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“We eventually learn that emotional closure is our own action.” ~David Deida
When my last relationship ended, I didn’t really understand why. After eight years together and still feeling love for each other, my partner walked away saying he didn’t feel able to commit.
He didn’t want to work on the relationship because he felt that nothing would change for him. So, I had no choice but to let it end and do everything I could to pick myself up from deep grief, intensified by great confusion.
Now, over a year later, I still cannot give you a definitive reason as to why we broke up. I do still think about the breakup and occasionally it can bring up emotion, even now.
But these days, instead of that burning need to understand and make sense of it, I have a more distanced curiosity when I think about the reasons we ended. I think this might be that elusive state we call “closure.”
This reflection led me to explore what closure means: why we strive for it and why it feels so hopeless when we think we can’t reach it. Do we ever truly have it and where does it come from?
What is Closure?
When we say we want “closure” at the end of a relationship, what do we actually want?
I have discovered that when people talk to me about needing closure, what they generally tend to mean is that they want answers and understanding about why things ended the way they did.
Heartbroken people often believe that they will get the closure they so desperately desire, if only they could make sense of why. They expect that this knowledge will help them stop the overthinking and relieve them of their painful emotions.
I used to believe this too, but experience from my previous crushing divorce taught me it doesn’t work like that. Closure must come from within because if you look to your ex or anywhere else to find it, you will be left frustrated and helpless and you will prolong your healing process.
So, let’s look at some truths about closure that explain why it has to be an inside job:
1. Your ex’s responses will lead to more questions.
At the point of my breakup, my ex and I had a couple of conversations that involved me doing a lot of asking why, but not getting many answers. He couldn’t really explain; he told me “It’s not you, it’s me,” and when someone gives you that as their reason, there is nowhere you can go with it.
For the person leaving it probably feels like the best way to end it. But for the person left, it’s deeply unsatisfying, and our natural tendency is to desperately ask more questions: “What’s wrong?” “Can I help you with whatever you’re going through?” “Can we fix it somehow?” “Can we at least work on it?”
It’s important to know that when we are still in love with someone, nothing they can say will us give closure. The answers will never feel enough, they will only lead to more questions and more longing.
2. “One last meeting” extends the pain.
If there is still communication after a breakup it’s tempting to ask for one last face-to-face, to help you understand and gain the closure you seek. But for all of the reasons above, this will not help.
A meet-up is often an excuse to get in touch because the ending feels too painfully final. Sometimes there’s a veiled hope that by seeing them for “one last talk” they may rethink or have doubts about leaving.
Nobody is ever wrong for seeking closure this way, but before deciding to meet, check whether you are really hoping for reconciliation. Consider how your pain might be prolonged if you don’t get it.
3. Your closure can’t come from their truth.
You cannot rely on the words of the person who broke your heart for your own closure. Not because they are being deliberately dishonest (except for specific cases when they are), but because there is never just one truth at the time of the breakup.
The answers you receive from your ex may bring you a little bit of understanding or peace at first. But if you depend on them for your closure, and then the reality shifts, it can set you back and bring even more pain.
I allowed myself to feel deeply reassured by my ex’s assertion that he left because he needed to be by himself. So, when he told me two months later that he was dating again, it left me utterly devastated because I had allowed my peace of mind to come from his words and not my own healing. I had believed “It’s not you, it’s me,” then felt the gut punch that it actually was me.
However, as I started to move through the healing process, my growth allowed me to shift my perspective on the meaning I gave to this revelation. I learned to reframe the deep feelings of rejection to create my own, more empowering, understanding of why we ended.
You cannot cling to reassurance from someone else’s truth or explanations, because they will not hold lasting meaning for you. Your closure will only have a strong foundation if it comes from your own truth.
4. Moving on should not be conditional.
You disempower yourself when you believe that you can only get closure via your ex-partner. In doing so, you are effectively allowing them to say whether it is okay to move on.
If you require an apology, changed behavior, an explanation, empathy, forgiveness, or anything else from them before you can move forward, what happens if those things never come? Are you okay with potentially spending years waiting for someone else to fix your pain?
Whatever your ex-partner tells or withholds from you, however they acted back then, whatever their current situation or future behavior, is far less relevant than your response to any of these things.
Your ability to gain closure is unconditionally within your control, and it becomes far easier when you stop focusing on your ex.
5. Closure is not passive—what you do counts.
We have a common understanding that “time heals a broken heart.”
While it’s true that the intensity of grief emotions can lesson over time, what really makes a difference to your speed of moving on, is how willing you are to do the inner work to change and grow.
As you gain closure, you’ll notice you are no longer so emotionally triggered by the same external situations. However, this doesn’t happen because anything out there is different; it’s because you are different.
When you learn to heal an internal wound, shift your perspective, and change your responses to events, you gain peace from the inside. This is not dictated by time; it’s up to you how soon you want to make these changes.
6. Closure is not a one-time event.
There is a misconception that closure is something we finally “get.” The word itself implies that it’s a conclusion to everything related to the breakup. Because of this belief, we find ourselves constantly wondering when we will “have it.”
Instead, if we see it as a process rather than a one-time event, it takes the pressure and expectation away from reaching this end goal. Creating closure is a continual journey of self-awareness, learning, and checking-in on our progress. We don’t just wake up one morning with a clean slate for a new life.
Reframing closure this way also relieves us of judgment about how we should feel. It’s common to regard new emotional triggers, after a period of good progress, as unwelcome. They are negatively seen as a sign of a setback, but they are just highlighting where we still need a little more healing.
Allow Yourself Achievable Closure
The way we view closure matters. Compare the statement “I’m gaining closure every day” with “I don’t have closure yet.” You know straight away which feels kinder, more healing, less self-judging.
I recently asked people what closure looked like to them, and I found that most believed that it is something you reach when you no longer think about or have emotions around your breakup.
I wonder how realistic this thinking is. Perhaps it’s healthier and more attainable to claim we have closure, not when our thoughts and feelings have completely gone, but when they no longer have power over us.
In my experience, becoming at peace with your breakup ultimately comes from healing through growth, and choosing to focus on what is within your control. This is the kind of closure that doesn’t come from an ex-partner, a rebound relationship, or any other external source. When you gain closure this way, it cannot be taken away from you.
About Marissa Walter
Marissa Walter is a counsellor, coach and author of Break Up and Shine. Her 30 day online programme Stop Focusing On Your Ex helps transform the way you think and feel in order to move on from break-up and divorce. Visit her website Break Up and Shine for inspirational blog posts, free resources and details of 1:1 support for healing from heartbreak. You can also follow Marissa in her free Facebook group and on Instagram.