What Is Closure in a Relationship?

5 signs you haven't found it just yet, plus steps to help you move forward

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Everyone experiences relationship losses throughout their life, and some endings are more complex, painful, or confusing than others. Closure refers to having a sense of understanding, peace, and accepted finality of the relationship whether it’s ended because of loss, rejection, or growing apart.

“Closure looks different for everyone, but at its core it’s a sense of completion and release from the entanglement of the relationship,” explains mental health therapist Myree Morsi. Essentially, closure provides you the ability to move forward with what is next in your life.

Here we're outlining some signs that indicate you might not have found healthy closure just yet. From there, we're offering guidance to help you close that chapter of your life and move forward.

5 Signs You Haven’t Found Closure

The thing about closure is that it can sometimes be tricky to find. Sometimes we struggle to wholly let go and the natural ending of the relationship is drawn out for months or even years. Sometimes the ending was so abrupt that we struggle to make sense of what happened or accept that the relationship is over.

In other cases, we harbor intense feelings of guilt, shame, confusion, or grief that’s difficult to work through. And sometimes it may feel like the other person prevents us from getting the closure we feel we deserve.

Here are a few signs that you might not have found it just yet.

You Can’t Stop Thinking About the Relationship

Ruminating and obsessing over the person and what happened are clear signs that you have not yet found closure. Morsi says, “You’re still feeling entangled energetically, mentally or emotionally with them.”

This might present as having intrusive thoughts about them, being unable to sleep or complete daily tasks because you’re thinking about them, habitually checking their social media, or having internal conversations with or “at” them.

You Can’t Understand What Happened

Understanding why the relationship ended the way it did brings a sense of internal peace. If you struggle to make sense of the way things ended, this can plague you can cause you to feel like the book hasn’t yet been closed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a study that examined young adults' behavior after ending a romantic relationship found that when when participants had a greater understanding of why the breakup occurred, they experienced less inner turmoil and felt better about the relationship in general.

 You Keep Re-Opening the Wound

Reaching out to the other person after a relationship has ended can extend the feelings of your pain. It essentially prevents the emotional door from fully shutting. You might feel a strong desire to reach out to the other person or revisit the relationship because you want to find answers and better understand why things ended.

Interestingly, a 2015 study concluded that when people accepted a friend request from their ex on social media, they experienced more anxiety and depression compared to those who didn’t accept the request.

 You Question Yourself and Your Worth

“When a close relationship ends, it is natural to experience grief and sadness. This is universal and a part of everyone’s life experience,” says Dr. Todd Gaffaney, a clinical psychologist and professor. “However, a breakdown in the framework of closure may interfere with the grieving process.”

For example, if through your ex-partners accusations about you (e.g. you are too demanding) or you own negative internal dialogue (e.g. I am unlovable), you could feel shame, unloved, and inferior.

This is perhaps a sign that your mind actually is trying to make sense of what happened so you can find closure. However, the blame seldom falls squarely on one person and isn’t likely a reflection of you or your actions.

What’s more, these negative beliefs and feelings may extend the grieving process and be carried over as heavy emotional baggage from one relationship to another.

You’re Holding on to Anger or Resentment

If things ended poorly or abruptly, you could have a deep sense of anger, frustration, or resentment, says Morsi. These feelings might morph into sadness or grief, or sometimes switch back and forth.

How to Get Closure

Feeling like you don’t have closure can cause anguish and upset and might even make you feel like you can’t move onto your next relationship or other parts of your life. Here are a few ways you can recover, let go, and move forward.

Accept You May Not Receive Clear Answers

Sometimes when a relationship ends, the other person is unable or unwilling to answer our questions outright. The reality is that we must crease closure within ourselves versus seeking it out externally. 

“It’s a radical act for many of us to let a relationship go, especially when we have to do it without the other person doing the same,” says Morsi. “It’s important to stop trying to get them to ‘give’ this to you. This alone will then free you immediately—and it’s very empowering.”

Consider the Larger Picture

When we imagine and stretch our understanding of our ex-partner, this allows us to understand more about why the relationship ended the way it did. Dr. Gaffaney says, “This means practicing empathy for what our partner is stressed about and viewing them in a larger context.

Todd Gaffaney, Psy.D

If you plant a healthy seed in toxic soil, it will not grow as tall and strong as you might hope. This metaphor applies to self- and partner-forgiveness as well,

— Todd Gaffaney, Psy.D

Engage in Forgiveness Work

Holding onto intense emotions prevents us from stepping forward. It also causes inner anguish. Forgiving yourself and the other person can be difficult, but it’s one of the first steps in finding peace and closure. 

“If you plant a healthy seed in toxic soil, it will not grow as tall and strong as you might hope. This metaphor applies to self- and partner-forgiveness as well,” says Dr. Gaffaney. He says that by forgiving, you exchange toxic feelings and a negative mental mindset about your partner or yourself for a more flexible attitude that is more consistent with your life goals.

Rely on Other Resources

While there’s power in navigating things on your own, leaning on others for help is a sign of strength. Reach out to friends and family members that you trust, and work with a therapist who can help you find closure with or without the other person.

A Word From Verywell Mind

Closure is complicated and non-linear. There’s not one set path that leads you to the finish line, and you may run into some bumps along the way. However, when you do the work, it untangles you from the complexities of your past relationships and allows you to explore—and more authentically enjoy—new relationships.

 

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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