How Can You Get Closure After a Breakup? - Humantold

How Can You Get Closure After a Breakup?

Macaul Hodge, MHC-LP August 7, 2023

How Can You Get Closure After a Breakup?

They weren’t kidding when they said breaking up is hard to do. The end of a romantic relationship often leaves a void, creating a deep sense of loss, confusion, and lingering questions. And above all, a desire for closure. But before we get into the how of doing this, let’s address the what and why. 

Closure: What is it and why do we need it?

The word “closure” gets thrown around a lot in popular culture, sometimes without a full understanding of what it is, and maybe more importantly, what it isn’t. 

The term closure was coined by social psychologist, Arie Kruglanski, in the 1990s as he determined humans have a natural desire to try to make sense of their experiences. This tendency is born out of our shared discomfort with ambiguity and uncertainty. While an inevitability, too much ambiguity makes people feel nervous and out of control. So, while we can’t avoid it completely, our brains do their best to alleviate our distress by finding clarity, drawing conclusions (sometimes incorrectly), and creating a narrative. Closure is achieved only once we’ve puzzled through the pieces, allocating meaning and reason to each, until a narrative is formed to our satisfaction. We’ve come to some semblance of an answer, found ease in understanding, and are in a better position to move on. 

In breakups, a common misconception is that closure can only be found with the help of the other person involved. Believing this leads to a feeling of stuckness. You may have heard a friend going through a recent breakup say something along the lines of, “If I only knew why, then this wouldn’t be so hard.” Sure, a productive conversation with your ex may help you understand their side of the story, but it also may prove unsatisfactory – or, for one reason or another, the conversation might not happen at all. 

The truth of it is that closure is largely an independent process; you can’t expect others to do it for you. This is good news! It means you have the power over your narrative. You get to decide what it means to you and how you want to use it moving forward. 

Some people search for closure more than others. Differences in the desire to reflect are partly a product of our personality type but can also be situational. Avoiding closure at all costs acts as a means to avoid confronting the mistakes you made and feeling difficult emotions like guilt, shame, or regret. Oppositely, those more prone to want closure may do so because unanswered questions feel intolerable, sometimes leading to psychological distress. 

For each of us, there is a balance to be met between our desire for closure and the ability to accept ambiguity. 

Closure is essential to putting our minds at ease. It keeps us from returning to a relationship that doesn’t work. It offers us an opportunity to break negative patterns in relationships. And it sets us up to be better versions of ourselves as individuals and in future partnerships. 

7 steps toward closure

These can and will occur in differing orders. Healing is not a linear process.

  1. Acceptance

It can be difficult to accept the end of a relationship. It is not uncommon to imagine reconciling with your partner or hoping they realize the error of their ways. The healing process can truly begin when you close that chapter of your life, allowing yourself to move on to the next. 

  1. Cut off communication, at least for now

We often don’t talk about missing the little parts of a relationship, but this person was probably a consistent presence in your day. It can feel unsettling and sad not to receive a “good morning” text or be asked a quick question about groceries. The longing for contact is real. That said, healing requires distance. 

Reaching out may feel good in the moment, but the problem that caused the separation still exists and communication will only exacerbate the pain of that fact. 

Checking in on an ex via social media is an all-around bad idea. You’ll create false narratives based on minimal information which will only work to make you feel worse. 

You may be able to be friends in the future, but only if you first become whole separately. 

  1. Grieve the loss

Give yourself time and permission to mourn the loss of the relationship itself and the potential future you envisioned. This process involves a wide range of feelings whether it be sadness, anger, guilt, relief, etc. There are no right or wrong emotions, but there is a choice in allowing yourself to feel them. 

Some find it helpful to journal or write a letter to their ex-partner (not to be sent!). Putting emotions down on paper can be cathartic and relieve the overwhelming feeling of carrying them all at once. 

  1. Find your sense of self

In a relationship, for better or for worse, we mold to fit within the dynamic of the partnership. In the wake of a breakup, it’s important to reflect upon these changes. It’s possible you gave up parts of yourself you are not OK with. Connect with yourself by reaching out to friends and family, engaging in activities you enjoy, reinvesting in your career, and rediscovering who you are as an independent person. 

  1. Make sense of it 

To some extent, you’ll want to better understand what happened in your relationship. After a breakup, we have the distance needed for perspective. It’s helpful to talk about the beginning, middle, and end. Working through this with a professional allows for deeper processing of feelings and can lead you to a balanced view of the relationship. Through reflection, you can learn about what you want from future relationships and the kind of partner you want to be. 

  1. Find forgiveness and compassion

Many of us tend to self-blame and berate. Others find solace in demonizing our ex because anger feels more comfortable than other emotions. The reality is that nothing happens in a vacuum, and each person could have done better or worse. Take accountability for your part and forgive yourself. Hold your ex accountable for theirs and forgive them too. You do this because holding on to guilt or resentment is immobilizing, and you deserve to move forward. 

  1. Find your balance: closure and ambiguity

Finding closure is about obtaining emotional and mental peace. Reflect on what happened and process your feelings. Determine what you want to take away from the experience, and what you want to leave behind. When you’re ready, use what you’ve learned to be intentional in your next relationship. Importantly, recognize that not everything has an answer. Being able to accept ambiguity will allow you to let go and move on. 

Embracing closure in therapy

The healing process is unique for each individual. While there are various strategies and approaches one can undertake to find closure, sometimes professional therapy can provide invaluable support. Therapists offer a safe and non-judgmental space to explore emotions, gain self-understanding, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. Through therapy, individuals can increase their chances of finding the closure they seek, ultimately helping them heal, grow, and embrace a brighter future. If you’re ready to talk, we’re ready to listen

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