Post Breakup: To Debrief Or Not To Debrief, That Is The Relationship Question
Posted Oct 12 2010 3:06pm
Picture it: Mid January 2001, I’m sitting opposite my ex in an upmarket Thai restaurant in Dublin getting ready to tell him that despite his dubious efforts to win me back, I was moving to London in less than a week. After him hounding me for five weeks and claiming to be a changed man that had seen the error of his ways, I thought that we could have a mature conversation about our relationship and what had happened and basically part on reasonable terms. I got to ask some uncomfortable questions and what resulted were such uncomfortable shocking answers, I wished I could just get a magic eraser and blot out the conversation.
I was prepared for honesty, I just wasn’t prepared for him blaming his behaviour, emotional unavailability and his hot and cold rinse commitment-resistant behaviour on the fact that I was black, that I hadn’t prepared him for being in an interracial relationship, and that he’d had to put up with comments from friends and family. I’m guessing this was supposed to be an explanation for hitting on my friends too…
The fact that he was an assclown was already known to me and it turned out that what I’d known up until that point was more than enough evidence of why our relationship was dead in the water. In my quest to be The Good Girl That Wants To Know Everything and Get The Truth, I opened myself up to a very painful slap in the face that really wasn’t needed. I also found I had more questions than answers and that some ‘truths’ were very distorted or just plain dodged.
What I did was basically a ‘debrief’, a term you may have heard in programmes like ’24′ because it’s typically about interrogating the ‘subject’ and getting the lowdown on the recent event that took place.
In breakup terms, a ‘debrief’ is typically where you both meet up to basically discuss ‘what went wrong’ and it’s likely that one person is doing more questioning than the other.
Most people that engage in post breakup debriefs will claim it’s for closure but actually, for a lot of people it’s an opportunity to have an excuse to engage and attempt to change their mind by either persuading them and/or showing them what they’re missing.
I’m frequently asked by readers whether debriefing your ex is something I consider a good idea and I’ve noticed a lot of talk about it in the comments. In short, my answer tends to be NO. The only type of people who can actually have a debrief are two people in reality who treated each other pretty well in the relationship and for one reason or another the relationship has broken down, but they’re on reasonable terms and are having One Last Chat to ‘clear the air’. In fact, it won’t even be a ‘debrief’; it’ll be two ex’s touching base who talk about the relationship for a bit, acknowledge their sadness but the rightness of the decision, and then change the subject.
Do you know what type of ‘debriefs’ most people do and that I hear about? The type where one person is in Lala Land and feels scorned, rejected, and confused by the crashing of illusions and wants to stem the feeling of rejection by getting some form of validation from the other party.
They want them to admit they were wrong or that they did feel what they said they’d feel, or that they did mean what they said they’d do, or that they didn’t intend to do, be, or say whatever they did, were, or said, or that they feel remorse or shame, or realise they’re emotionally unavailable and/or an assclown, or even, in a longwinded way say ‘You’re right and I’m wrong and I’m sorry’.
I hate to break it to you, but this is such a high level of expectation that in the great majority of cases, you’re setting yourself up for a crash landing back to earth.
The debrief is loaded with expectations and if your expectations were not met in the relationship, to continue to expect out of the relationship is like continuing the fine art of putting your bucket down an empty well and still expecting water to come back out.
Post breakup debriefs tend to:
1) Create more questions than answers.
2) Open you up to more pain and potentially start the feeling of rejection all over again.
3) Prolong the agony because it opts you back into the dynamic by engaging with them.
4) Lead to sex or some sort of ‘inappropriate’ level of contact.
5) Ultimately be about seeking validation.
To have a debrief with someone, they need to be someone of a reasonable level of integrity where there was mutual love, care, trust, and respect, and with an ability to connect their actions with what results, take responsibility, and be accountable for ‘their part’.
To have a debrief with someone, you need to have your head out of the clouds, also have a reasonable level of integrity etc and a willingness to listen to what they have to say and accept that even if it’s not what you want to hear, you may have a ‘part’ in whatever they have to say.
Even with all that, you’re two separate individuals with two different viewpoints – how they see things may not be how you see things which is why ultimately you both have to process the loss of your relationship and draw your own conclusions. On your own.
There may be how they see things, how you see things, and then the truth may be somewhere in between or closer to one persons version or the other. The point is that it’s highly unlikely that either of you are really that subjective and without an ego.
Relationships take two and as well as being 100% responsible for ourselves, we each are responsible for contributing 100% each into the relationship. You both have a part in the failure of the relationship – neither of you are an island. This doesn’t mean you’re responsible for their behaviour but it does mean that even if they sit there and say ‘OK then, everything was my fault’ that this might settle you in the short-term, but if some of the issues persist in subsequent relationships or you’re still unhappy, you’ll have missed the point of learning your own lessons as to why the relationship didn’t work and doing your own inner work.
Do we have a ‘right’ to answer? Yes and no. To an extent it’s only understandable to have a relationship with someone or be wronged by someone and expect an explanation because as humans we’re inclined to feel that everything should and can be explained but by the same token, not everything will be.
If someone doesn’t want to talk or be truthful, that’s their prerogative. Short of taking the ‘debrief’ to FBI levels and torturing them to get the information, there comes a point where you have to be prepared to work things out for yourself and accept that there may be some unanswered questions.
I don’t know exactly why another ex of mine just literally changed one day. It was like where there had been sun, it got replaced with a cloud that never disappeared. I did try to debrief after we broke up but he was very reluctant to and he felt that I was looking for a wealth of information from him that he either didn’t want to share or didn’t possess. I called him up a few times and got really pissy with him when he wouldn’t talk about things properly – looking back I realise how in some respects, I was being quite emotionally demanding and, well…silly.
We were over. It didn’t work out. We’d both been in the same relationship – surely I could take some time to process what had happened, work out how I felt, and grieve the loss of the relationship?
I didn’t need him filling in the blanks for me. And that’s not because I couldn’t handle any more “uncomfortable truths” but more that it would be the truth as he saw it and that might not actually be true.
Everything in relationships is contextual. If you debrief with an ex, whatever you’re hearing needs to be in the context of the actual relationship.
By the same token, everything also needs to be in the context of what you’re seeking – truth and honesty. Hence seeking the truth from someone who can’t or won’t tell the truth and has a disproportionately large ego and doesn’t see themselves as part of the problem is like throwing energy into the abyss.
I can’t remember what I was watching on TV one day but the psychologist in it said that you can always tell when someone has psychological issues because whenever they experience problems they never see themselves in them.
The truth of your breakup isn’t to see yourself solely as the source of the problems but to accept that they had their part and that you had yours. You don’t need to split hairs and say well he did 76% and I did 24% or whatever – the portion really isn’t important.
What can you stand to learn from your relationship? Relationships and the issues within them don’t happen in isolation. If you stayed in a relationship where there was dubious stuff going down – when you play the relationship back slowly, what do you now see that you didn’t register then? What would you do differently? What have you learned for next time?
If you have unanswered questions you have to ask: Are they truly unanswered questions or are have they been answered but with a truth that you don’t like and you’re hoping to hear something different?
Are you seeking confirmation for something that you already know? If so, why not validate your own truths? Why do you need the gratification of them saying ‘Yes I’m an asshole/dipstick/pain in the bum/whatever’?
Have I been totally honest with myself about who I’ve been involved with and what I’ve been involved in and done my absolute 100% best to come to terms with the breakup and accept it?
If you have and you still feel the need to debrief, it is important to be very clear on:
1) What you want to ask.
2) What you want to achieve.
I would focus on a couple of key questions instead of going into a litany of questions that will have it being not too dissimilar to an interrogation and have them inwardly (or even outwardly) groaning. Just be careful of having a debrief where you think you’ll achieve X,Y,Z and end up being disappointed.
Never give someone the power of giving you closure because you could be waiting till the ends of time for it. Closure is permission to move on, but you can ultimately grant that to yourself. It’s about recognising & accepting what has happened & removing your emotional investment out of that person & situation, & instead focusing on you & the other things that matter in your life. Don’t chase your ex for closure – they don’t give it to you; YOU do.
Your thoughts? Have you had a debrief? Did you gain from it and learn or did you open yourself up to more pain?