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Why closure at the end of a relationship is overrated

It’s normal when a romantic relationship ends — either a slow death or through a blind side — to feel as if your heart is ripped out without anesthesia. It doesn’t matter whether your breakup happens over the phone, via text or through smoke signals. You feel spiritually and emotionally depleted. Once the shock passes, you feel grief, sadness, anger but mainly confusion and you start looking for answers.

When I was single, I believed there was a ritual to most breakups. The ritual was to get “Closure.” In psychology, closure can be paraphrased as, “an individual’s desire for a firm answer to a question.”

Closure may feel particularly important if you’ve received mixed messages. Most of us hate ambiguity. When thoughts and behaviors don’t align, it creates what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance happens in situations where thoughts and attitudes conflict with behaviors. Someone says, “I Love You!” but then they end things, ‘What?’

When it comes to closure most people, including myself, believe that not only is it something you ‘want or deserve,’ you feel you ‘need’ it. You believe getting closure will be the answer to moving on, and it will help you learn from past mistakes.

If you didn’t see your breakup coming, it’s easy to become a private investigator of sorts. You comb over every email, text, and message searching for clues to the mystery of what went wrong. However, despite your best sleuthing, often the evidence you do find may not warrant the ending. You begin to question your own sanity –Did my relationship actually happen, did I make it all up? Why did it have to end?

When people insist upon closure, it is usually one of three things you are REALLY looking for:

  1. An ending that makes sense.
  2. Validation that the relationship was significant and,
  3. Information about what really happened.

Seldom — if ever — do people looking for closure actually want feedback. Ideally, you want to hear how special you are, that it’s not your fault, that your ex is making the biggest mistake of their life and that in some way they are flawed not you.

The truth about closure is that it is overrated. Hear me out.

From a psychological perspective, you DON’T actually NEED closure to move forward from your relationship. You can invest a lot of time and energy in prolonging your pain trying to make sense of someone else’s actions when the best way to heal is to focus on your new future and work on processing YOUR feelings about the relationship ending.

That said, the type of closure you seek will actually depend more on your love style than any other personal trait.

If you are an EMOTIONAL TYPE (a Loyal Supporter or an Expressive Giver) closure may be your desire to know that your relationship was real and significant. You want to be able to trust that your feelings were mutual and validated, to know that the time you spent was ‘special.’ You want to know the emotional ‘truth’ beneath the decision. Ideally, closure for emotional types is sharing feelings of sadness with your partner.

If you are more the INDEPENDENT TYPE (the Hesitant Romantic or Renaissance Lover) closure is less about sharing tears and more about sharing facts. You want to make sense of the ending; was I deceived? Did I misread the situation? You want to know what changed and when? You don’t necessarily want validation, you want information.

If you don’t know your type, take my assessment here 

Regardless if you prefer tears or a factual testimony, is it realistic to expect closure? Do you imagine your ex will be able to give you anything that is helpful? Even in the best case scenario, you might hear, “You’re wonderful, it’s ME, not YOU!” How will this information be useful? Will you be less wonderful the next time? Will closure actually answer the burning question- Why am I still single?

The most important thing to learn from a breakup is your history to piece together your romantic life like a puzzle and see the big picture. Are you picking emotionally unavailable partners? Are you projecting your needs and fears onto others? Are you afraid of being alone? Look at these questions and examine the answers more for patterns.

Also, when a relationship ends instead of seeking closure try the following:

  • Create an ending that fits

Your ending should be neither a fairy tale nor a horror story. No one person is 100% responsible for a relationship outcome. The real reason your relationship didn’t work is usually a combination of you and your partner’s love styles. You tell people, “John and I broke up because he’s emotionally unavailable and coming out of a divorce.” While there may be some elements that are true is this the whole truth? John might also have a pattern of avoiding closeness and you have a pattern of seeking closeness and falling in love quickly. A more accurate ending should take into perspective the combination of people being opposite types, with competing needs in their relationships.

  • Look for the patterns that are consistent across most your relationships.

The things you do repeatedly are those things that will make a bigger difference in finding sustainable love. If you have a Nervous love style, your need for validation may push you towards commitment because you want consistency versus your partner being ready for this. If you are Nervous, you must learn to take things slower and tolerate some ambivalence at the start. If you have an Isolated love style, your need for independence might come across as aloof where partners question whether you are “all-in.” If so, can you learn to share more of your feelings, see your partner as equal, and make your partner feel loved and adored?

Once you focus on clarification and an understanding of your patterns, then you can learn from your relationships.

The mystery of why your relationships end is a very personal spiritual journey that only YOU can solve. Insight into yourself and your patterns will help you crack the code yourself AND allow you to move forward without spending time and energy rehashing your history.

Secure note: Instead of getting closure from an ex, pay attention to your patterns. You hold the key to your future. If you can learn from your past, you will be one step closer to finding the love of your life.
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12 comments to " Why closure at the end of a relationship is overrated "

  • Jennifer

    Dr. Diane sage advice, as usual. I too usually want to know what happened, but as you say, maybe better to just move on…..
    while I don’t want to do so, I know it is best for me
    Thanks,
    Jenny

  • Nancy

    Dr. Diane, I passed this well timed post to my daughter who is having a heck of a time with her old boyfriend, She said it was helpful and is now following you as well. I told her better to tear the bandaid off quickly, and you reiterated my message.
    Thanks,
    A concerned Mom

    • Diane Strachowski

      Nancy,
      Thanks for your comment, sorry to hear your daughter is struggling, nice to know that my advice could be helpful. Your advice is also helpful and great for your daughter to get support from many people.
      Best,
      Dr. Diane

  • Jaclyn Mullen

    I shared this piece with a friend of mine who recently went through an experience like this. This article was SO HELPFUL for her to move FORWARD. Thank you for explaining cognitive dissonance too!

    • Diane Strachowski

      Jaclyn,
      Thanks for the positive feedback, I’m happy to help people with complicated relationships,
      Best,
      Dr. Diane

  • Sandy

    This post came on the day that I heard via email that my relationship. It had been going back and forth for a while, but this was “it”, as they say. Ironically, I emailed him back that it was “good to get closure”, yet your comments resonated with me. It is me trying to find a reason, validation, etc. and instead, I should look at patterns within me. Thanks for your timely advice!

    • Diane Strachowski

      Sandy,
      Interesting how timing is everything, glad my advice was well-timed.
      Best to you on your journey,
      Dr. Diane

  • Jackie

    This makes way more sense. Patterns are more helpful to identify and address than closure. I don’t think we ever have full closure until we’re totally over it. By then we don’t care what happened because it’s an emotionally done deal. If we have a pattern in holding on then that is something to notice.

    • Diane Strachowski

      Jackie,
      Wise comments, yes, you can move on more easily when you don’t have emotional feelings anymore.
      I hope to help people find their patterns and then learn to improve them.
      Best,
      Dr. Diane

  • Heather

    Wow! You are so spot on. I have spent way too much time searching for “reasons” which has only resulted in frustration and wasted time and energy. Great advice!

    • Diane Strachowski

      Heather,
      Thanks for the comment, Yes, it’s liberating to create your own ending and move on….
      Dr. Diane

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