If you toss and turn every night because you can’t stop wondering why your relationship fell apart, it may help to reach out and get closure from your ex. Whether they ended things out of the blue with no explanation or you both left the relationship on bad terms, a proper conversation might be just what you need in order to officially let go.
It is the pesky unknowns, after all, that make it tough to move on. “People have a hard time getting over someone [when] the questions of ‘how’ and ‘why’ are [left] unanswered,” Marianna Strongin, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. It’s things like “How could they do this to me?” or “Why did they say that?” that tend to echo through the mind, making it impossible to forgive and forget. And coping with rejection can leave the mind mulling over countless possibilities and explanations.
Seeking closure is especially beneficial in situations where the relationship ended via text, Jonathan Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship expert, tells Bustle. Nothing’s worse than a partner calling things off a little too casually — or straight up ghosting — after you’ve spent a lot of time together.
One way to attempt to resolve any anger, confusion, or hurt you may be experiencing is by contacting your ex and attempting to have a “closure talk” in order to move forward. However, whether you haven’t spoken or seen each other in five months or five years, figuring out what to say and how to reach out to your ex can feel painful — so it helps to have some pointers.
Quick note: Before you reach out, do so knowing your ex isn’t guaranteed to respond. You’ll also want to weigh the pros and cons as it may be safer to seek your own closure after a breakup than it is to reopen old wounds or put yourself at risk by texting someone toxic. (More on that below.) But if it seems like reaching out will genuinely help, here’s what to say to get closure from your ex.
1. Start Simple
When first reaching out to an ex, Bennett suggests easing in with everyday chit-chat. By starting off with a simple “Hey, how’s it going” text, you’ll be able to test the waters and start a conversation without scaring them away. If you jump right in and ask about the end of your relationship right off the bat, Bennett says your ex might freeze up and get out of the pool. Kiedra, 34, found success by taking the simple texting route after a tough breakup. “We began making small talk about how the other has been,” she tells Bustle, and the rest of the conversation unfolded naturally from there.
2. Be As Formal As Possible
The best way to get closure is by having a controlled conversation, instead of one that gets heated. You can do so by scheduling a time to talk on the phone, or even meeting formally for coffee, if that feels right. Once you meet up, set the tone by being the first one to speak.
Own your part in the breakup, apologize if necessary, and stay cool. “After you’ve said your peace, invite your ex to share anything they might feel they’d like to get off their shoulders,” Sarah Falk, L.C.S.W., a licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle, so that it remains balanced. You might find that they’ve also wanted closure and that this conversation actually allows you both to move on.
3. Thank Your Ex First
Once you’ve had an introductory back and forth, you might find it helpful to thank your ex for the positive elements of your relationship — just like Tali, 47, did. “I reached out to an ex and told her how grateful I was for the relationship we had and how much she taught me,” she says. “I wanted her to know I would always care about her and be there for her.” And you know what? It totally helped. Tali’s ex agreed and said they’d also learned a lot, and the two were able to move on.
If you and your ex didn’t necessarily end things on bad terms, or you don’t harbor resentment toward one another, expressing gratitude can create a safe space for further dialogue. For Tali, hearing those sentiments returned to her back to her was key to her closure. “We both were able to move on, knowing our feelings were genuine.”
4. Be Honest
If you just want to share a few closing thoughts, you might be able to stop right here. But if you have a point to make, hurt feelings to heal, or a bone to pick, that’s when you’ll need to see if your ex is down to have a more serious conversation.
First off, it’s important when thinking of what to say to an ex who hurt you to be honest about the fact you’re seeking closure. “You also might need to reassure the ex that you aren’t looking for an ongoing dialogue or to re-fight your last relationship battle,” Lori Beth Bisbey, a clinical psychologist and sex and intimacy coach, tells Bustle. “You may need to reassure that this isn’t a way to try to get back together as well.”
5. Ask Your Burning Questions
From there, consider which questions need to be answered based on your specific situation or what you’re trying to achieve. Do you want to know why the relationship failed? Or if there was anything that did work between you? “Asking these two questions gives you perspective and helps restore balance,” Bisbey says.
You can also ask them to explain what you did wrong, Bisbey says, since feedback from others is always a good way to grow. For Kiedra, she wanted to know if she’d done something that pushed her ex away. “Turns out my ex just wasn’t in the space to understand what they really needed from a relationship,” she says.
6. Prepare Yourself For The Worst
If you open up the communication waves with your ex, and they don’t respond in a positive way (or at all), know that their behavior isn’t a reflection of you or your relationship. According to Bennett, there’s no way to predict how your ex will feel post-breakup, so it’s best to prepare yourself for an underwhelming reaction. For Alicia, 37, that meant asking for remorse that her ex wasn’t able to provide. “I once reached out to a guy six months after he ghosted me,” she says. “We went out for coffee, and he asked if we could be friends. I told him before I would consider it, I’d need an apology from him. I never got that apology.”
It’s easy to feel like a text exchange or coffee date will completely resolve all ills. But be careful not to let your expectations get too high. “For example, if your ex had a hard time talking about feelings while you were together they probably aren’t going to start doing so now,” Falk says. “This will prevent you from being too disappointed if things don’t go the way you had hoped.” In that case, simply thank them for being willing to talk and go on your way.
How To Give Yourself Closure After A Breakup
If reaching out doesn’t help, or if meeting up isn’t an option, there are quite a few ways to give yourself closure. Falk says it may help to journal about what went wrong in the relationship and the role you played, even if it was small. This is something you have control over and can forgive yourself for, which will feel really good.
After that, think about what it was you hoped to get from your relationship and consider if you’re able to provide those things to yourself right now. You may realize you don’t miss the relationship or your ex as much as you miss having a sense of security, passion, a deep connection, etc. Look for ways to seek these feelings in your own life, whether it’s with friends, at work, or by doing nice things for yourself. You’ll likely feel a little less stuck once you start meeting these needs.
Of course, going to therapy, talking to friends, and writing are all positive ways to begin moving on. This is where it’ll help to jot down all the things you’d have liked to say to your ex, even though you aren’t going to talk to them. You can apologize, you can rant, you can explain in detail all the ways they hurt you. Once it’s out, rip up the paper.
Finally, Falk suggests making the conscious decision to release this person — and all concerns related to the breakup — from your life. Once you do, you’ll be free to focus your time, energy, and attention on the present. With time, your ex will become a part of your past. And one day you’ll wake up and realize you not only slept amazing — you finally got closure.
Marianna Strongin, Psy.D., clinical psychologist and founder of Strong In Therapy
Jonathan Bennett, certified counselor and relationship expert
Lori Beth Bisbey, clinical psychologist and sex and intimacy coach
Sarah Falk, LCSW licensed clinical social worker
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