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Heartbreak: How to gain closure?

June 17, 2010   |   26 Comments


Among the many difficulties that come with a breakup, the worst may be when the person who broke up with you will not discuss it and may even cut off contact altogether. I have one friend who was talking about marriage one day, and the next, literally, could not get her to take his calls. Eventually, he got a letter saying it was over and she refused to talk to him ever again. What the?! Or one person thinks everything is fine when, out of the blue, her partner comes home, says it’s over, she’s moving out, and does not want to talk about it. I get emails from people who have been broken up with by email, text, and, in Sex and the City style, by post-it. This is not an urban legend. It really happens.

When the break up is communicated in one of these ways, you can be sure the person breaking up is not interested in much more conversation. No one knows why.

When someone leaves you like this, you are simply—and understandably—in shock. It just feels impossibly stressful and anxiety producing. You think you are now stuck with a gaping wound that will never close because the only way to close it is to hash it out in relationship.  And that’s not an option.

You’ll have to figure out a way to create closure on your own.

I can suggest a particular journaling exercise that may help. I offer it during Wisdom of a Broken Heart workshops and it is also presented in the book. It sounds deceptively simple, but for many has been a healing experience. See if it works for you. If you try it out, I would of course love to hear about your experience.

The exercise is to tell the story of your relationship in 3 parts. The first part covers the period from when you met until your relationship took its form. The second part is about the duration of the relationship, up until the time it started to fray. The third part starts when you began to breakup and ends in the present moment.

I’ll suggest a sentence to begin with and a sentence to end with for each part. Whatever you write in between those two sentences is up to you.

You will be writing this story in the 3rd person. So instead of writing “I met him on a Monday,” you’d write, “She met him  on a Monday.” Instead of saying “he first noticed her at the gym,” you’d say “they first noticed each other at the gym” or “Bill first noticed Emma at the gym.” You get the idea. You view yourself and everyone else in your story as characters and, as with characters, you can describe them in any way you like, attribute to them the qualities you think are relevant, and put dialog in their mouths as befits your story.

You can write it any way that you like—as a short story, poem, or, if you’re feeling wildly creative, a screenplay. If you hate to write, you can write it in bullet points.

I suggest doing this exercise in three different periods lasting ninety minutes to two hours each. Whether over the weekend or on three successive nights, let there be time in between writing sessions, at least a few hours. Take your time and let it unfold. You never have to share this work with anyone, so look deep and be honest. Start at the appointed time and—very important—stop at the appointed time. Contain your writing periods cleanly.

Before beginning each writing session, sit quietly for a few moments. Maybe light a candle, place some fresh flowers on your writing table, pour yourself a glass of wine, or make yourself a delicious cup of tea or coffee. Make it special. After you’ve settled your mind down a bit, make the aspiration that this writing session help create healing for all involved, especially yourself. At the end, sit quietly for a few moments and, again, offer your words up to be used for healing, somehow, in some way, starting now.

If you have any questions about the instructions for this exercise, please ask in comments and I’ll respond.

The first sentence of the first writing period is: “They met like this.” The last sentence is: “That’s when s/he knew they were in a relationship.” As mentioned, feel free to tweak those sentences to suit your story. It’s rare that a story is that black and white, but do your best to cover the period between the time you first encountered this person and the time your relationship took a particular form, whether it lasted one night or 32 years.

The first sentence of the second writing period is: “S/he knew s/he was in love (or hooked or connected) when_____. “ The last sentence is: “That’s when s/he knew something was going wrong.” Again, just fill in between these two sentences as best you can.

The first sentence of the third writing period is: “It dawned on her/him that this was really ending when_____.” End with this sentence: “That’s when s/he knew that the relationship in its current form was over.”

When you are done writing, walk away from the exercise. Do something else–read, sob, walk, cook, sleep. Let it lie there for awhile. Then, if you’re moved to, journal (and/or post below) about what you saw, learned, felt, as you did this exercise, if anything. In my programs, I suggest finishing by doing Loving Kindness practice (instruction here)  for yourself and the one who broke your heart.

It’s my sincere hope that by doing these exercises, you’ll take on the task of creating closure on your own and emerge on other side, whole and at peace.  This is a very brave and difficult undertaking and I wish you all the strength and softness you’ll need. xoxoS

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  • Posted by:  Andrew Lightheart

    Hi Susan.

    I’m happily married, but am breaking up with Singapore and moving back to the UK.

    I think I might do this for my relationship with my home here…


  • Posted by:  Susan

    Andrew, that’s a great idea. Would love to hear how this exercise works for a break up with Singapore… xo S

  • Posted by:  Candi

    What a beautiful idea. I can see how this would help versus feeling overwhelmingly alone with someone’s decision to leave! Great idea to DO something and take your power back. It’s a tough situation to go through (I just did!) and it’s so refreshing to see your wisdom and ideas on ways to heal yourself, since we are the only ones who can.

    I love your work, Susan!

  • Posted by:  Ron

    Susan, you told me some few months ago that my deep pain of loss would lessen. I couldn’t imagine that it was possible, but it did. I have “emerged on the other side, whole and at peace.” Thank you so much for your book and your encouraging words.

    • Posted by:  Debbie Godfrey

      Hey Ron, I’m broken hearted right now and have found this thread online. What book are you referring to pkease ?
      Thank you

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Candi, thank you so, so much for your kind words!

    Ron, you have no idea how HAPPY I am to hear this! I remember meeting you very clearly. Endless gratitude for posting this comment because it will give so much hope to anyone experiencing what you have just gone through. xox

  • Posted by:  Natalie Aubin

    Thank you thank you thank you for your book “Wisdom of a Broken Heart”. I am reading it again for the second time and ordered a copy yesterday. Three months ago my husband left for work in the morning, kissed me and told me he loved me, which he did EVERY day of our 8 years of marriage, but 15 hours later I came home to a note on the table indicating that he was sorry, that it was best if he moved out. I was totally blindsided, not to mention feeling betrayed and extremely vulnerable. Your book has started to put me on the path to healing. Namaste.

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Natalie, I am very happy the book has been there for you. Your experience sounds so shocking. Please keep me posted!! Wishing you a peaceful, healing path. Love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Jane

    So what do you do if you know someone rejected you because of circumstances, not because of you, and those circumstances will change in the future? I can’t get closure because I still imagine that when the circumstances change, he may be back. But I can’t ask him that question for complicated reasons. So the story lacks an end for me – although for him it may have ended long ago. And he is a friend and colleague, so there is no ‘distance’ to help me get over him. It has been over a year, and while I do fine most days, I can’t completely move on.

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Jane, these are definitely tough questions. When relationships lack closure–for whatever reason–they are so difficult to resolve. Any open question presents difficulty. And when you still see each other at work, it makes the whole situation kind of surreal. It is a wound that keeps reopening.

    The only choice, as I see it, is to learn to work with your mind. You can’t count on circumstances to support your breakup and so you have to find a way to gain closure within yourself. If you could find some way to celebrate the good days as proof of your resilience and the bad days as proof of your tenderness, that might be good. To extend gentleness toward yourself under all circumstances will serve you well and speed your healing.

    Please know that I’m in your corner, wishing you well! Susan

  • Posted by:  Jessica

    Can you get closure on a really old relationship from a long time ago? I had to leave a relationship that I didn’t want to, and never gave him an explanation. The circumstances are weird, but suffice it to say that I thought I was justified in how I conducted myself, but it turned out that I blindsided him. I have moved on but since this relationship occurred during a period of excessive stress, it seems that I healed in an erratic way and I wonder if it is interfering with my spiritual progress. I loved him enough to want to marry him, but shut down emotionally in order to leave. What kind of closure do you suggest in this kind of situation? Thanks.

  • Posted by:  Angela

    Once you have done this, can you mail it to them? Even if you never hear back, is there relief in just knowing you got to say/write your feelings and your perceptions of what happened from beginning to end?

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Angela, it is completely up to you. You’re the only one who knows what it would or could mean to mail such a letter!

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Jessica, hi. I think you can get closure on a really old relationship–if by closure, you mean looking at directly, as opposed to ridding yourself of the feelings or finding an explanation for what happened. I believe that it is the looking that is healing, not the story itself.

    There is no way such a circumstance can interfere with spiritual progress, because there is nothing to progress to. There is only the deepening that comes from continually looking inside and opening and softening, opening and softening to yourself and to those who are now or once were in your life.

    If you write about it as suggested, perhaps it would be helpful. Keep me posted!

    Love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Lea

    I’m going to try this. I will let you know how it goes for me.
    Thank you for this support.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      I hope it will be helpful. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

  • Posted by:  Mylene

    Thank you for all the beautiful insights you share in your posts (my heart leaps every time I read a new one) and in your book, Wisdom of a Broken Heart. I read (consumed!) the book back in January and found it so helpful and healing after breaking up with my boyfriend at the time. From it I’ve begun a daily meditation practice (I now sit 10 minutes each morning, and have missed no more than one or two days since beginning in January; also slowly developing a Buddhist practice).

    Interestingly, a month after finishing the book and the 7-day healing program, and feeling a renewed sense of peace, joy and being back in my life, I chose to reconcile with my ex-boyfriend after he got back in touch and wanted to give our relationship another try. (Foolishly? Courageously?) I opened my heart back up again. And, again, our relationship didn’t work . We broke up a month ago, essentially for the same reasons it didn’t work before and will probably never work . Sigh, life is funny.

    So here I am, back together with my broken heart opening your book back up a second time. It’s a sad time and oddly I’m feeling resistance going through the book again even though I know how much reading it was so good for me the first time around. It feels like heavy lifting this time and I hear my mind saying ‘damn it, this isn’t fair, I shouldn’t have to do this again!’ I’m trying not to listen to that voice, 😉 but it’s hard. Not sure how far I’ll get through or if I’ll read the book in its entirety this pass. But I am simply grateful that it’s there, with all its wonderful healing wisdom, whenever my heart feels compelled to turn the pages again. Again, thank you.

  • Posted by:  Jessica

    Hello Susan,

    I just wanted to give you an update on my situation. I did the seven day meditation and writing program suggested in your book regarding my old relationship. I am so happy to report that through the writing, as well as the meditation and guidance I felt I was led to because of it, I feel as though the karmic slate has been wiped clean. I don’t mean to say I feel thrilled about the circumstances, but I do feel like a heavy weight has been lifted, and I didn’t even know it was there. I really would like to thank you for your uncommon wisdom and guidance. This was the first time I really heard anyone say to look at old circumstances with compassion, especially with regards to former lovers. I find this advice to be some of the best I have received in the longest time. Again, many thanks. Peace to you.

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Mylene, I’m so glad my book was helpful–, hopefully, helpful again. Resistance is totally understandable. The book didn’t make everything OK the first time and it won’t the second time! Still, each time you read wisdom that speaks to you (as I do with the dharma), it says something different. Please let me know if I can be helpful going forward. If you email me ( I’ll see it faster than comments on the blog. All best! Susan

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Jessica, you have no idea what it means to know about your experience with the book. I am so glad it brought more compassion into your life–especially toward yourself. This is always the place to start. Wishing you much happiness, Susan

  • Posted by:  Makisha

    Hi Susan,
    I thank you for your insights. They have been a very powerful reminder of “sitting with” instead of “running from” my feelings. Stragely while readin this bolg and listening to you loving broken herat/kindness meditation the people that came up for me to send blessings to were my parents. I have held a broken heart in relation to them so such a long time. I am grateful for your words so that mending can begin.
    Many thanks

  • Posted by:  Makisha

    Oh boy I need to read and edit before I send comments out. HAHA

  • Posted by:  Colleen

    Hi Susan
    I really truly appreciated your book. It has been helping me for the past month since my boyfriend left me after nearly 3 years the day after he told me he was 100% committed to me. He broke up with me via facebook message. He won’t return my calls or emails asking to be able to talk about this so I don’t have any closure. I am trying to find it myself.
    I have been practicing meditation for a little while and have been trying to do the Loving kindness exercise. But I am having difficulty. In your book you said that in order for it to work it has to be genuine and not that you want something to happen. But I can’t let go of the fact that I keep hoping that something will happen by doing this. That we will finally talk about what happened. Do you have any suggestions. I really want this to be a genuine practice but I just know in my heart I keep hoping for a miracle. Any suggestion would be wonderful.
    Thank you again for everything you wrote about in this book and this website. I am now a participant in your open heart project. I look forward to continue to learn as much as I can
    All the best to you

    • Posted by:  susan

      Hi Colleen. I’m so glad the book was helpful and and I’m so sorry you are going through this kind of breakup. When there is no communication, it is so hard.

      It totally makes sense that you would want something to happen as a result of your loving kindness practice. It has only been one month. Also, perhaps this practice is the only way you have to “talk” to him. I suggest not doing loving kindness practice for him. Instead, do it in a more general way–for everyone who is experiencing heartbreak or for everyone who is in such anguish that they are hoping for a miracle.

      Please let me know if this makes sense. And I’m happy to know we’re continuing to practice together via the OHP.

      Sending love, Susan

      • Posted by:  Colleen

        Hi Susan

        Thank you for your speedy reply. Your suggestions do make sense and I will try to implement them instead of trying to doing the practice for him. It is such a terrible time. I think my biggest issue with moving forward is the letting go of the hope that it could all be worked out. It’s truly the worst part of it all since I am a big believer in hope, so to accept that it isn’t there, there are no words for it.
        Thank you for your kindness

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“With wisdom, creativity and artistry, Susan Piver brings a Buddhist lens to the spiritual map of the Enneagram. The results are vibrant and nourishing; a banquet of insights that help us transmute our difficult emotions into pure expressions of our basic goodness.”

 – Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance