It was a messy breakup. You didn’t want it to end like this; you probably didn’t want it to end at all. But it did.
One of the most pivotal moments in a person’s life is the first time their heart gets broken. And even if it’s happened before, it doesn’t get easier. Sometimes you’re able to get closure. You and your ex can talk things out, and you reach an understanding. That doesn’t necessarily make everything better, but it does make it easier to move on.
But sometimes you never even get that closure. Sometimes you’re left with nothing but a broken heart, unresolved issues, and unanswered questions. And sometimes that pain never goes all the way away. It feels unfair, and that’s because it is unfair. How are you supposed to move on with so much left unsaid?
You probably feel alone right now. You’re not. Even without your ex, there are people out there that love you and care for you. But that loneliness, believe it or not, is your path forward. The way you’re going to move on has nothing to do with your ex, and it has nothing to do with finding someone new. Instead, it has everything to do with you, as an individual, as opposed to part of a couple.
A Few Words on Closure
We imagine it going so smoothly. We’re hurt, and we have questions or unresolved feelings. So, we picture a nice sit-down conversation with our ex, maybe over a cup of coffee. We hash out our feelings, tensions rise, and fall, but we remain mature throughout. And when it’s all said and done, you have the closure you wanted. The pain might not be gone, but you’re ready to move on.
While this type of thing might happen in a movie, unfortunately, real life is rarely this clean. “Closure” in reality tends to be a much more abstract concept. If you’re lucky enough to get one of those fabled clear-cut conversations and move on amicably, that’s great. But more often, closure consists of many different, jagged layers.
Some of it will come from your ex, at varying times, in different pieces. Some of it will have to come from you. Some of it will be volunteered; some of it you will have to ask for. And sometimes, your ex won’t give you any closure at all. And you have to find a way to move forward anyway. Why is that so difficult?
Why Closure Matters
If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself obsessing over that closure you didn’t get, certain that everything would be better if only you got it… and then you find yourself questioning why you care so much. Why should these answers matter? This is my reality now; the relationship is over, and I need to move on, no matter why it happened. So the fact that you can’t do so makes it feel like there’s something wrong with you. And that makes you feel even worse.
But there’s nothing wrong with you. Closure is significant, on a deep, psychological level. The understanding of past outcomes allows us to inform our future decisions. When we don’t know why a breakup happened, we’re left continually questioning what we did wrong that led us there.
That leaves us questioning ourselves on a fundamental level; if we believe we did something wrong, but we don’t know what it was, we can’t keep ourselves from doing it again in the future. That leaves us unable to trust ourselves to lead successful relationships in the future.
Closure isn’t just necessary because we want to put a nice little bow on our past relationships. It matters because it allows us to approach future relationships with confidence.
How to Ask for Closure
If you’re reading this article, you’ve likely already tried asking, in one way or another. But when we experience a breakup, we’re already hurting, and we want to protect ourselves from feeling any additional pain or shame. So in the aftermath, if you ask for closure, it’s natural to dance around the topic. You don’t want to open up about your needs, because doing so leaves you exposed to further feelings of rejection.
But you need to remind yourself that your needs are valid. They are worthy of respect. And no one can advocate for your needs but you.
So, don’t dance around it. Tell your ex, directly and honestly, that you have questions. Tell them you need closure to move on. Acknowledge that yes, your relationship is over. But if they respect you as a person, they will honor these needs.
If they can’t do that, you’ve done all you can do. And you’ll have to find another way to move forward.
Beginning the Process of Moving On
You’ve done everything you can, but your ex has made their choice. You’re not going to be getting the closure you believe you need. You’re going to need to find a way to move on without it.
Before you dive into the process of self-discovery, here are some things to try as you get through the immediate aftermath of your breakup. Before we can really start to heal, sometimes we just need to get by. So, it’s more than okay to give yourself time before you start putting in the work towards moving on.
When you are ready to make an effort, it’s going to be a gradual process. Here are a few tips and exercises to keep in mind in these initial stages.
Reframe the Ending of the Relationship
Even if you’re not in a romantic relationship anymore, your ex should still care about you as a human being. If you’ve firmly and directly expressed to them how vital closure is to you, and they still refuse to give it, what does that say? I’m not trying to convince you that your ex is a bad person, or that the good memories you have of your time together aren’t real. But it’s clear they’re acting in the interest of themselves and themselves alone.
What does this have to do with closure? Well, when you don’t get answers, it’s natural to blame yourself and focus on what you may have done wrong to “cause” this. But your ex has just demonstrated to you that it was never really about you at all.
By denying you the closure that you clearly indicated that you needed, your ex has made it clear that the end of your relationship was always about them, and their own selfish decisions. So the first step in moving forward is to reconcile these selfish actions with the idea that you had of your ex. And to acknowledge that the breakup was not your fault.
Allow Yourself to Feel the Pain
One of the most imperative parts of moving on is to process the emotions that you’re feeling. It is natural to try to avoid these feelings. No one likes to feel pain or discomfort. But the more you try to hide from it, and to numb yourself, the longer it will stay with you.
There are two different ways this can happen. Your self-preservation instinct can naturally cause you to avoid the full depths of your feelings. But this will often leave you with a numb, empty feeling that never goes away.
Another issue is when your “head” is at odds with your “heart” (meaning you actively deny the validity of your emotions, viewing them as a problem to be “solved”). When you deny the validity of your feelings, you feel compelled to control them. That can work for a while, but feelings need to be felt. Eventually, something will cause them to spill over, and you will be overwhelmed in an unhealthy way. That makes you want to control your feelings even more, leading to a continuous vicious cycle.
These are both unhealthy but extremely natural ways of processing emotional pain. You get stuck in a state of endless emptiness, or a vicious cycle of fighting off your emotions and then getting overwhelmed by them. Break the cycle by instead looking your feelings straight in the eye, and feeling them honestly. Tell yourself they are real, and they are valid. Only then will you be able to process these emotions and move beyond them.
Write a Letter
One exercise that can be particularly effective is to write a letter to your ex (that you never necessarily send). This will allow you to work out your unresolved feelings and directly confront some of your ex’s hurtful actions. That can be a powerful healing tool.
Write down everything you would’ve said to your ex if you’d gotten the chance. Write down everything you’re feeling and why. Discuss why you felt closure was essential to you, and how it felt when they denied it to you.
Don’t filter yourself. Whatever comes out, write it down. You might wind up with a completely different letter than you intended to write when you first say down. This exercise can help us discover feelings that we didn’t even know we were grappling with—and address them right away.
Get as much negativity off your chest as possible. But it doesn’t need to be a wholly negative exercise. Focus on the positives about the relationship, and things you learned. And forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for trusting this person that ultimately proved not to be worthy of your trust. Forgive yourself for the pain that you’re feeling now, and tell yourself that it’s not your fault. And make a promise to yourself that you won’t let this stop you from being vulnerable in the future.
Don’t Try to Force Meaning
I know I just mentioned taking time to focus on the positives you can take away from your relationship. But don’t feel compelled to do so.
A common piece of advice doled out to those looking to move on is to find meaning in your breakup. And if you can do that, that’s great! But sometimes, trying to find meaning when none is there can actually prolong your pain and delay your ability to move on.
You might have noticed a theme so far. One of the worst things you can do is to try to dictate to yourself how things should be or how you should feel. You feel the way you feel, and that’s valid. Maybe there is meaning to be derived from your breakup. But sometimes relationships just don’t work out. And that’s okay.
Ultimately, though, the way to fully move on is to focus entirely on yourself. You’re probably very used to viewing yourself as just part of a whole. Used to putting your relationship first and yourself second. You might even have conditioned yourself to believe that prioritizing yourself is selfish.
All of that changes today. The way to move forward is to rediscover yourself; to learn more about who you truly are. And to start putting yourself first again. This isn’t selfish. It’s about growth. It might take some time even to remember who you really are and what you’re interested in. But in the end, this will make us a better person. And the stronger we are as an individual, the stronger our future relationships can be.
The biggest reason closure is so important is that without it, we question ourselves. We don’t know why this important relationship ended, so we’re filled with doubts about what we did wrong, and we no longer trust our judgment. We don’t trust ourselves not to make the same mistakes in future relationships.
If we can’t cure this doubt retroactively through the closure we needed, the only way to move forward is to attack it proactively. By focusing on growing as an individual, you will learn to be confident in yourself again. You’ll trust yourself to be vulnerable, and make another leap into future relationships again. And you’ll know that if that next one doesn’t work out, you’ll be okay.
Don’t Fall Into a Rebound
If you’ve been in a relationship for a while (especially if you’ve been in multiple relationships with little time between them), being alone with yourself is likely to be particularly challenging for you. You’re not used to being “alone,” and you likely feel completely lost.
The natural outcome in this situation is to slip into a rebound relationship. Nothing meaningful, just something to fill the void, to keep you from being on your own. In the moment, it will feel like you’ve moved on. But in reality, a rebound is nothing more than a band aid. Rebounds are almost always short-term relationships, and when it ends, you’ll be right back in the same position.
That isn’t to say you should avoid meeting new people. Branch out and be social, if that’s the kind of person you are. And maybe a relationship will emerge with someone you genuinely connect with, that you could genuinely see yourself being with for a long time. If so, that’s great! But you need to avoid the temptation to pursue a relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship.
Being on your own might be outside your comfort zone, especially at first. But it’s when we’re outside our comfort zone that we’re most capable of growth.
Reconnect with Old Friends
When you’re in a relationship, it’s all too easy to drift away from old friends. You spend the majority of your time with your partner. Maybe you make an effort to see your friends every now and then, but plans fall through sometimes. And either way, you’re not as close as you used to be.
I know the goal is to focus on yourself as an individual, but you don’t need to physically be alone to do it. In fact, one of the best ways to rediscover yourself is to resume spending time with people who knew and loved you before your relationship.
Reach out, apologize for being flaky, and just start enjoying each other’s company again. It will feel like old times before you know it, and that just might be what you need to feel like your old, independent self again. Either way, a rekindled friendship is a win.
Go Out and Do Things on Your Own
Self-discovery doesn’t mean just sitting around at home in silence. Even if you’ve reconnected with your old friend group, set some time aside to go out and do some things on your own.
I know there’s a stigma against going out to the movies or out to dinner by yourself; we’re worried that other people might judge us. I admit I used to subscribe to this stigma. I would never think about going out alone, for fear of “what people would think.”
Then, one day, none of my friends wanted to go to a movie I wanted to see, and I got over the stigma and went out to see it alone. And I had a great time! I was able to fully focus on the movie, and think deeper about my own reaction to it. And since then, I’ve made a point of going on “dates” with myself at least once a week, when possible.
The fact is, even if we find our soulmate tomorrow, the person we’re going to spend the most time with in our life is ourselves. So it’s essential to learn how to enjoy our own company and spend time with yourself without feeling glum or lonely.
One of the best ways to get over the hump is to go out and do something—see a concert, eat at a restaurant—you always wanted to do, but your ex wasn’t interested in. The more you start to spend time out in the world on your own, the more you’ll realize that you don’t need anyone else to have fun.
The Power of Self-Sufficiency
Closure following the end of a significant relationship is incredibly important. But while we usually think about it in terms of wrapping up our previous relationship, closure is actually crucial in terms of gaining the confidence to move forward. And self-discovery is another path to this same confidence, one you can undertake with or without closure.
Too many of us tend to define our own identities based on other people. Whether it’s defining ourselves based on our romantic relationships, or based on what other people think of us, the fact is that by doing so, we are giving away our control of who we are. When we instead work towards becoming a strong, independent individual, we reclaim that control. And it can serve a two-fold purpose.
Growing as an individual has worth in itself. When you are self-assured and enjoy spending time with yourself, you can overcome anything in your personal life. That doesn’t mean you’ll be completely insulated from emotional pain, but there’s a massive difference between wanting someone and feeling as though you need them. You’ll be more confident, and more capable of taking risks because you’ll know that even if they don’t work out, you’ll be able to get through them.
The more independent you are as an individual, the stronger your romantic relationships can be. This may seem counterintuitive, but a relationship between self-sufficient individuals is far less likely to fall into unhealthy, codependent patterns.
When you don’t need to be in a relationship, the relationships you do pursue become all about the positives. It’s not about filling a void; it’s about pursuing a healthy relationship that complements your identity, rather than completing it. It may be hard to see it now, but as painful as it is, this lack of closure represents an opportunity for growth, and for better relationships moving forward.