When seeking advice after a tough breakup, you’ve probably heard the same thing from your friends, family members, and therapist if you have one. “You just need closure.” But what does getting closure really mean? And what can you do if you feel like you never got the closure you needed from your ex? Understanding how to get closure after a breakup and move on from a past relationship isn’t common knowledge. You can give back your ex’s stuff, delete them off social media, and try to spend less time with your mutual friends. But if it’s been years since the breakup and you’re still hurting, you may need to take other steps.
I spoke to behavior and relationship expert Dr. Patrick Wanis, Ph.D., about the possible reasons why you haven’t moved on from your ex, and how you can find the closure you need within yourself, so that you can finally begin to heal. His audiobook and program Get Over Your Ex Now! outlines 12 reasons why you might not be over your ex — eight of which are explained in this article.
“The grieving process is not linear and it’s not static,” Dr. Wanis tells Elite Daily. “You don’t go from this step directly to that step. You might go three steps forward and come back two. Each person will go through it in their own way. There is not a specific timeline to grieving.” If it’s been years and you’re still dealing with feelings from a breakup, there’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t just sit and wait for time to heal you, though. “Time doesn’t heal anything,” says Dr. Wanis. “It’s what you do within time that will heal you or not heal you.”
1. Make new associations.
Begin by addressing the reasons why you’re still not over your ex. The first thing that usually holds people back from achieving closure is the tendency to form anchors and associations, according to Dr. Wanis. Your mind automatically creates associations between your partner and certain songs, restaurants, food, fragrances, and more. So when you hear “your song” after a breakup, you think of a particular moment in time, and you feel a sense of loss that the relationship is over, or you experience feelings of loneliness. You programmed yourself to have that association, though, so you can work to create new associations with new people. Dr. Wanis suggests hanging out with different friends and making new memories around that anchor. Listen to the song with different people, and eventually it will form a new meaning.
Another way people cling to the memories of an ex is by recalling the past, but changing the emotion associated with it. Dr. Wanis calls this euphoric recall. If you find yourself thinking back to the past and reliving it as a positive experience rather than a negative one, Dr. Wanis believes you should remind yourself of all the pain you experienced with your ex. Then, start to focus on creating pleasure with someone new.
2. Feel complete on your own.
Another thing that could possibly be preventing you from moving on from your ex is the belief that they completed you. Believing in soulmates or the one can be a dangerous interpretation to make, according to Dr. Wanis. While it sounds romantic on the surface, you’re basically saying that you weren’t a whole person before; you were incomplete. “You’re giving all of your power and all of your happiness away to this person,” he says. “You’re saying, ‘this is the only person that can fulfill me.’ Look for someone that compliments who you are, not necessarily who completes you.”
You may also be trying to fill emotional voids. If you broke up years ago and still feel empty, it may be because you want to experience certain emotions. Dr. Wanis says that these emotional needs can include praise, attention, devotion, guidance, security, connection, purpose, or meaning. “If our partner met those emotional needs and then we break up with that person and there’s no one else to meet those emotional needs, then we’ll be longing for him or her even more so,” he says.
The solution here is to look inward to fill the emotional void, rather than outward. Then, start to connect with other people and allow different platonic relationships to fill those different needs. “We do need connections to other people, we do need relationships,” says Dr. Wanis. “We just have to be careful when we become fully dependent and attached to someone.”
3. Work to better understand yourself.
Other explanations for not getting over your ex include: craving a familiar touch, or what Dr. Wanis calls contact comfort; feeling hopeless without this person; clinging to fixed ideas and ideals about relationships; and having unresolved psychological issues. In order to deal with these factors, you need to keep working on yourself. Develop your emotional intelligence by finding out what your needs, values, and motivators are, and discovering your personality type and love language.
“[Shared values are] one of the most important foundations for a successful, happy, healthy, fulfilling relationship,” says Dr. Wanis. “Two people who have clashing values cannot get along. Some people don’t realize that until they’re in a relationship, because they’ve never thought about their values.” Once you’ve determined your values, you can move on to answering questions such as, “what are my needs, what is my lifestyle, what stage of life am I in, and what are my responsibilities?” Then, go even deeper.
“Start looking at, ‘What are my fears?’ ‘What are my insecurities?’ ‘What is my definition of love?'” says Dr. Wanis. “Most people don’t even recognize what their real definition of love is. Many of us carry subconscious definitions of love, or what I call twisted love. Twisted love is a negative definition of love. For example, [the thought that] love equals pain.”
You need to know yourself in order to eventually find someone who is a better fit and more compatible with you than your ex was. “As simple as it is, when you know who you are, then you are able to guide your life better and you’re able to feel like you’re in control,” says Dr. Wanis.
4. Take a 360 approach to healing.
“Getting closure means getting clear about what the questions are that you want answered, and then working toward getting those answers and determining what role your partner played in this relationship, and what role you played,” says Dr. Wanis. He says that the first questions we tend to ask when a relationship ends are usually connected to self-blame. Or, you go to the other extreme and say, “there’s nothing wrong with me, I’m absolutely perfect. It’s them.”
Either way, you don’t need to have a long conversation or even talk to your ex at all in order to find closure. “Your partner may have no insight to be able to give you the answers that you need to get to the point of closure,” says Dr. Wanis. “For most, closure occurs from a psychological perspective.”
When searching for resources and strategies for finding closure, he says that it’s important to try more than one solution. “Come from a 360 approach. Look at your patterns. Are you eating healthy, or are you abusing your body? Are you sleeping well, are you exercising, are you engaging in mindful practices such as yoga and meditation?” If you’re still dwelling on your ex, turn to therapy.
“One of two things is occurring,” he says. “Either you have no idea why [you can’t get over your ex], or … you know the reasons why you’re stuck on your ex, but those reasons are controlling you. When you feel that there is a behavior, a thought, or an emotion controlling you, it’s OK to ask for help.”
5. Accept your role in the breakup.
By taking these steps, you can begin to accept your role in the relationship and in the breakup. You should take complete responsibility and accountability for every part that you played in the relationship and be willing to learn from any mistakes, but don’t blame yourself for the other person’s actions.
Some breakups are harder than others. It can take a long time to truly get over an ex, but if the memories of a past relationship are still holding you back years after it’s ended, it’s time to take a look at the real reasons why you haven’t gotten closure. Only then can you truly begin to move on.
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