A reader asks:
I just got out of a romantic relationship. I keep spinning in my head about why it didn’t work, what we could have done differently, etc. I mostly just want to get closure and move on but I feel stuck. Any advice?
This will be hard to hear, but bear with me…
Closure doesn't exist. It's a fantasy.
When we talk about wanting closure in relationships, what we really mean is some version of: I don’t want there to be any more uncertainty because uncertainty makes me anxious and I don’t like feeling anxious.
- We want to know for sure why our partner left (Was it really not about me?)
- We want to know for sure that it would never have worked out in the long-run (Could we have made it if I had done things differently?)
- We want to know for sure whether our partner wasn't being unfaithful (He said no, but I’m still suspicious…)
Of course, the desire for closure is perfectly natural and understandable. Nobody enjoys uncertainty and the anxiety it produces. But you will never be free of uncertainty because relationships and their endings are unavoidably complex.
However, if you expect that you should be able to get closure and free yourself of all that uncertainty and anxiety, you'll end up consantly frustrated and anxious that "it's not working." Consequently, you're likely to find yourself even more obsessed—worrying and dwelling on the relationship even more, and as a result, feel even more anxious, insecure, and less able to let it go and move on.
So forget about closure and aim for acceptance instead.
Accept that some amount of uncertainty is inevitable—as are many of the difficult emotions that go with it like anxiety, guilt, anger, and regret. Remind yourself that it’s okay and normal to not know and to feel all those things after a relationship ends. And be willing to move forward with all of those feelings instead of demanding that they get resolved before you move on.
You want closure, but you don’t need it.
And it’s very possible that striving to get closure is the very thing holding you back from letting go and moving on.
To learn more about uncertainty anxiety and how to manage it in a healthy way, read this: Face the Real Fear →