When a relationship ends, it’s natural to want to make sense of what happened so we can move on. But when you’re not sure what caused the break-up, or when a break-up happens so suddenly many of us can’t help but keep dwelling on it. Even when people tell you “Learn from it and get over it”, it’s not as easy as it seems because you it feels like you can’t learn from your mistakes because you don’t even know what those mistakes are. This is why many of us seek break-up closure.
Your and your ex’s attachment style plays a significant role in how both of you handle the end of a relationship and finding closure. Studies on attachment styles and making sense and moving on after a break-up show that people with an anxious attachment style (including anxious-avoidants also known as fearful avoidants) have a particularly hard time moving on when the break-up doesn’t make sense. The break-up doesn’t just evoke a sense of loss, rejection and abandonment, inability to make sense of what happened especially if the break-up was sudden also evoke feelings of betrayal and may lead to depression, rumination, and lower self-esteem.
Closure is more important to someone with attachment anxiety
One study (Saffrey & Ehrenberg, 2007) found that if an individual is unsure why a relationship ended, they may ruminate on the negative feelings following a break-up and carry this distress into future relationships.
On the other hand, individuals who are able to gain closure and make sense of a relationship ending may experience less mental distress following a break-up. The ability to generate a coherent story regarding a recent break-up is positively associated with overall adjustment (Koenig Kellas & Manusov, 2003).
And while the reality is that your ex has the right to end a relationship they don’t want to be in anymore, it sucks that most avoidants don’t feel that they owe an ex an explanation for why they broke up with them. It would nice to have answers and have a good, goodbye but this is the realty of a relationship with someone with an avoidant attachment style. They just don’t want to talk about the break-up.
Fearful avoidant exes studies show tend to idealize the relationship after a break-up (for some it’s the only real connection they had with someone) but also harbour anger towards an ex at the same time. This may cause them to seek or want closure but dread or avoid the actual conversation. They may also become defensive and argumentative during a closure conversation.
A dismissive avoidant ex may see a closure conversation as a waste of time and even unhealthy. Studies are divided as to why this is so. Some studies suggest that this is a part of an avoidant (defense) strategy and not proof of a real detachment from an ex, and others suggest that this is because on a behavioral level, dismissive avoidants tend to have fewer difficulties with the end of a relationship.
What do you do if your avoidant ex can’t give you closure?
If you needs closure, contact your avoidant ex and explain to them that you are having trouble understanding what caused them to leave. Understand that the closure conversation is not to get your ex to admit that they hurt you, make them see the damage they did or even get them to acknowledge that they loved you or that there were some good things about the relationship. A closure conversation is for you to accept the end of a relationship and experience a good, good bye.
A healthy closure conversation accepts that right or wrong the break-up happened and now it’s time for both of you to peacefully move on. If handled properly, a closure conversation can actually end up being a cathartic, fun and happy experience of sharing good memories and jokes.
Sometimes though, contacting an ex for closure can end up making you feel worse than the break-up. Your ex’s reasons for the break-up may be something you don’t want to hear, don’t believe or have a hard time accepting.
Instead of closure you find yourselves arguing about why the reasons couldn’t be true, trying to make the other take blame and saying things about the other that are hurtful.
In some cases, your ex may not know exactly why they ended the relationship and your find that the closure conversation raises more questions than it answers.
Find closure for yourself instead of seeking closure from your ex
In my experience, if you did not have good communication while you were together, it’s probably not a good idea to contact your ex for closure. Your communication isn’t going to improve because you broke up, it may actually be worse because you are not in a relationship and trying to make things work.
In this case it’s best to accept that you may never know why the relationship ended, and if you know, you may never get the kind of closure you feel you need.
Find ways to give yourself the closure you are looking for and make a conscious effort to heal and move on. If you have a good support system, lean on them for healing and closure.