Help! Long After My Breakup, I Still Need Closure

My ex has long since moved on from me and has been in a relationship for more than a year. I am actually happy for her, but I can't move on the way she did. I don't feel like I have closure. I don't even know what closure is or how to recognize it if and when it comes. I'm also not sure how to go about getting closure at this point since she stopped talking to me after our breakup after I kept pestering her for answers. I loved (no, love) her more than life itself. I feel like the obvious solution here is to just let go and move on—that's what everyone around me keeps telling me. They make it sound so easy. I am telling you it's not. In fact, it feels impossible. Everything reminds me of her. I can't even watch movies involving relationships without reflecting on ours. I obsess about a relationship I haven't been in for quite some time. Other women have shown interest in me and I've even been intimate with a few, but I still feel emotionally attached to my ex and thus unable to open my heart to others. Without closure, I feel like I'm in some sort of purgatory. Any advice for me? —Hanging On
Dear Hanging On,

It sounds like you are still in a great deal of pain after the loss of this relationship. I hear you when you say moving on is more difficult than it sounds. I also hear you expressing a very common belief that you need to be able to speak to your ex in order to gain a sense of closure, but the good news is … you don’t. In fact, it often seems that continued contact with an ex (especially if the contact revolves around rehashing what went wrong) just leads to more questions, fewer answers, and an emptier feeling.

I suspect the answers about what keeps you hanging on lie within you. I imagine the sense of “purgatory” you reference as being less about seeking answers from someone you can’t access and more about the inability to access answers you already possess. It sounds like you have spent a good bit of time trying to resolve this by talking to her, by talking to your friends and family, and thinking things through on your own. I would suggest trying something different—like partnering with a therapist. Friends and family tend to give well-intentioned advice, and while that can be helpful, it isn’t going to help you access the deeper thoughts and feelings that might be preventing you from healing and moving on.

I imagine the sense of “purgatory” you reference as being less about seeking answers from someone you can’t access and more about the inability to access answers you already possess.

A therapist will listen to you and ask questions and make comments that will allow you to dig deeper. Maybe you will learn that you believed your ex-girlfriend was the one you would spend the rest of your life with and those unmet expectations have left you with insecurities and fears; insecurities about your ability to accurately assess your relationships or fears of being hurt like this again. Maybe you will learn that the relationship was actually quite unhealthy in some ways and that is what has made it so difficult to heal and move on. Maybe it is something else entirely that is holding you back. A therapist can help you unpack and examine with compassionate curiosity whatever it might be.

With the limited information I have, all I can do is make general speculations, but working with a therapist will give you the opportunity to understand why the end of this relationship has been so painful for you. Identifying whatever that is and healing from it may offer the closure you seek and maybe even lead you to a new, healthier, more rewarding relationship.

Best wishes,

Sarah

Sarah Noel
Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
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  • Emile

    Emile

    March 4th, 2016 at 11:13 AM

    If she has moved on and it definitely sounds like she has, then it is time for you to try to do the same. It can be so scary to leave behind something that felt so true and so right, but you have to see that if it was actually right and meant to be then the two of you would likely still be together.
    I am a firm believer that everything happens for some reason and even if it is hard to see what that reason is at first I think that one day you will be able to see it and it will all make perfect sense to you, just ow much you have actually learned from this experience.

  • Cat

    Cat

    March 6th, 2016 at 11:39 AM

    From personal experience, I have had far more trouble moving on from relationships when I was also coping with unresolved emotional pain (that I wasn’t aware of, at first). It’s like getting injured on top of already being sick – it takes far longer for that injury to heal.

    I’m seconding the therapy suggestion. I went to therapy after my first breakup nearly broke me, and that’s when I finally learned that I was also severely abused as a child (it wasn’t just “strict but loving” parenting!) and began the long but vital process of healing.

    In a way, it was a blessing – when you’re most broken, that’s when you can really get in deep and do the most important work of healing yourself.

    It’s been a decade since that breakup, and I’ve been in therapy on and off and had two breakups since. Each one has gotten successively easier to bear as my background level of emotional pain has subsided and I’ve gained mental strength. My most recent breakup was only a bit more than two months ago, and while I would never describe it as “easy,” it has been far less soul-crushing than the previous ones because I am in a better psychological place overall.

  • Hart

    Hart

    March 9th, 2016 at 3:41 PM

    I guess I have always found that once they leave that’s the door closing so I better start looking in a different direction.

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    September 24th, 2017 at 8:07 PM

    I had a relationship with an old friend back in my college days for almost 2 years and broke up August of 2015. It’s been 2 years now. But he would greet me on Christmas season and my birthday, and I would email/reply him back. I have this question: does he wanted to stay friends with me? Does he still have feelings left for me? Or just wanna know how am I doing after the break-up. By the way, he is 57 and I’m 53. I’m confused. Please advise. Thank you.

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