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Achieving Healthy Emotional "Closure"
When Relationships End
by Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW for Any useful discussion about achieving "closure" at the conclusion of a relationship or friendship should start with a solid working definition of the term "closure."

For our purposes, think of "relationship closure" like this: a person has achieved relationship closure when, following the ending of a romantic relationship or friendship, she feels that all of the final emotional "loose ends" have been tied up to her satisfaction, and there is no remaining "unfinished emotional business" that she needs to take care of before moving on with her life.

Achieving relationship closure is not always an easy task. In fact, I would venture to guess that, for a variety of reasons, far more relationships end without proper closure than end with it.

For example, some romantic relationships end without proper emotional closure simply because one of the partners refuses to engage in one last "loose-end-tying-up" conversation. Perhaps the idea of having such a soul-searching conversation is too daunting at the emotional level, and the person simply does not want to "go there," maybe for fear of opening old emotional wounds.

Just as we are always asking our politicians to hold themselves "accountable" for their decisions and actions, it is also a good idea to hold our dating partners and ourselves "accountable" for our own decisions and behavior in our relationships. This is one big reason that working to achieve healthy closure at the end of dating relationships (and friendships, too), is so important for the emotional health of everyone involved.

relationship closure

An effective closure conversation enables both partners to say goodbye and move forward.

In this helpful Dating Tips advice column published on, the column author, who is simply referred to as "The Dating Tipster", offers the following useful anecdote to describe a great example of healthy relationship closure:

"I once dated a wonderful woman, and we had an absolutely great connection. However ... there were things within the relationship that prevented it from moving to the next level. The breakup was very hard on both of us.

"Nearly two years after the relationship had ended, I received a phone call from this person. She wanted to see me. I agreed. We met and had a good conversation, but that was it. She had just been proposed to and needed to see me one last time in order to bring closure to our past together. At the end of our meeting she gave me a strong hug that lasted for over a minute. That's all she needed to say her final goodbye and move on to a new chapter of her life.

"If you feel you need closure then go ahead and request a meeting in order to bring that closure you need and to say your final goodbye. When you're done, move on with your life. Yes, you'll still think of him because deep down there is still something there. That is normal. But the closure may help you move on."

What I particularly like about the above anecdote from's "Dating Tipster", is that both parties were so open to the idea of meeting one final time to say their last goodbyes. In agreeing to have such a meeting, they were both acknowledging several important fundamental truths about human relationships, including the following:

  1. The relationship that the two of them had shared had mattered a great deal to both of them. They had once been very much in love with each other, and while this was no longer the case, by agreeing to meet for one last time, they were each acknowledging the important places that they had once held in each other's lives.

    This mutual acknowledgment of the intrinsic value of their shared history constitutes a deeply reverential, humane, compassionate and caring act. Agreeing to have a conversation about closure tells the other person that while the romance has cooled, you still respect them and care about them as a human being and wish them nothing but the best in the future.

  2. Officially saying goodbye can feel downright liberating. In agreeing to formally say goodbye to that particular shared chapter of their lives, they can now feel free to start the next portion of their lives with a clean slate, free from any "chains to the past" that might otherwise hold them back from allowing their next romantic relationships to reach their full potential.

  3. There is an inherent value in rituals of all kinds. We have rituals for weddings and graduations and funerals, and all kinds of other life milestones. Indeed, human beings have long enjoyed and benefited from the public acknowledgment of the most important moments in our lives. And I believe that this innate desire for ritual, or for the official marking of an important occasion, which many, if not most, human beings share, is one of the reasons that so many of us crave a sense of closure when our relationships come to an end.

How to Have A Healthy "Closure" Conversation

relationship closure

A respectful, compassionate closure conversation can be sad but also liberating.

Here are four important components that should be present in any type of conversation about relationship closure:

  1. First, it's actually good idea to state out loud that the two of you are about to have a "closure conversation," and that this is a sad and difficult task, but it is also necessary and useful.

    When the two people involved actually acknowledge that this is a conversation specifically about closure it can help both individuals to set healthy parameters about what it is appropriate or inappropriate to discuss. Also, it allows both partners to think of the conversation as an official goodbye talk, which is intended to enable them both to move forward as soon as the conversation is over.

  2. One or both partners may want to reminisce a bit about some specific good memories in the relationships, and it is usually a good idea for both parties to honor this desire, because it is a tacit way of communicating that: "We may not feel exactly as we once did about each other, but we sure have had some fun together in the past."

  3. One or both partners may want to talk about what the other person has meant to them, and they may even want to state out loud exactly what each other's best qualities are.

  4. During a closure conversation, there may be a temptation on the part of one or both partners to talk about the other person's negative qualities, or to discuss all of the things that went wrong with the relationship, but this is generally not a great idea because it can lead to a fight, which is not at all conducive to achieving genuine relationship closure.

Four Possible Obstacles to Having An
Effective "Relationship Closure Conversation"

  1. If one partner is still holding out the hope that the relationship could potentially resume.

  2. If, for some reason, one partner refuses to meet with the other to have a closure conversation.

  3. If one partner does not return phone calls or emails from the other to arrange a closure meeting.

  4. If both partners do agree to meet, but one of them only wants to use the time to fight and rehash old issues, rather than using the opportunity to work toward achieving genuine relationship closure by tying up any emotional loose ends in a rational, compassionate manner.

Recommended Reading:

How To Treat Yourself with Compassion in A Difficult or Failing Romantic Relationship

How To Most Effectively Pick your Battles

The Six Different Reasons That Men and Women Cheat On Each Other


Online Dating Magazine

Romance Class

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