Closure is a relationship trope that we often see play out in blockbuster movies. When a couple breaks up, we often see the partners individually (and often collectively) try to seek what they call “closure.” In many scenarios, it is depicted as light-hearted and funny, but if you’ve lived through a breakup yourself, you know the process of getting closure can be painful.
We see this desire for closure play out in our own relationships when we experience a separation or break up. When a relationship ends, we are sometimes left feeling heartbroken and often confused. In an effort to make sense of such a horrible disruption, we seek understanding. We seek comfort and solace. We seek closure.
Getting closure can be an incredibly difficult process. After all, not everyone processes closure in the same way. What if your ex doesn’t want to process what’s happened with the relationship and they’re ready to move on? What if you’re the person who doesn’t want any more conversations about your relationship and you want to start moving on alone, or with someone else? The truth is there are no easy — or right — answers.
Can Closure Ever Actually be Attained?
Some might argue that closure is an appropriate means to attempt to end a relationship amicably. Others might assert that the need for closure is often a misguided attempt at restarting the relationship. Research has conceptualized closure as, “knowing the reason a romantic relationship was terminated and no longer feeling emotional attachment or pain, thereby allowing for the establishment of new and healthy relationships.” As you can imagine, this is highly individual experience and is not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. I like to think of closure as a healing process, instead of a single conversation or event.
Maybe you’ve been in the position when a relationship has ended earlier than you wanted. Your partner decides it is time to separate, or circumstances have made the connection difficult to maintain. Sometimes this can leave us in a place where we are not able to move on just yet. We may keep in regular contact with our ex either out of denial, or because it is what feels comfortable and familiar. Maintaining contact can greatly complicate the process of closure.
However, it’s not impossible to gain some sense of acceptance over a relationship ending if you are still in contact. People cope and process situations differently so there is no one approach or perspective that works for everyone. We each have our own processes we employ when working towards acceptance and closure and that’s OK.
The Relationship Between Closure and Grief
If you’ve lost a significant relationship, you may recognize that when a relationship in our life ends, we experience bereavement or grief. We do our best to try to make sense of the important loss. This is not only true for losing someone due to death, but may also apply to the loss of a substantial relationship with someone who is still living but otherwise out of your life.
The Five Stages of Grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance give us a process that helps us work toward realization of a loss and moving on. But not everyone who experiences a loss achieves acceptance. There is no time limit to these stages either. The process of acceptance can take days for some and years for others. And just to clarify, acceptance doesn’t mean that you feel good about the loss, but that you accept the reality of that loss and its impact on your life — that you can go on despite the loss.
If you’re not able to move towards accepting the loss, then you might be at greater risk of complicated grief and depression. If you’ve had a history of mental health issues previously, you are at greater risk for clinical complications following the loss of a relationship. If you’re unable to find acceptance or closure on your own, then it’s wise to consider attending a support group or speaking with a therapist to process and heal from the loss. While we all experience grief, if we are unable to achieve closure, the grief can halt us from living out the rest of our lives in a healthy and functional manner.
Closure in the Time of Social Media
Social media has undoubtedly complicated our lives. It is a helpful — and sometimes inspirational — tool to connect and share. When it comes to closure, social media can make the process a bit more challenging. When memories pop up in your news feed, or photos remain in your online albums or profiles, it can sometimes feel like it is difficult to get away from the person and relationship that you need to heal from.
Being intentional about how you use social media, especially with regards to grief and closure is important. Maybe at some point you’ll be able to appreciate those old photos and videos of good times with your ex, but that’s not likely to be the case until you’ve reached a point of acceptance.
In the meantime, think about hiding photos or re-organizing them (even removing photos from your phone) so that in moments of nostalgia you won’t find yourself automatically searching for that person and memories. Constantly looking back makes it hard to move forward and create space for new relationships to come your way. Sometimes it can be helpful for your process to be reminded of those good times soon after a breakup, yet some folks find it delays the grieving process even longer. Be aware of what you need so that you can make the best decision for you.
Honoring the Healing Process
Closure is often not an easy process. These days, it seems that gaining closure can be near impossible. Between ghosting and memories popping up on your feeds, it can be hard to allow ourselves the time and space needed to effectively grieve, and ultimately, accept a personal loss.
The most important thing that you can do in your search for closure is to be self-aware and honest about your desires and needs. Know what you want and need following a separation or loss, so that when and if that times comes you can take care of yourself and honor your healing process.