Losing someone or something you care about hurts. Especially when you don’t know how to get closure and move forward.
If you’re dealing with the painful aftermath of a breakup or divorce, I don’t have to tell you that. You’re profoundly hurt, your self-esteem has been smashed to bits, and there’s an empty void in your life that used to be filled with your Ex.
I’ve been there myself, and I’ve walked with many others along their own healing journeys in breakup and divorce recovery counseling. Intellectually, heartbroken people know they will eventually “get over it” and begin to feel like themselves again. But they’re not sure how. They feel stuck in grief and rumination and they don’t know how to process their loss and move forward. They need closure.
Unfortunately, closure isn’t something that just happens. Time alone does not heal all wounds. You have to be actively engaged in a process of healing and growth in order to find closure and free yourself from heartbreak. But many breakup therapy clients aren’t sure how to engage in that process. They feel like they need their Ex to do something so they can find closure — like apologize, or explain what happened, or simply give them some validation for their pain and perspective.
But seeking closure from your Ex will only keep you feeling stuck and disempowered. You have all the tools you need to create your own closure, and this article will show you how. I hope it helps you take the next step forward in healing your heart. You deserve that.
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What Does Closure Mean?
Closure is an important stage of healing after a loss, whether you’re grieving the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the loss of a relationship with someone important to you. When you have closure, you no longer need to spend a lot of time or emotional energy thinking about what happened. It is simply a part of your story. You can reflect on it when you choose without feeling overwhelming pain. Most of the time, you can set it aside and focus on other things.
Before you have closure, your relationship is like an incomplete loop that your mind is trying to join. You might be rehashing what went wrong or regretting all the things you could have done differently. You may be stewing in resentment and anger over the things your Ex did that hurt you. You may be daydreaming about getting back together again, or even just being friends with your Ex. One way or another, you can’t stop thinking about your Ex or why your relationship failed. It’s like having an open wound that doesn’t heal, but churns up fresh pain day after day.
This is one of the stages of a breakup, but people can get stuck here for much longer than they need to be if they don’t know how to get closure. When I’m working with a client in breakup or divorce recovery counseling who’s struggling with this, I usually find that it’s because they have some limiting beliefs about what closure is and where it comes from.
How to Get Closure: Myth vs. Reality
When people say “closure,” they often mean “opening.” As in, opening new avenues for rumination, or keeping the lines of communication open, or keeping themselves open to the things their Ex does that cause them pain. If this is what you’re doing, you’re likely not aware, because it doesn’t feel like that’s your motive — it feels like you’re genuinely trying to get what you need to get over your Ex and move on.
So you convince yourself that you should text your Ex, or have sex with your Ex, or write your Ex a 7,000-word email, or scroll through their Instagram feed. You say you just want closure, and you really mean it, because your brain is skilled at convincing you that reconnecting with your Ex is a positive, helpful thing to do. Just as someone with an alcohol problem may really believe that they’d be able to quit once and for all if they could just have one more drink, a heartbroken person believes that more contact with their Ex will help them get over their breakup.
Even if you aren’t in contact with your Ex, if you’re telling yourself that you need any of the following things to move forward, you may be keeping yourself from getting real closure:
- Validation from Your Ex
Do you long to hear your Ex say, “You were right, I was wrong. Here are all the ways that I hurt you…?” Do you believe that, if you could just get them to acknowledge what you went through, then you wouldn’t feel so stuck?
These are signs that you’re seeking external validation, which is not at all uncommon after a relationship ends. It happens because breakups damage your self-esteem. While you do need validation to recover from a breakup, validation is something you can give to yourself (or receive from friends, family members, or a good breakup therapist). You certainly don’t need your Ex to tell you that the pain you feel is real or that your point of view makes sense. Other people are not more insightful or wise than you are. By rejecting this idea and instead trusting yourself to decide what your own experiences mean, you take your power back.
It’s common to feel angry, especially if you endured crappy treatment in your relationship. Even if your Ex was fundamentally kind and respectful, it’s still totally normal to feel some anger when a relationship ends. You may be entertaining fantasies about telling your Ex off, or demanding an apology, or letting everyone know that you dated a big jerk. Then you’d feel better, right?
Probably not. There’s a time and a place for legitimate anger, but sometimes our anger can become focused on others, which is inherently disempowering since the actions of other people are not something you can control. When you start believing that you can’t move on until you get an apology or some kind of justice, your healing process stalls. To let go of resentment and get closure, you need help processing your anger productively and independently.
Why did they leave you? When did things start to change? Did you miss the signs your relationship was failing? Do they still think about you? Has your Ex moved on with someone new? Why couldn’t they be the partner you needed them to be? Did they ever really love you? What did they mean when they said (fill in the blank)?
If you have questions like these swirling in your head, you may believe that you can’t get closure until you get more information. But this is a myth. Even if you were genuinely blindsided by your breakup, which is shocking and hurtful indeed, it is still not true that you can’t heal until your Ex tells you “The Truth” about what happened. You get to generate your own narrative — one that is empowering, comforting, and that leads to better things in your future. This is what every heartbroken person has to do for themselves, no matter what happened in their relationship, or how it ended.
Getting Closure in a Relationship
Real closure comes when you are able to make meaning out of your breakup. To do this, you have to actively piece together your own story about what happened, why it happened, how it fits into the larger story of your life, and what’s next for you.
This process helps you put things in order mentally so that your mind can let it rest. No one can do this for you — we all have to process our own losses and decide for ourselves what the events of our lives mean. As much as you may feel like you need answers from your Ex, there is no healthy way of letting someone else’s meaning replace your own.
So, how can you do this? You might start with some external processing. Grab a notebook and write down all the questions you have about your breakup, then answer them for yourself. Don’t get too hung up on whether or not you have the “right” answers — this isn’t math. Everyone is filtering their own reality and making their own meaning out of it. What matters is what you believe, not whether or not it matches up with anybody else’s rubric.
Next, practice validating your story. When you find the narrative that makes sense to you, that feels the best, and that gives you a sense of hope and empowerment, THAT is the right one. So trust yourself and validate it — because you are correct about this. When your brain returns to your breakup to chew on the “what ifs” and the “if onlys,” gently tell yourself this story again. It is yours to keep.
As you’re doing this, think about what this experience taught you. Don’t beat yourself up for your regrets or mistakes, but reflect on what you learned and what you want to do differently next time. Turning pain and trauma into personal growth is an important part of healing. It helps you find meaning in your heartbreak and hope for your future.
Finally, think about what you think you need from your Ex, and find ways to give these things to yourself. If you need them to tell you that they care about you, then find ways to take care of yourself. If you want an apology, apologize to yourself. Think about what you want to hear from them. That you deserve better? That you are worthy of love and respect? That everything is going to be okay? Tell yourself these things, outloud, or in your journal, or in your heart.
When you look to others for answers, you rob yourself of the opportunity to get authentic closure, and to come out the other side of your breakup, stronger than before. It is your job and your responsibility to give yourself what you need. Accepting this responsibility helps you become more resilient, more empowered, and more at peace.
Support for Getting Closure
Losing a relationship with someone you love is emotionally shattering, and sometimes you need a caring guide by your side to offer support and encouragement as you find closure and move forward. If you’d like to do this powerful work with one of the breakup recovery experts on our team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.
xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
P.S. — If you’d like more articles and podcast episodes on breakup recovery, check out our “Healing After Heartbreak” collection.
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Music in this episode is by Sofia Bolt with their song “Get Out of My Head.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://sofiabolt.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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