Asking for a Friend//

What to Do When Your Ex Wants More Closure

A psychotherapist weighs in on when to engage and how to set smart boundaries.

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Editor’s Note: Strong relationships are at the core of a happy life, but sometimes, dealing with the people in our lives is tricky. That’s why Thrive Global partnered with The Gottman Institute on this advice column, Asking for a Friend. Every week, Gottman’s relationship experts will answer your most pressing questions about navigating relationships—with romantic partners, family members, coworkers, friends, and more. Have a question? Send it to [email protected]!

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Q: What do you do when your ex wants to talk more because they need closure? Even though you’d spent time talking about all the reasons why the relationship has ended. It feels a like breakup merry-go-round. Do I engage or keep my distance? -J.B.

A: This is a tough one. Your ex’s request to re-engage in a closure conversation could be a genuine need to process the pain caused by the breakup. On the other hand, constant requests to “talk” very well could be an attempt to get back together.

It’s possible to have a productive closure conversation and maintain very clear boundaries between the two of you moving forward.

Before I go any further, I want to emphasize the need for couples who break up to have closure by processing what happened. I know, I know. It’s easier to call it quits and delete your photos together on social media, but in reality, you are doing yourself, your ex, and your future relationships a disservice.

Allow me to explain why.

In 1922, a psychology student named Bluma Zeigarnik noticed something interesting. Watching waiters in a café in Vienna, she realized they only seemed to remember the orders that they were in the process of serving. As soon as they had completed their task, the orders disappeared from their memory. What Bluma didn’t realize were the implications of her findings.

In psychology, the Ziegarnik Effect states that human beings remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. In the world of relationships, The Gottman Institute has found that it translates as follows: unprocessed negative events between people have lasting negative effects.

“It’s easier to call it quits and delete your photos together on social media, but in reality, you are doing yourself, your ex, and your future relationships a disservice.”

Processing is a fancy therapeutic word for talking it out. The Gottman Institute has used the Zeigarnik Effect to create a framework for processing a regrettable incident between people.

Here’s what I would recommend before talking to your ex again.

First, get clear with yourself about the boundaries you want moving forward, assuming you don’t want to get back together. Do you want to stop texting completely? Do you want to make sure that you don’t show up at the same parties? Do you want to unfriend and unfollow each other on social media? When you do meet up to talk, where do you want to do it?

Next, read this Gottman blog article for a blueprint for your closure conversation. The most important part of this conversation is coming to a genuine understanding of one another’s position and taking some responsibility for your part in why the relationship ended.

Finally, when you get together to talk, define clear boundaries for your non-romantic relationship moving forward. Setting these expectations will increase likelihood that your ex will respect them and will stop asking you to talk.

Again, you don’t have to be a martyr to meet with your ex one more time. Closure is a gift so that you both can heal and move on without resentment.

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