Letting Go Without Closure: 6 Strategies to Help Healing
Breakups are difficult, even when we get that often-desired last conversation with our beloved. It’s natural to seek a dialogue at the end of a relationship for a variety of reasons -- including to learn what you could have done to be a better partner, understanding why the relationship failed, or for feedback on a certain aspect of the relationship. The hope is that closure will make both parties feel better by learning from their mistakes. In theory, good closure should help you let go and move on with your life. However, there is an illusion that a final conversation has the potential to tie the relationship up in a perfect bow by leaving no questions unanswered.
Yet, closure requires the cooperation of two parties, and sometimes, one party is unwilling or unable to have this final dialogue. Sometimes the avoidant party believes that it feels too painful, and other times this approach is preferred rather than potentially further hurting the other person. But, what if your former partner denies you the closure you feel you need? Oftentimes, a lack of closure can feel like a major setback in the healing process. Accepting this truth -- rather than waiting or begging for closure -- is the first step in healing.
Below you’ll find six strategies for letting go without closure.
Give Yourself Permission
The days, weeks, and even months following a breakup are a time of mixed emotions. Rather than beating yourself up for still being sad, angry, confused, or ashamed, give yourself permission to feel everything you are feeling without judgement. Instead of pushing emotions away, allow them to flow freely for as long as you need them to.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no exact equation of how long you should grieve relative to the length of a relationship. Often, we tell ourselves that we “should feel better by now” and don’t give ourselves enough time to fully grieve our loss. This can lead to prolonged grieving in the long-term, as emotions that are “pushed down” can oftentimes resurface in future relationships and become roadblocks to our happiness. Prolonged or incomplete grief may also result in poor future choices (Brenner, 2011) related to relationship, substances, or other life and relationship choices.
Create a Ritual
When closure is not an option, a creative “rite of passage” type ceremony or intention can help draw that line in the sand that is often the result of a closure conversation. For instance, going to a favorite spot in nature and meditating on the release of the relationship, or putting everything you have in your home that reminds you of this person into a box, and then out of sight, might be an effective way to close this door.
Another source of pain can be the old familiar spots or activities you once frequented with your loved one. After you’ve given yourself a little time to heal, revisiting those places (e.g., restaurants, coffee shops, vacation spots, etc.) and creating new memories with yourself or others close to you can weaken the emotional tie those places have to your past relationship and help you feel empowered to move forward.
Write a Letter
This age-old remedy for all sorts of relationship problems works here too. Pull up a blank computer screen or grab a piece of paper - journals can also be particularly useful for this exercise - and begin downloading your unedited thoughts. Allow your frustrations, love, and truths flow freely onto the page. If you then feel up to it, begin to compose those thoughts into a letter stating exactly what you’d like to say to your previous partner.
Oftentimes, these letters are tempting to send and while it usually makes no difference to the healing process to send them or not send them, make sure you sit with this letter for several days before deciding whether you really want to send it. If you do decide to send it, practice releasing the expectations around receiving a response or receiving a favorable, validating response. This expectation can leave the door to further disappointment and upset wide open.
Commit to a New Interest
If you’ve always wanted to learn to ski, play piano, or recite poetry, now is the time to fully immerse yourself in a new hobby. With more time on your hands, it’s the perfect time to join a meet-up group, enroll in a course (some are even free), or buy a stack of books on an interest you’ve been drawn to. Not only will filling your time help prevent destructive rebound relationships, but you’ll meet new friends and feel better about yourself when you are learning and growing.
Recognize that Closure Comes from Within
While we do believe that we need the input from the other person to have true closure, the real truth is that closure comes from within. Understanding why the relationship failed could have positive effects on future relationships, but the letting go always happens from within.
Dr. Abigail Brenner M.D proposes the following questions when she suggests that we are responsible for our closure (Brenner, 2011):
- What or whom are you holding onto? Why?
- Does holding on truly make you happy, or are you hanging on to a situation the way it once was, or the way you wished it had been, instead of how it actually turned out?
- Are you using this "holding on" as an excuse to stay stuck and unresolved? In other words, is dwelling in the past taking you away from moving toward your future?
- Are you trying to avoid dealing with loss and the void that loss creates?
- If you're willing to let go, what does that really mean? What will you have to do?
- Are you afraid of not knowing what the outcome will be?
- Ultimately, what do you believe will happen to you if you let go?
These powerful questions can help uncover fears around truly letting go, such as the fear that accepting closure of your relationship makes you available to be in another relationship, and potentially hurt again. Doing the important work of letting go will take you a long way in knowing when it will be time to explore dating again.
Seek the Help You Need
Yes, friends and family will be there to listen to your immediate feelings and help you process during the early days of a break-up. Yet, they aren’t equipped to be long-term support through the stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
At Center for Shared Insight, we specialize in relationship therapy that supports every level of one’s journey to discovering how to find and keep love. To learn more how we can help the healing process, contact me, Dr. Kristen Hick, to schedule a free consultation.
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Brenner, A. 4 6. (2011). 5 ways to find closure from the past. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-flux/201104/5-ways-find-closure-the-past