Why You Need Closure at the End of a Relationship

It's extremely is common to hear about the need to "close" cycles. However, how does that apply in the realm of relationships? Let's take a look.
Why You Need Closure at the End of a Relationship

Last update: 04 November, 2021

The darkly humorous television series Six Feet Under told the story of an American family who ran a funeral home. The family had to deal with their own domestic problems while, at the same time, maintaining their composure in order to help their clients manage their own grief. The associated deaths were often bizarre and were shown at the beginning of each episode. In this way, the series represented the importance of closure.

In this TV series, it appeared that the more inexplicable and strange the losses were, the more difficult the grief. Therefore, throughout each episode, the need for closure and the different ways of achieving it could be appreciated by the viewer.

Ending a relationship is a significant loss for anyone. In fact, in all probability, when it happens, you’ll experience a grieving process. This process is easier if you have a reasonable explanation for why the break-up happened.

Obtaining a satisfactory explanation will allow you to “close” the relationship in a psychologically appropriate way.

Man worried about a breakup

Cognitive closure

Cognitive closure involves the need to find a satisfactory explanation for ambiguous or uncertain situations (Kruglanski and Webster, 1996).

When you end a relationship, you need to understand why it came to an end. Then, you can make sense of it in your own narrative. This explanation will become part of your mental schema and will help you to better explain and predict your life in the future.

However, when your relationship ends and your partner simply disappears, they’ve denied you an explanation. Hence you don’t understand why they’ve acted in this way, and you’re left with the feeling that something’s missing.

Lack of closure is an annoying feeling. That’s because not having certain information prevents you from knowing yourself better. Furthermore, it makes it difficult for you to understand the world around you.

At the end of the day, you need to integrate your experiences. You must give them meaning within your own personal value system. Furthermore, you need to use them to increase your knowledge. This means that, in the future, you’ll be able to describe, explain, and predict your own reality more accurately.

The need for closure according to personality type

Although for most people, it’s necessary to a certain extent, not everyone has the same need for closure. As a matter of fact, it depends on your personality. (Neuberg, Judice and West, 1997):

  • People with a high need for closure are characterized by having a great intolerance of uncertainty. They tend to be obsessive people, addicted to order, rules, and predictability. They need extremely well-defined structures of reality. In addition, they can be authoritarian and dogmatic, as they’re convinced that they know the “right way” to do things. They tend to be conservative, both politically and socially.
  • In contrast, people with a low need for closure are characterized by greater creativity, as well as a greater tolerance for uncertainty and surprise. They tend to be more impulsive people and also more cognitively complex. Furthermore, their greater cognitive flexibility makes them better able to move and adapt in ambiguous or contradictory situations.
  • Finally, there are also people with a need to avoid closure. In other words, they prefer not to know what happened. That’s because they assume that the explanation will do them more harm than simply not knowing.

What can you do when there’s no closure and you need it?

Of course, you can’t and shouldn’t ever force other people to provide for your needs. However, when the other person is uncooperative and distances themselves from you with no explanation, you’re left in relational limbo.

You need to adopt a healthy attitude. This means accepting the challenge of managing your share of the responsibility in this situation. In other words, you’ll have to manage the lack of closure.

However, what can you do, exactly? As a matter of fact, in order to obtain closure for a loss for which there’s no explanation, you have no other option than to give up on ever getting one. It’s tough, it’s difficult, and it’s unfair… but, if you think about it, you’ll see it’s also beneficial for you.

After all, the alternative would be to remain indefinitely trapped in a continuous cycle of personal interrogation. You’d be asking yourself why forever. At some point, you have to stop doing it. You have to move on.

Through the painful path of grief, having dealt with emotions such as sadness, guilt, or anger, your goal should now be acceptance. To accept what happened, you have to let go of all the burdens holding you back. These include your search for answers and an explanation. Letting go will set you free.

Sad woman for breakup

When does it happen?

Cognitive closure in a relationship occurs when you can access a plausible explanation for why things happened this way.

You feel the need to experience closure because this explanation helps you understand aspects of yourself, others, and the world around you.

Working to close the relationship with the other person allows you to give meaning to the loss suffered and to say goodbye to an important part of your life.

Unfortunately, many times relationships don’t end in a mature way and the closure isn’t complete. This leaves you with no answers to your questions. In these cases, giving up on closure is a way of releasing yourself. Indeed, letting go of your need for an explanation will allow you to move on.

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Need for Closure Scale: Can You Tolerate Uncertainty?
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  • Kruglanski, A. W., & Webster, D. M. (1996). Motivated closing of the mind: “Seizing” and “freezing.” Psychological Review, 103(2), 263–283. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.103.2.263
  • Neuberg, S. L.; Judice, T.; West, S. G. (June 1997). «What the Need for Closure Scale measures and what it does not: Toward differentiating among related epistemic motives». Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 72 (6): 1396-1412. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.72.6.1396.