiest thing in the world for one of you to walk away when it gets too tough to stay.

And even when you do put in the work, there’s absolutely no guarantee that the relationship will survive. That means we all need to be adult and self-loving enough to withstand and tolerate rejection.

Because in the end, for lots of the people we see, closure isn’t what they want. What they actually want is to stop feeling shamed and worthless.

Which means that unconsciously, what they really, really seeking is a shot at convincing the other person to reopen the relationship to prove to themselves that they’re loved and valued.

There’s a really good saying that says people with self-respect simply don’t engage with people who don’t show them respect, and if the ending you’ve experienced wasn’t respectful or kind to you or to the time you spent together, then going after closure is only likely to deepen the wound 

We argue with ourselves that closure provides us with the information we need to improve. If we know what went wrong, we can move on and be better next time. But it’s a subjective argument at best – and the truth is that people who have self-respect and self-love don’t need closure in that sense.

Yet even though closure is an intangible concept that we can’t see or feel, people base their entire break-up recovery on it, which isn’t good for recovery at all.

And here’s an uncomfortable thought: maybe the real reason the relationship didn’t work out is something you’re better off not knowing.

When closure turns out to be a long list of why someone else thinks that you’re not worth staying with, it’s going to be pretty corrosive – even though that other person’s opinion is probably a million miles from reality.

If the other person can’t dignify you with an explanation as to why he or she no longer wants to be with you, then the reason is almost certainly useless and superficial.

So if you didn’t get closure, it’s OK. It’s time to move on, let it be and treat yourself with kindness. The relationship didn’t work out because it just wasn’t meant to be, or the timing was off. 

We’re allowed to give ourselves the dignity of our own closure and make our endings more Butch and Sundance. It’s something you’re very unlikely to regret. 

*Actually, even teenagers should try to end things with love. Chips are never the solution.


Is Your Marriage Getting Enough?

Sex Therapy

Here’s a statistic for you. If you’re in a room with four friends who are either married or in a long-term relationship and all of them are having sex regularly with their partner, the law of averages suggests your marriage is the one that isn’t getting as much as it should.

Although there’s no definitive study on the subject, anecdotal evidence suggests that between 15 and 20 per cent of all couples are locked into a sexless marriage.

Tempting though it was to write the word trapped instead of locked, we’re being deliberately non-judgemental about this because there’s plenty of well-respected opinion that argues lack of sex doesn’t necessarily make for an unhappy marriage or a relationship from which one partner must, de facto, be striving to escape.

But – and this is an elephant-sized but – there’s also no escaping pure anthropological fact here: ultimately, human beings are animals and thousands of years of evolution can’t be denied. Men and women are simply biologically predisposed to need to be at it regularly.

The reasons are obvious enough – as recently as two generations ago couples who could barely afford to put bread on the table routinely produced as many as 10 or 11 children.

In fact, the poorer the family, the larger it was inclined to be. Not because they’d always dreamed of having a big family, but because it was the only way to beat the odds that disease, war and pestilence had stacked against a child’s chances of surviving beyond their 10th birthday.

Big families were just the pitiful result of playing the percentages and preserving the continuation of life.

Broken down to our core purpose, humans are just like any other animal. We’re designed to eat, sleep and mate. That’s it. It’s really no more or less complicated.

Of course, over the years we’ve learned to turn sex into a form of entertainment, finding pleasure in what was once functional and manufacturing desire on demand.

There are plenty of species whose members show genuine affection – and even love – for one another; but there isn’t another species on earth that needs or wants to have sex on a daily basis.

Venture out into the Serengeti and you won’t see a couple of cheetahs passing the time by indulging in a bit of oral sex between hunts. Neither will baboons observe a the niceties of foreplay before getting down to the business of swelling the number of their troop.

But the fact sex is now the currency in which desire and approval are traded brings with it a whole host of issues that, together, mean not getting it is now the third most cited reason for divorce in the UK.

It’s important to define what constitutes a sexless marriage or relationship here. Generally accepted opinion is that this is any relationship in which a couple has sex fewer than 12 times a year – which is arguably a lot more relationships than statistics might suggest.

While lack or loss of physical intimacy works for some people, for others it can create all sorts of issues in the relationship.

Sexual intimacy is an important way for couples to connect and after a prolonged period where it has been absent in a relationship, it can be desperately hard to re-establish that connection because it can be hard for couples to see whether lack of intimacy has caused the problems in the relationship, or vice versa.

Restoring intimacy requires an acknowledgement of the emotionality of sex, and that begins with communication, self-awareness and a commitment to purposely create the time to take the small steps that can eventually lead to sexual reconnection.

And it takes time. Just as you wouldn’t decide to run a marathon one morning if you hadn’t exercised in a year, so reconnecting intimately requires training. Just as it takes time time to break the links to intimacy in a relationship, so it takes time to rebuild them.

Usually, intimacy erodes not because one person has an unreasonable appetite for sex – although it’s not unheard of – but because there has been a slow withdrawal of the physical dimension to a relationship, a process that can easily be interpreted by one person in the relationship as an expression of rejection.

And that is when the real problems start – and it’s why sex is such an important part of most successful marriages.

Sex is a major part of the bonding process and it’s an integral part of what causes us to fall in love. As Scott Peck says in his brilliant book, The Road Less Travelled, if sex didn’t play a part in that, we’d fall in love with our friends, who we also love, but, crucially, in a different way.

This is why sexual intimacy is part of the reason we continue ‘feeling in love’. Without it we end up living with a glorified flatmate in a relationship that’s based on life admin that ends up more about whose turn it is to put the bins out than it is about getting hot and breathy under the duvet.

Again, it’s worth stressing the point that the presence of sex in a relationship or marriage isn’t a non-negotiable requirement of a happy and successful marriage – it’s simply that a relationship is more likely to be successful if sex plays a positive part in it (and we make that point because there are plenty of relationships that suffer through negative physical intimacy)

Like all good things, a healthy, productive, constructive and fulfilling sexual relationship needs work.

The notion that all marriages are destined to end up in the barren acreage of the marital bed is an easy but lazy and inaccurate stereotype. Show me a midlife couple whose marriage is sexless, and I’ll show you a couple of roughly the same age who are at it like rabbits.

But that’s not to say it’s always easy to keep the spark alive. Familiarity certainly helps to breed contempt. Busy lives breed exhaustion. Young families narrow the windows of opportunity.

We live a married life or a long-term partnership in the harsh glare of warts ‘n’ all reality. A relationship is not all about perfumed flesh and beautiful lingerie. Living with someone isn’t for the faint-hearted and it requires us to compartmentalise intimacy in a place where it won’t be infected by some of the more unpleasant realities of sharing a life and a space with another person.

It’s not that we lose interest in sex, it’s that familiarity can lead to a lack of desire. Desire needs an element of mystery and distance to it … and the great news is that couples can create this distance with really simple ideas – like arranging a date night but arriving separately. 

Often, it’s not a punishment or a deliberate act of disapproval – it’s that we get out of practice, and not getting any becomes easier than getting some.

The problem is that unless the communication between you and your partner is flawless, the ending of your contract of intimacy brings with it some potentially serious issues.

Rejection damages self-esteem. It lays waste to self-confidence. You start to wonder whether it’s something you did or something you said. Could you have done more, said more, been more? Did you try hard enough, tell him or her you loved them enough? Have you driven them away? And eventually the maggot of self-doubt starts to feast on the rotting flesh of your own self-worth.

And here’s the bitter irony: in many cases the exact same things are going through his or her head.

Suddenly the lack of sex in your marriage isn’t about sex anymore. It’s about love and trust and respect – even though, in all probability, the absence of sex in your relationship has nothing at all to do with any of those things.

As well as being a fierce protector, the subconscious can also be a sly and malign manipulator, an architect of negative thoughts and behaviours that can set you on a road that leads through the derelict and weed-strewn towns of Anxiety and Depression on a straight shot to the one-horse desert of Unhappiness.

When it comes to communication, talking about sex may can include all the good stuff you want to do to each other and can also include getting to know each other’s sexual intimacy styles.

Sexologist Miss Jaiya talks about the sex languages of different erotic preferences and styles of touch. Once a couple know how each other prefers to be touched this can really increase the potential for connection, great sex, and expression of love in relationship. 

Forgetting how to be physically intimate isn’t a crime and it isn’t the death knell for your relationship. You just have to learn how to do that dance all over again – and that starts by talking and being honest and open and real, and facing the issues that stopped the music in the first place.

What we see with the people we work with is that there is so much more couples can do to come into an understanding of each other, and we support them to learn how to effectively communicate with each other and have those tricky conversations about sex in a way that can support openness and connection rather than fuel defensiveness. 

If you’re ready to relearn the intimate steps of your relationship, we’re here to help.


This Christmas It’s Time To Negotiate Your Own Emotional Trade Agreement

mental health at christmas

Well here we are – the end, as near as makes no difference, of 2019.

Sometimes it’s felt like spending 12 months in some sort of shared experiment involving a mass mental health episode. Barely a day has gone by when, as a society, we haven’t been angry, depressed, riddled with self-doubt, mean-spirited, filled with hatred, intolerant, schizophrenic, phobic and lost.

As years go, this has been one of the more divisive.

It has been dominated by Brexit and political mistrust. It’s been a year of finger-pointing and disruptive direct action on climate change. A time when anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have been evidenced at the very heart of our system of government.

All in all, it’s been a year when our society hasn’t seemed to like itself very much.

But we stand on the precipice of a new decade with a clear road ahead. It may not be a road that takes us in a direction we wanted to go and we may not be led by the people some of us would have liked to have seen in charge of our immediate future.

Yet there is, at last, clarity of purpose.

We can also use the season of peace, joy and goodwill as an appropriate time for us to make a better deal with ourselves emotionally.

If 2019 and Brexit have been a metaphor for everything that amounts to poor mental health, then it’s high time we shook off the individual baggage we’ve accumulated during the year and negotiated a new emotional arrangement with which to start 2020.

Here, then, are my challenges to you – and I promise you that if you can meet them, your emotional health will be all the better for it:

Let it go

As Elsa sang in Frozen, let it go. Life is too short for grudges, to precious to waste stewing over things you can’t influence or change. Breathe. Let. It. Go.

That doesn’t mean ignoring or tolerating unacceptable behaviour from someone; it means dealing with it and then moving on. Or accepting you can’t deal with it and moving on.

If someone has upset you, tell them they’ve upset you and tell them why. Tell them what they can or need to do to repair the damage and then give them the chance to do it.

But don’t sit there seething over stuff that you can’t change. Sometimes, shit happens. There’s no useful purpose to be served in raging at the world about it, because generally speaking shit doesn’t tend to un-happen. Mourn if you have to. Grieve if you have to. But find solace and peace and acceptance.

Then breathe and Let. It. Go.

Be kind to yourself and others

Sometimes we all like to think we’re invincible, but we’re not. None of us is superhuman, but we do all have our own superpowers. Tolerance. Kindness. Empathy. Sympathy. Generosity of spirit. Even-handedness. Impartiality. And more besides.

Use these liberally in your life. If you have the opportunity to be kind or cruel, choose the former. If it’s possible to interpret someone’s words or actions in two different ways, and one of them makes you sad – choose the other.

Learn and accept that it’s okay to be the best version of yourself today, even if that’s not the version you hope to be tomorrow. Be comfortable in the knowledge that you are a work in progress, make peace with the fact it’s a work that may never be truly complete and love yourself for who you are and the values you hold.

Don’t chase perfection

Especially at this time of year, when we create pressure for ourselves to deliver the perfect Christmas, find the perfect partner and buy the perfect gift, do all you can to understand that perfection doesn’t exist and then stop chasing it.

But generally in life this is good advice, too. It will insulate you against disappointment, unrealistic expectations and the shame of perceived failure.

With that insulation comes the ability to enjoy life for the rare and wonderful experience it is, warts and all, and to see the value and the lessons that life has for you in all that you do.

The idiot is your friend

It’s easy to be offended, upset or angry with people whose actions or views seem to be at odds with the very definition of what it should be to be human. But believe me, it’s wasted energy.

Instead, rejoice in the fact that every obnoxious person you meet is living, walking proof that you’re really not the worst person on Earth and that what you stand for makes you the decent and honourable human being that you sometimes find difficult to see in the mirror.

While discrimination and abuse needs to be called out – and we can all do our bit to eradicate it from our own micro-systems – no one has given you the job of putting the world to rights.

It’s a collective responsibility and all anyone can ask of you – including yourself – is that you do your fair share and no more.

Speak

This is the most important challenge of all.

There’s one thing that humans are absolutely brilliant at and that’s pretending everything’s fine, that we’re coping, that life is a bed of roses. It’s a fundamentally British trait and the inability to ask for help when everything gets a bit overwhelming is one of the biggest contributors to poor mental health.

So, when life gets on top of you, challenge yourself to find someone to talk to about it. That might be a close friend or a family member. It might be someone like me. But the important thing is to reach out and let someone else share the burden with you.

Because what I’ve learned (or maybe remembered) this year – through the social changes we’ve all experienced and through events in my own life – is that life is not a race we run alone.

It’s one where we’re all responsible to help each other across the finish line – whenever and wherever that might be for each of us.

From all of us here at Zoe Clews & Associates, I wish you a merry Christmas and the happiest of happy New Years. As I always say at this time of year: be kind to yourself. You’ve earned it.


Generation Z & The Mass Hypnosis Of Porn

Generation Z & The Mass Hypnosis Of Porn

Sometimes I wonder what the generation born in the first two decades of the 20th Century would make of this new-fangled millennium.

The majority of them entered a world without cars, commercial air travel, television or radio. The BBC didn’t exist, there was no electricity network and no telephone system. A letter might routinely take a week or more to travel more than a few miles and it would be nearly three decades before a publicly-funded health system was more than a twinkle in Nye Bevin’s eye.

There are a great many things that the war generation didn’t have and that we now do, but one commodity that wasn’t in short supply back at the turn of the last century is pornography.

That might seem surprising given the contemporary view of porn is that it’s very much a late-20th Century phenomenon. But if you can bear to sully your internet history, it’s clear that porn has been around since the mid-19th Century. Continue reading…


Can We Please Just Stop Dating Our (Crap) Mum or Dad, Already?

Relationship therapy

More than just about anything else in the world, the very thought that our parents have had sex with one or another at some point – or with anyone else, for that matter – is guaranteed to ramp up the ewww factor for most of us.

To avoid hideous mental images that we can never, ever un-see, we furiously and deliberately ignore or disregard the one undeniable biological reality of our own existence: that our parents must have had at least one sexual liaison in order for us to be existentially able to have those disturbing visions at all.

And then we have to multiply that for every sibling.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say many of us might even secretly hope we could be adopted rather than face up to plain old DNA.

Which makes it all the more ironic that most of us who are or have been in a intimate relationship are likely to have been out with, or slept with, one of our parents.

Continue reading…

185 Little Reasons Why We Should Care More About Child Mental Health

Children's Mental Health

We’ve known for a while that child mental health is in crisis.

Earlier this year we discovered just how bad it has become, with the Office for National Statistics revealing that 5 in every 100,000 young people aged between 15 and 19 commit suicide each year.

To put that in perspective, there are 3.67 million people in the UK in that age group, meaning we can measure the appalling record of successive Governments’ policies on child mental health by the 185 body bags that find their way to hospital morgues every year.

If that sounds overly dramatic, it’s because it is.

Last month the mental health charity Mind called on Boris Johnson to deliver on six mental health priorities. Among them was a challenge to meet the existing commitment to schools and to make progress – through better funding – on prevention and intervention.

Continue reading…

Intimacy: Thank You For Sharing

Intimacy Coach

One thing we Brits have learned over the years is that it really doesn’t do to be airing our personal laundry in public. No matter what’s going on behind closed doors, we present an unflustered veneer to the outside world and plant a sign in the garden that reads: Nothing To See Here.

In relationships this is doubly true. An Englishman’s home is his castle, dammit, and regardless of the problems that might lie behind its portcullis, the façade is still an unmoving wall of brick and mortar through which no stranger should be allowed to penetrate.

Even when everything else is flaccid and unresponsive, a British chap – or chappess – must still be able to raise a stiffened lip in the adversity of popular perceptions about what it is and isn’t acceptable to share about one’s private life.

If that’s all true (and, for the most part convention, taboos and exceptions prove it still largely is) what must we buttoned-up Brits make of those free-thinking Americans and their outrageously liberal ways?

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We Need To Talk About Medication

Shutterstock 385546942

I’m a Hypnotherapist, which means I’m a big believer in recovering as naturally as possible from the knocks we take to our mental health as we go through life & building inner resilience & resources.    

I try to help people to do that by looking with love and compassion at what’s really going on under the bonnet of your subconscious & supporting people to make people better life choices. We’ve got a pretty good track record there – my Associates and I have some fantastic successes when it comes to helping people recover from bloody horrific childhoods and extremely difficult life circumstances.

But even though I believe passionately in what we achieve here at Zoe Clews & Associates, I’m also not foolish or dumb or arrogant enough to believe that what we do is the answer for absolutely everyone, despite what the one-session-fix merchants would like you to think.

Do you want to know the truth? Sometimes what we do isn’t enough. Sometimes life has given someone such a pasting that they need the kind of help that we’re just not qualified to give.

Continue reading…

Masturdating. It’s A Thing. It Just Might Not Be As Satisfying As You Imagine.

Zoe Clews & Associates Blog

There’s an awful lot of stuff that drifts into my inbox every day. Stuff that I probably signed up for ages ago – or, more likely – didn’t say no to when I should have done, most of which simply gets swiped to the bin.

But the other day, an email arrived with a subject line that caught my eye: 5 women on their “masturdating” rituals.

It came from Refinery29 UK, one of the few content platforms I do try to make time for if I can, by virtue of its ability to serve up thought-provoking articles that cause me to stop and reassess my world view.

And, let’s be honest, things don’t get much more thought-provoking than the notion of masturdating.

If you haven’t come across the term before (apologies for the unintended pun), then masturdating is the process of taking yourself out on a date, and it seems this is now an honest-to-goodness thing that many women appear to be enjoying on a global basis.

Continue reading…

The Mindful Menopause

The mindful menopause

Type ‘on average how long …’ into Google search and the four words that automatically completes the search inquiry are ‘… does the menopause last’.

The answer (from the NHS, just in case you were wondering which site comes top of Google’s results) is that menopausal symptoms last an average of four years from your last period.

Which is a staggeringly long time to be sweating through the night courtesy of an internal blast furnace , lurching from Dr Jekyll to Mrs Hyde in the blink of an unpredictable eye, struggling to sleep and piling on weight quicker than a baby Orca.

It’s enough to say that while there are a lucky few (and let’s be honest, they’re a don’t-know-just-how-lucky-they-are lucky few) whose bodies seem to effortlessly deal with what is pretty much the hormonal equivalent of a Hadron collider particle accelerator operating non-stop 24/7 for 1500+ days, the majority of the world’s female population find the menopause to be a very different experience.

Continue reading…

Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.