Breaking up with someone is a terrible, confusing, traumatic experience. Depending on how close and serious the relationship was, it can take years, or a lifetime, to recover from a split.
People try many different things to help them “move on” after a breakup. Sometimes they hurl themselves headlong into a new affair. Other times they seek some sort of radical self change, whether through therapy or lots of talking and thinking it out with friends.
I’m often asked about this thing called “closure.” People use this word a lot, in sentences like, “I never got closure with my ex.”
What they mean, most of the time, is that there are still some untidy emotional loose ends that never got trimmed away. In simpler terms what they mean is “I still think about my ex and I still miss them.” Or they mean, “I’m still angry at my ex,” or “I’m still in love with my ex.”
Closure, the way these traumatized folks think of it, is a magic silver bullet that’s going to take care of the problem. It will soothe their anger or heartache, or help them forget.
So people often ask, “Should I contact my ex and try to get some closure?”
Try No Contact
Well, that’s a complicated question. Or maybe it isn’t. Let’s start by stating the obvious – breaking up is closure. The relationship has closed, it has ended, it’s over and done with. It’s history.
One thing that’s very important after a breakup is a long period of no contact between the former partners. I recommend at least thirty days of silence, during which there’s no writing, calling, emailing, texting, nothing.
That period of silence helps you get your head screwed on straight again. It gives a chance for all the toxic emotions of the breakup to cool or boil away, leaving you a bit more clear headed when it comes to thinking about your future.
Some people come out of this quiet period determined to get back together with their ex. That’s fine, so long as they understand the odds.
Other people realize that they don’t have to define themselves through their relationship, either with their ex or their next romantic partner. They realize they are fun, interesting people who can enjoy life even when they’re single. When they think about their ex, they may feel sad, or angry, but those feelings are the correct size, not overwhelming and destructive.
Neither of these types of people really needs closure. They know what they want, they’re focused on their goal, whether it’s to get back together with their ex or move on and live a happy life without them.
What do You Really Want Out of This Closure?
Closure is really for the folks somewhere in between, people whose emotions are still muddled up or way out of proportion. If you broke up a month ago and you’re still languishing in your home with all the curtains drawn, red-eyed from constant crying, feeling as though you simply can’t go on, then you need some kind of closure. Also, if you’re still feeling white-hot fury all the time, you need a different kind of closure.
What you’re really seeking through closure is peace of mind, the peace to go on about your life without these crippling feelings of sadness or rage. And that sort of closure doesn’t really come from interacting with your ex. It comes from within you.
Ask yourself this question: How does being furious at my ex when they aren’t even around make my life any better? The answer is it doesn’t. That anger is poisoning you and will make it much harder for you to ever have a new, healthy, happy relationship.
Let Go of Negative Emotions
Letting go of serious depression or anger takes a lot of hard work, and it may be so serious that you need the professional help of a therapist. But a good way to get started is through writing. Write for about 10 minutes per day, scribbling down how you feel about your ex on scratch paper. You don’t have to keep this stuff you write, or ever show it to anyone. It’s just to help you figure out any patterns in your emotions.
Do this for a month, writing every day. By then you should have some clearer idea what’s going on, and whether you actually ever need to see your ex again.
Now you have to be tough on yourself. Are you angry at your ex because you can’t control them? Do you think that’s ever going to change? Are you upset because they have a mind of their own and left you, or made decisions that forced you to leave them? Are you miserable for the same reasons? Because you can’t control another human being? If so, then why do you want to meet them again under the guise of seeking closure? Do you just want to vent your rage, or do you hope secretly to convince them to say, “You were right”?
Let Go of Your Want to Control the Situation
Trust me, the chances of you browbeating or guilt-tripping your ex into saying, “Oh, of course you were completely right and I was completely wrong” are close to zero.
This is a difficult thing to accept, but most of us have a hard enough time just controlling ourselves, and it’s pretty much impossible to control another person. No matter how hard you love them, or how logically you argue with them, they still sometimes do crazy, independent things. Meeting them again is probably just going to stir up all these toxic emotions all over again.
Accepting this fact, surrendering control of other people, is the best closure you can achieve.
Now there are a few cases, particularly where there was some sort of abuse, emotional or physical, in a relationship, where it can be psychologically healthy and helpful to meet your ex again and vent some of your feelings. But that’s a very tricky sort of situation. Best for you to seek professional help for something this serious.
And there are other situations where one partner is crippled by guilt and can’t move on until they make some sort of apology to their partner. This is also tricky, because many apologies are really attempts to manipulate the other person. If you have some unresolved guilt gnawing away at you, then you need to prepare what you’re going to say in advance, write it down, get it all clear, and then consider just sending it to the person. You must not expect any response at all. If you can do that, you deserve your closure.
If you’re still struggling to understand where you stand with your ex, sign up for a one-on-one coaching session with me. Talk soon!