How to Get Closure

Closure isn't always what you think it is.

Posted Mar 17, 2020

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Many of my clients feel stuck because they don't have closure. They can't move on. They can't be present in new relationships. They dwell and wish they could go back in time and make different choices. They hold on to what was with two hands and by doing so, they are not able to move on with their lives.

I ask them what they need to get closure and it's always something from their ex. An apology. An explanation. Ownership. Things they have no control over.

So they wait and want. And most of the time, never get. So things are never closed and they don't allow themselves to move on. This keeps them stuck. Angry. Resentful. But more importantly, not present, which means they are loving with their past and not giving their new relationship a fair shot. 

Here's the truth. Closure doesn't involve anyone else but you. 

After my divorce, I didn't feel like I had closure. I needed an explanation. I needed answers. I needed her to understand. I needed to apologize. I needed her to apologize. I needed her to not hate me. All things that never came. And because of this, I felt stuck. I felt like I couldn't move on. It consumed me. I thought about it constantly. 

Nearly a decade later, I finally got an in-person meeting with her. Something I've always wanted. I thought, "Now I can finally get closure." Not quite.

We didn't talk about the past. At all. All the things I wanted to get off my chest so I can have "closure" stayed locked inside. The conversation just didn't go that way. I felt like she had two hands on the conversation wheel and just decided to ride shotgun. I didn't want to make things worse.

So it turned into a casual hang, like when you meet up with an old friend you drifted from and ask how their parents are doing. Lots of small talk. Forgettable things. All I remember was telling her I had to put my "hair away" — I was rocking a man bun at the time. Then coming back from the restroom, grilling some Korean barbeque, taking a sake shot, and exchanging a platonic, heartfelt I'll never see you again so have a nice life hug. 

A week later, I wanted another meeting. She drew a hard line. We exchanged some emails and I learned that she still had a lot of feelings about what happened. I don't think things were closed for her either. I don't know. But I respected her boundary. 

We haven't talked since. And probably never will.

So how do I find closure? 

This is about the point when people book a session with me and ask me that exact same question. 

Here's the answer and something I must remind myself of as well.

Closure is an inner-self journey. It doesn't require the other person. It requires you to find peace on your own. And the way you do that is on you. It's not contingent on someone else giving you something. And like any journey, it's not a straight line. It's wild and messy. Up and down and sideways and not a one-size-fits-all. 

First, you have to reframe. You are not "closing" something. Because the truth is, things may never be closed. The word closed feels very cut and dry, black and white. But nothing about relationships, including expired ones, are that binary. They are multilayered and complicated. There are a lot of gray and feelings that may not make sense. You may think you have healed and moved on and out of nowhere feelings come back up. That's just how we are as humans. It doesn't mean you're going to go back to your ex but feelings and memories are never really "closed." They come and go like the tide. But eventually, fewer new feelings and memories are created.

So instead of desperately trying to put everything into a box and closing it , tell yourself you need to heal. 

Wanting to heal is very different than wanting to close. Healing brings it back to you. Closing seeks something from someone else. Healing takes the pressure off and allows patience with the self. 

Okay, so how do you heal?

1. Healthy boundaries. 

If you keep peeling scabs, the wound will never heal. No check-ins and coffee dates with the hope of a second round. No FaceTime, no texts, no drive-bys, and no more following on social media. Healthy boundaries means cutting the cord. Completely. 

Okay, now that I said that. I also want to say every situation is different. If you have both been drifting for a long time and breaking up just made it official on paper, maybe you guys can hang once in a while. Maybe you can check-in and follow each other on social. Maybe you won't sink into yesterday and what happened. Maybe there is peace. Well, if that's the case, you guys already have some form of closure. So you have to decide what healthy boundaries look like.

Or what if you guys are raising a child together? There may not be coffee dates but you have to engage with each other. There's no way around that. Sure, but boundaries are still imperative. You have to decide, what is healthy for you? Not what you want. Or what he wants. What's the most healthy for all of you guys, including your child? 

Healthy boundaries also include mental and emotional ones. Not just physical. Stop thinking about him and what happened. Stop playing back movie trailer best-of moments that trigger more and more emotion every time you play them back. Stop dwelling on things and what could have been. This is the harder boundary to draw. Because we're in our heads constantly. It's not just a decision. Drowning in our thoughts is a virus with a daily outbreak.

2. Get a life.

You may already have one. But chances are that life revolved around your relationship. It's time to put all your energy back into you. "What does that even look like?" you may be asking, since many of us haven't done that in a very long time. Or ever.

Well, it's time to ask yourself what that looks like. But more importantly, what action steps are you going to put behind building a better life? Otherwise, you'll just be thinking about it. Get out of your head and go get a life. Do everything you've wanted to do but didn't have time for. Or were afraid to. Write a book. Learn to paint. Dance again. Start a business. Go somewhere alone. Fail at something.

Remember, the more you work on your life, the more you'll bring to the table in your next relationship. If you don't, your inability to create a meaningful life for yourself will be what ruins it.

3. Love back bigger.

This doesn't mean to initiate round two. This doesn't mean to engage again. By bigger, I mean love beyond everything that has happened. Love beyond what he did to you. Beyond your ego, your pain, and your anger. Why? It will help you let go, heal, and move on. If you can see him as a person, struggling and going through his own journey like everyone else, that he is just human, and like every human, does things that don't make sense, and that he has a story like you do, it will be easier for you to accept. To no longer blame. Hold. Hate. Or want. 

4. Repeat.

Because healing isn't a one-time thing. It takes time. The repetition of all of the above plus time is what will get you to heal your heart and move on with your life. 

Be patient with yourself. Know that it's a process. And maybe one day, when you've gone on your rebirth journey and have built an amazing life, one that you're proud of because you worked your ass off for it and became a different person on the way, you will look back and see how the break up was the catalyst for it all.

— Angry