When relationships — whether romantic or platonic — fall apart, we are left trying to navigate the pain while picking up the messy pieces.

However, before we can focus on the next chapter, we still may need to dwell on the whats, the whys and the hows of all that unfolded.

How do we tie up the loose ends? How can you prevent yourself from playing the game of ‘what could have been?’

You can do that through a process known as closure. Even if you can’t obtain closure with the other person involved, you can do it with and for yourself. It’s a way to come to terms with what was lost, and a way to find your inner strength and resiliency to move forward.

“Closure is extremely important after a long relationship,” Krupa Shah, an early childhood education student at Long Island University, says. “If you don’t find peace within yourself and the relationship, it can hinder your growth both personally and as a person. While closure can be hard to find, whether it’s two months or two years, it’s an ongoing process of finding ways to be OK by yourself, and trust that eventually all aspects of your life will fall into place.”

Naked With Socks On, an award-winning site launched in 2008, showcases perspectives on the interactions between the genders. It once featured an article, Does Closure Make Breaking Up Easier? The writer refreshingly notes that even men need closure too.

Over the years, I’ve had my share of relationships – platonic, romantic, business, family, etc – but what I’ve begun to realize is the value of closure. When I was younger, I thought only women needed closure. Any time I heard a chick say she needed ‘closure,’ I had no idea what she meant. We’re no longer dealing with each other, so you go your way and I’ll go mine.

He discusses the downfalls of this ‘fading-out’ approach, where relationships diminish without any real conversation. This tends to happen when one person stops calling, and the other person eventually swallows the hint and moves on. “The problem with that approach is that rather than dealing with the issue head-on, you merely bury your emotions under a false sense of security,” he admits. Unfortunately, unresolved issues also may serve as roadblocks to happiness in future relationships.

How to Give Yourself Some Closure

What happens if the other person can’t give you closure? At that point, you have to accept that you can’t control the uncontrollable. (That includes others’ actions.) The core of this mindset is to let go of what you cannot change. Whether the other person is willing to hash it all out, or whether they are tight-lipped about it all, you ultimately need to give yourself closure. Below are some tips for embarking on the process.

  • Reframe the situation. Try to look at the outcome in a positive light. This may take time, but altering your way of thinking can help you channel your emotions. Maybe this ending is for the best and it will lead to a wonderful beginning. I believe in the ‘everything happens for a reason’ mantra: Usually, when a certain door is closed, it’s closed because it should be. Echoing the words of freelance writer Lynette Olson, “love is never really lost, simply adjusted or misplaced. Don’t let go of love, just redirect it. You might face painful losses, but grow from them.”
  • Feel grateful. While it’s definitely understandable to feel anger and resentment, try not to garner any animosity toward the other person, and instead thank them for all the great memories you both shared together. “Rather than blaming him, I can just thank him and move on,” Shah said, with regard to the breakup of her own serious relationship. “He gave me the best five years of my life, and I couldn’t be more thankful. It just gives me something to believe in.”
  • Write a goodbye letter. In Psych Central’s article, 7 Steps to Closure When a Friend Dumps You, associate editor Therese J. Borchard suggests composing a goodbye letter. Write a letter to that ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, friend, or family member, fully disclosing all your thoughts and feelings. Do not hold anything back. Keep in mind, this is not a letter that’s meant to be sent, but it’s a piece of writing that will therapeutically allow you to release inner tensions. You can save it or tear it to shreds when you’re done; either way, a form of catharsis will be achieved.
  • Allow yourself time to heal. This is probably one of the more difficult steps in the process; no one enjoys experiencing negative emotions. Don’t worry about feeling blue. Why wouldn’t you feel that way after a loss? Allow yourself the courage to confront the pain. Allow yourself moments to cry and wallow in those somber love songs (I have been there and can give many thanks to the singer/songwriter Adele). Hiding from these emotions — or even worse, numbing yourself via drugs or alcohol — may make you feel better in the short term, but the pain will still be present. It’s better to sort through the hurt now so it doesn’t creep up on you when you’re already in the midst of a new chapter.