Are Goodbyes a Sign of Emotional Health?

Can you say goodbye when a relationship ends?

Years ago I heard John Bradshaw, author of the PBS series on The Family, speak on the importance of saying goodbye. He said that you cannot have a healthy relationship until you learn to say goodbye.

I was floored. I used to think that it was a strength to stay in a relationship no matter what - even if it hurt. But, if you cannot say goodbye, you don't have the choice to leave or stay. The fear of saying goodbye keeps you from making the healthier choice.

This blog talks about practicing the art of saying goodbye and why you should.  

Where You Learn About Goodbyes

In my twenties I avoided goodbyes because they were painful. I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings so I stayed until the bitter end. Growing up I never saw adult relationships end. They just stopped coming around. 

Family is where we learn how to do relationships. Whether you felt close or distant - those first relationships created a template for future interactions. Doing the exact opposite doesn’t help either. For instance, if growing up with a raging parent made you stuff anger that isn’t healthy option either.

The truth is that relationships often end. It's an important life lesson but most families don't talk about them.

Avoiding Goodbyes Comes at a Price

When ending a relationship is seen as failure you will avoid it. Sometimes you hope that the person will get the hint without having to say it. Nothing is said directly but both people feel the distance. Or, you do the opposite and hold on til the bitter end. Both of these are examples of avoiding goodbyes. 

Staying in bad relationships because you don't want to rock the boat or be alone has its price. You can't leave when things fall apart. Or, the fear of being alone keeps you in relationships that don't nurture you. Instead, you pull away emotionally and the relationship gets increasingly distant until someone eventually has to leave.

Being able to say goodbye face to face is not the norm. Doing it by email or text is typical but incredibly impersonal. Eventually, not saying goodbye creates a pile up of emotional losses. That's when feeling hopeless and depressed can set in. Unfelt losses often trigger depression. 

What exactly is closure?

Saying goodbye is important for healthy relationships 

Saying goodbye is important for healthy relationships 

Closure is being able to accept the relationship ending. You may not agree with the outcome but you can accept it. This process often takes years.

Not having closure creates unfinished emotions that can spill into the next relationship.  

Getting into another relationship quickly happens when you can't handle the grief. You wonder if the pain will ever end. You become impatient so you decide to look for someone new instead.

The emotions from the previous relationship create an emotional hangover that knocks you off center. It's tough to stay grounded when you're trying to fill the void with the new person.

Recognize When it's Time to Go

To consciously leave a relationship means embracing the power of choice. Listening to your intuition is part of knowing when to leave. Saying goodbye gives you the chance to acknowledge the good parts of the relationship and move on. Feeling the sadness is what helps you heal.

If the person is deceased or unreachable, writing a letter helps to say your peace. Expressing the hurt needs to happen for acceptance to be reached. This takes time and there are no short cuts. Not many people let themselves go through this process because we don't honor lengthly goodbyes in our culture.

Get the support you need to carry it the goodbye. A trusted friend can offer encouragement. If you feel stuck, counseling offers the emotional support to grieve and understand what happened. 

The Gifts in the Grief

I went through this when my dad was dying of cancer. I said everything I wanted to say. But closure took years because I was young and fought the loss. Then the process of grieving started. The biggest lesson was that by being willing to feel the depths of my grief, I came out on the other side feeling whole. I had faced my greatest fear.

There are many gifts that come when you're willing to say goodbye. You become at choice in your relationships. Instead of feeling obligated to stay in an unhealthy relationship, you have a newfound strength to leave because you are secure knowing that it won't kill you. You know that you can cope and that feels empowering.  By saying goodbye you embrace new beginnings that change your life for the better!  

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