How to Get Closure After a Breakup

My book, How to Be Dumped: the Definitive Breakup Guide, drops next Tuesday, 7/30. Since you are probably wetting yourself in your excitement to get your hands on said book, here's an excerpt from it to get you through until then. Enjoy!

how to get closure after a breakup

The one bad thing about being a part of a society that is (relatively) accepting of therapy and people getting/staying mentally healthy is that we are almost too educated.

We throw around terms and ideas like so much dirty laundry, thinking we are owed or can demand certain things for ourselves. You know, because, CHECK OUT MY RECEIPTS FROM DR. MILLER, Y'ALL. 

While it’s true that we can certainly set boundaries and ask for (and demand at times) respect for our feelings or limits, there is one idea that’s often thrown around after breakups that I think is wildly misunderstood.


Webster's defines closure as being twofold:

1. The resolution of a significant event or relationship in a person's life
...followed by...
2. A sense of contentment experienced after such a resolution.

Well isn't that all bunnies and unicorns and NOT AT ALL what you're feeling after a breakup? Neat! 

We often think that we are “owed” a final conversation, or a last word, or the chance to just say one more time what we feel. And we think--erroneously--that hearing that thing, whatever it is, will be the magic words to making all the badfeels go away.

Hard Thing to Hear A: We are not owed anything by our exes, friends.

Once the relationship is broken, we might kindly ASK for the opportunity to say our piece or plead our case, but we certainly are not owed it, no matter what was said before, or how many times he said he loved you, or how she promised again and again that she wouldn’t treat you this way (and then did anyway).

Our exes have every right to say no. To keep their distance. To never, ever speak to us again.

So how, in those cases, can we get closure? To feel as if the relationship has really been laid to rest, that our demons are silenced, that we can truly move on into our new normal?

First, we gotta separate closure from healing

Closure vs. Healing

It's easy to confuse closure with the process of healing. It's even easier to confuse closure with the final stage of grief, Acceptance (though they have a lot in common). 

Healing comes first, always. Healing means you grieve the loss of the relationship, all the good, bad and ugly of it.

You go the fuck through the five stages of grief.

You cry it out, you get angry, you make some bad decisions with your pants parts. You maybe get some therapy.

And then one day you wake up, and you're like, "I feel better (or maybe just slightly less shitty). I'm ready for what's next. I'm not so broken as I was before." 

"Closure," however you're framing that confusing little concept in your head, is NOT a part of the healing process. It is not a start, a jumping off point, or an impetus, or a prompt.

Healing can start now, immediately.

Healing doesn't have a waiting list or pre-requisites. 

Healing is its own thing that you MUST do on your own, completely and fully, and it absolutely does NOT require closure. 

Why? Because... 

Closure is a Luxury

Hard Thing to Hear B: closure is a privilege, not a right.

I know, right? What a bitch.

Look, it’d be super nice if, after every breakup, your ex was gracious enough to let you talk about ALL THE FEELINGS and to air every grievance and to ask every question and for you to feel like you’ve said and done everything you could possibly ever say or do until your little brain finally goes, “Ahhhhhh.”

Unfortunately, that’s not how the end of relationships work.

Your ex might be a real dickhole.

YOU might be a real dickhole.

You might have suffered some abuses that no amount of talking out, or answered questions, or karmic comeuppance will ever fix.

She cheated on you? You really think understanding WHY she sought intimacy outside your relationship is going to make you feel better?
He hit you? You really think getting to the root of his daddy issues will throw some glitter on those dark days?
She had severe trust issues? You really think hearing one more time, "It wasn't you, it was me?" will help you stifle that little voice in your head that says, "Nah, you just weren't good enough to trust in the first place?" 
He left without a word? You really think him giving you a pros and cons list of your relationship, then saying that the cons outweighed the pros will make it all click into place, will make you feel less abandoned?

Sorry, loves. Sometimes shitty, shitty stuff happens to us. Sometimes that shitty stuff will always leave a little twinge of hurt, "closure" or no. Sometimes you will never, ever hear those little words, the right phrase, the apology, or get the last hug that says, "It's all okay now." 

Plus, the problem with demanding closure from an ex? Sometimes we’ll glory in the simplicity of having an answer, even if that answer is wrong, rather than really doing the work of processing our shit for ourselves.

So that’s the bad news. Closure is a luxury.

The good news is...

Closure: You Can Give it to Yourself (Heyo!)

Dr. Abigail Brenner, M.D. says in her 2011 article, "In Flux", that: 

Closure means finality; a letting go of what once was. Finding closure implies a complete acceptance of what has happened and an honoring of the transition away from what's finished to something new. In other words, closure describes the ability to go beyond imposed limitations in order to find different possibilities. [emphasis mine]

In other words, closure is all on you. YOU let go. YOU accept. YOU honor the transition from "in a relationship" to "single."

Above all, YOU stop seeing the end of the relationship as limited by the thing he/she "HAS" to say/do for you to really feel like it's over.

Closure is up to you, baby. It just is. Because, let's face it, we are human (even your ex! Hard to believe, I know, but he is!).

While you might expect your ex to do what's best for you to feel all warm and fuzzy again with your fee-fees, the reality is:

a) your ex has the right to honor his/her own boundaries and

b) your ex no longer owes you anything.

Not one conversation. Not one more look. Not one more minute.

Would it be NICE if your ex was like, "Take your time, get it out, and tell me what I need to say/do?" Of course. But can you count on it happening? Should you rely on it to get what you need to move on? No. 

I never got the answers I wanted from my last ex. In fact, the last time we spoke was the summer of 2012. I don’t know if he’s dead or alive, successful or broke, single or married.

While I haven’t gone into all the gory details of our story here, there was some fucked up shit that went down between us that we ignored and buried and pretended never happened.

No amount of talking or emails or answers will change the fact that I was hurt, that parts of that relationship broke me, or that things didn't end the way I had hoped or planned.

I had two options, then:

1. I could go the rest of my life in a fuzzy state of denial (it never happened) or bargaining (what if it never happened)

...or I could say...

2. “It happened, I will grieve, I will fix my shit, and I will fight to be good, as is.”

Giving yourself closure requires some really grimy work. It means answering for the things you were personally responsible for, or sifting through your own emotional backlog.

It also means acknowledging that there might have been things that happened to you that sucked and were out of your control...and that it wasn't your fault...and that you don't have to let those things break you.

I can tell you, first hand, that can be some messy, messy ish. A bubbling up of ick. Stuff you buried deep inside you that is fighting to get out and begging for address. Voices you will have to silence and call Liar. Rips right across the fabric of your soul that you'll have to mend and patch and repair.

It is work that, while you may have wonderful people who can support you through it, you have to do on your own.

After my divorce, I didn’t really speak to my ex for almost a year. There were things that I still felt bad about, like how I felt so trapped in our marriage that my only response to his attempts to love me was to be cruel or cold. Or how I left him on his birthday (I’m bad at dates!) or served him papers on our five year anniversary (OK, really, really bad at dates!).

I was fortunate enough that, under the influence of alcohol one Christmas Eve, we were able to talk through some of those issues and forgive one another.

It was a tough talk.

We sifted through some shit. We admitted our parts in the failure of our marriage. We talked about the things we still liked about each other, and forgave each other for the bad pieces of ourselves that we used to hurt one another. 

But if we hadn’t had that talk? We would still need to work through those issues on our own. I would still have had to forgive myself for my behavior during my marriage even if he never did. I would still have needed to figure out why I acted that way in the first place.

All I’m saying is, a million and one things can come between you and that conversation or action you think you MUST have for it to be over.

You cannot spend the rest of your life leaving that corner of your life unresolved, waiting for another human being with his own nuances and feelings and responses to say EXACTLY THE THING you need to hear. 

Because you may not ever get that. Ever. It's 100% a crapshoot. It's 100% a luxury. 

And it's 100% yours to give yourself. 

Dr. Nancy Kalish says it best: 

So is healing and moving forward possible? Yes. But the healing must come from within; you do not need to contact the lost love for this to happen, nor is it desirable to contact a lost love if a complete ending is what you are after. The events and feelings of the past can best be worked through, on your own...A lost love cannot heal you. There are no shortcuts. Getting over a conflicted lost love experience takes work, and a genuine willingness to let go. [emphasis mine]

So let go, friend. Heal. Grow. Then grant yourself the grace to indulge in some sweet, sweet closure.

 How to be Dumped: the Definitive Breakup Guide drops 7/30 on Amazon! Stay tuned for further updates!