Getting Closure After a Breakup
The end of a relationship can leave nagging, unanswered questions: Perhaps something important was left unsaid. Perhaps things could have been handled differently. Perhaps he/she was “the one” and now the opportunity is lost forever. Closure is essential to ending this unproductive train of thought and gaining a sense of finality.
Relationships rarely end neatly. Sometimes the other person doesn’t provide any reason for the breakup, leaving you wondering what went wrong. Sometimes the other person is all too clear about their reasons, leaving you feeling insecure. Even if you initiated the split, you may second-guess your decision to break up or regret how everything went down.
Identifying the Core Issue(s)
For some people, getting closure requires an “exit interview” with the ex; for others, it simply takes time and reflection. Consider what bothers you most about the breakup. Which do you feel most acutely: sadness, anger, rejection, remorse or regret? The path to recovery varies slightly for each of these emotions:
The end of a relationship triggers feelings of loss that are akin to grief. Sadness is a natural response to grief; don’t be afraid to lean on your friends, family and support networks during this time. However, if the sadness persists or you sense you may be suffering from depression, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.
Are you more upset about how the breakup news was delivered or how you were treated in the relationship? If you feel compelled to discuss these wrongs with your ex, allow a cooling-off period first so you can have a constructive discussion. Whether or not you have that conversation, try to forgive—if only for your own peace of mind.
A breakup can take a toll on your self-esteem. For some, the best “revenge” is looking good—hit the gym and pamper yourself a little. It’s not about the superficialities; it’s about feeling positive during a difficult time. Remember the attributes that make you a good person and look forward to sharing those qualities with the next person you date.
If you wronged your partner, try to make amends. An apology involves 1) acknowledging what you did wrong 2) allowing the other person to express how those actions made him/her feel and 3) actually saying you are sorry. If a face-to-face apology is problematic, construct a (preferably hand-written) letter to the person.
Remorse arises when we feel guilty about something. Regret can occur even if you’ve done nothing wrong. You may regret not being able to save the relationship. Or, you may simply mourn the loss of what you once had together. “The most helpful way to experience regret is to feel it deeply, get over it quickly and move on and use it to push you to new behaviors that are going to be helpful,’’ says Neal J. Roese, psychologist and professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.
Talk It Out
After processing internally, it may be helpful to have a dialog with some friends. Then—and only then—consider asking for a meeting with your ex. If you only dated briefly, the person may not feel like he/she owes you an explanation. But if you’ve been together for months or years, a little debriefing is justifiable. Be prepared for the fact that talking it out doesn’t always make you feel better. It might even make you feel worse, especially if the person is uncommunicative or says hurtful things. If your ex isn’t willing to meet, try writing your feelings down or meeting with a therapist instead.
Recovering from a ‘Digital Dump’
Many people elect to break up via text or social media (rather than in person). Breaking up remotely may seem less traumatic, but it also reduces the other person’s chance of getting closure. At least with a face-to-face breakup, the person usually attempts to explain the reasons behind the decision. He/she may also provide reassurances: “You are a great person, I’ve really enjoyed our time together, I’d like to still be friends,” etc. The statements may not be totally convincing, but they demonstrate that the person still has some regard for your feelings. “Being on the receiving end of remote dumping can leave us stuck in emotional limbo,” says University of Chicago neuroscientist John Cacioppo. “The pain of losing a meaningful relationship can be especially searing in the absence of direct social contact.”
Reconnect … or Disconnect Totally
Occasionally, couples can work through their issues and emerge with a stronger relationship. But be careful not to slide into old patterns that land you back where you started. Avoid the cycle of breaking up and getting back together. If the issues in your relationship are too foundational, cut all emotional ties with that person.
Weary of trying to make sense of it all? Focus on processing through the most essential emotional concerns emerging from the split—those issues that could potentially impact future relationships. Don’t worry so much about the rest. Time may not completely heal all wounds, but it does supply new, positive opportunities and opportunities to help you move on after a breakup.