When One Door Closes: How to Create Closure After a Failed Relationship

Theresa Smith, CASAC, CRC, LMFT, LPC
September 22, 2018

While growing up, many of us learn about relationships with others, romantic or otherwise, from stories. Romance comedies show us many different ways a relationship can unfold, tense personal dramas teach us all about heartbreak and despair, and tawdry pulp novels teach us techniques to woe and wow our partners. With story providing so much context for interpersonal relationships, it’s no wonder that many people view themselves as the main character of their own adventure story and expect life to unfold like a movie or a book. But real life has one major difference from stories: real life doesn’t need to make sense. Foreshadowing doesn’t have to mean anything, Chekov’s Gun can go unfired, and sometimes, a story just stops without truly ending. Sometimes a relationship ends with a mature discussion, a recognition of incompatibility, and a tearful but amicable parting of ways. Sometimes it will end with a packed bag, a sudden absence, and, if you’re lucky, a note. In real life, no one is owed any closure, and you could spend the rest of your life driving yourself mad asking unanswered questions. The only way to truly achieve closure and move on is to create it yourself.


Be Honest to Yourself

An immediate emotional outlet in the aftermath of a break-up is to trash the other person. You feel hurt, you feel abandoned, you feel lonely and scared, and so it’s natural to lash out at the person that made you feel this way. It’s a behavior that has been reinforced by supportive best friends for as long as break-ups have happened. It’s natural to shift the blame onto your former partner, to determine that everything was their fault, that they were an awful person and you’re better off as far from them as possible. This reaction is, usually, just a defensive wall thrown up against self-reflection. If you’ve escaped from an abusive relationship with a true monster, which does happen sometimes, it’s ok to recognize that fact, but the vast majority of the time, the blame for a break-up doesn’t rest with just one party. If your partner told you any reasons why they were leaving you, whether it be anger, lack of motivation, general messiness, or anything else, then rather than push away their accusation, do a bit of soul-searching and ask yourself if they’re right. They probably are, at least in part. If no reasons are given, then try to find them yourself. Work on your habits and behavior instead of projecting all of the guilt onto your former partner.

That’s not to say you should put your partner on a pedestal, either. Both of you are human, and thus, both of you are inherently flawed in some way or another. Be honest with yourself about your flaws, but also be honest about theirs. Recognize the aspects of your relationship that did not make you happy, the things that you will no longer have to deal with now that they are gone. Moving on from one relationship not only gives you the opportunity to improve yourself in a meaningful way, but it also allows you to better identify red flags and personality markers in the future.

Examine Patterns in Your Life

If this is your first breakup, then it will be difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is you could have done better, if anything, partially because of your lack of experience, and partially because you will likely be hit harder by the crushing emotional weight. If you’ve been in other relationships before which have also failed, however, you have the opportunity to identify your issues more accurately. Ask yourself if there are any similarities between this break-up and past ones. It’s possible the same personality flaws that led to this break-up have also contributed to break-ups in the past; if so, you have a very clear idea of what it is you need to work on about yourself, and how you might improve, not to be a better prospect for future partners, but simply to be a better you. Also look for patterns in the partners you choose, because it’s possible that some quality that you’re repetitively drawn to is also a quality that leads to future heartache. Use your past relationships as a guide to better navigate your path forward.

Learn the Difference Between Alone and Lonely

Coming out of a relationship allows you some time to simply live with yourself again, learn what it is you need to improve and give some much needed time for healing. Be content with being on your own for a bit, and explore the new opportunities that life has for you. If there’s anything that you have been held back from doing because of your partner, then now is the time to do it. If you wanted to travel more, but your ex never wanted to, then go on that big trip. Or maybe they wanted to travel all the time, and now you get to have a nice, relaxing staycation. Your home might be clean for the first time in years, or, if your ex was a neat freak, you can throw your clothes on the floor when you get home and not worry about it for once.

It might sound cliché, but find a hobby, or delve deeper into one that you had a passing interest in before. Get involved with community theater, build something awesome in your garage, or start attending board game nights. Meeting like-minded people will give you much-needed socialization without the commitment and obligation of a relationship and doing something you enjoy while accomplishing or creating something will provide you with pride in your achievements and satisfaction. A hobby isn’t necessarily something just to lose yourself in to stave off depression; it’s a way you can find yourself, through expression and fulfillment.

In Closure

The closure doesn’t exist. It’s a made up thing to cap off stories and leave the reader satisfied that the narrative threads are all tied off. In the real world, time just marches forward. Those reads aren’t left dangling, as each thread is a unique person with their own set of experiences and struggles, but often a thread will go off into the ether, and you will never see or hear from it again. The only closure you will ever have is that of self-satisfaction, knowing the direction you are taking your thread, and wishing the departing one well on their journey through the tapestry of life.

Theresa Smith, CASAC, CRC, LMFT, LPC

Theresa Smith is a relationship expert with over 20 years of experience. She has worked in different areas including clinical work, and more recently a writer. She has a passion for happy relationships and feels that it’s an attainable goal for everyone.

Theresa has several professional credentials centered around mental health, psychology, dating, relationships, and addiction treatment. She has written thousands of articles and many e-books on many facets of dating and relationships.

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