Breakups are never easy. At the end of a relationship, many of us long to find some sense of closure in order to move on with the rest of our lives. But oftentimes, closure can be hard to come by or simply unavailable, especially if you're on the receiving end of a bad breakup.
What Is Closure?
Closure is gaining an understanding as to exactly why a relationship ended and no longer feeling emotional attachment or pain associated with the relationship. It allows you to move on and establish new and healthy relationships.
For most of us, closure is just as important as any other stage in the relationship. As trauma and relationship expert Mariana Bockarova, Ph.D., explains it, "Humans understand the world through stories: We create a past, present, and future, and navigate our world through this cognitive structuring. When a one-sided break-up occurs, however, it traumatically interrupts the story for the person on the receiving end, particularly if the break-up was unexpected. When given closure, we can re-structure our past, present, and future in a healthy way, through understanding what went wrong and reconfiguring our story accordingly."
So instead of pining away for your ex or wracking your brain for what you could've done differently, consider the following six ways to achieve closure after you've broken up and put an end to this painful chapter.
There's really no way to move on from a breakup when you're still engaging in telephone conversations, texts, and face-to-face meetings with your ex. When you're both in contact—and this includes interacting via social media—seeing a potential future without that person can be difficult to envision because you're still tied to the past. Although it seems final, unfriending and unfollowing your ex is actually liberating, and also ensures you’re not constantly bombarded with messages and images that keep your broken relationship front and center.
Feel Your Emotions
One important factor in gaining closure is allowing oneself to experience emotions—no matter how painful and negative. By bottling up sadness, fear, anger, regret, humiliation, and disappointment, you’re holding onto their toxicity and stalling the healing process. No matter how uncomfortable, it’s important to feel your feelings to fully process what occurred. Persisting, unmanaged emotions just prevent you from finally closing that door.
Write It Down
Especially when you've been ghosted, writing down the things you wish you could say to your ex is satisfyingly cathartic; it may also be the only real way to fully express how you feel and ask any lingering questions. Bockarova emphasizes that "examining the relationship through a redemptive lens, wherein one focuses on the positive outcomes that arise from a break-up or a negative event…has been shown to reduce the emotional suffering that can come from a relationship ending."
But keep in mind that attempting to "find meaning" from the breakup may actually hinder your emotional healing. As Bockarova points out, "Research shows that…actively searching for meaning and writing about it is not only ineffective but can actually worsen and lengthen emotional distress." Instead, remind yourself that, for better or worse, things don't always work out, and there's nothing you can do to change that. So go on and get out that pen and paper, spare no emotion, and turn the page.
While forgiving someone who has wronged you is challenging, it actually facilitates your own healing process. Keep in mind that the act of forgiving is for your own enrichment, and doesn't absolve your ex from all breakup accountability.
Reconcile the fact that perhaps you imagined your partner to be someone he or she is not and forgive yourself for trusting someone who has hurt you. Let go of the animosity to free yourself from the past.
But by shedding the energy you'd otherwise expend by wishing evil on your ex or merely thinking hateful, negative thoughts, you essentially offload a back-breakingly heavy burden. "Reconcile the fact that perhaps you imagined your partner to be someone he or she is not and forgive yourself for trusting someone who has hurt you," suggests Bockarova. Let go of the animosity to free yourself from the past.
On the flip side, it might be necessary to reflect on your own role in the breakup and accept some responsibility. If this is the case, as difficult as it may be, what you really need to do is forgive yourself. You are, after all, human, and while learning from your mistakes is important, beating yourself up won't serve anyone—least of all, you. It's all too easy to look back and see what mistakes were made, but odds are you did what you thought was best with the hand you were dealt.
Did your own words or actions lead to the demise of your relationship? Survive the breakup guilt by apologizing to both your ex and yourself. When you’re living each day with the shame of doing someone dirty, closure isn't possible. Instead, take a deep breath, put pride aside, and apologize even when the apology may not be accepted, the relationship is irreparable, and the eventual chance of friendship may be impossible. Your apology could even be the very thing your ex truly needs to make a fresh start.
Set a Goal
Sometimes the best way to get over the past is by simply looking and moving forward. In the case of a breakup, once you've accepted your feelings and grieved properly, wallowing probably won't make those feelings go away altogether.
Determine a goal that is challenging yet reachable, and set forth. In this way, not only will your story change for the better, but you will build a new one.
Consider distracting yourself by focusing on something else—maybe a new hobby, a forgotten goal, or a healthy lifestyle change. Try to pick something that will occupy both your body and mind, if possible. "Determine a goal that is challenging yet reachable, and set forth," says Bockarova. "In this way, not only will your story change for the better, but you will build a new one."
It might take some time to clear your head and commit to something new, but believe it or not, the old adage "fake it 'til you make it," is actually a pretty successful strategy. Besides, you might just learn something new about yourself along the way.