Breaking up isn't always easy, but there are plenty of strategies that can help you move on faster, like cutting off all contact with your former partner and taking the necessary time to work through your feelings. Another powerful tool? Writing a closure letter to your ex.
In an article published by the British Journal of General Practice, researchers found that therapeutic writing has positive effects on the immune system as well as the mind—but in order to reap the benefits, it's important that you use the exercise to learn from your emotions instead of just reliving painful memories through the act of writing (and definitely don't use it as an opportunity to just tell your ex off for everything they did wrong in the relationship).
"Closure letters enable us to articulate the reasons for the breakup as well as express previously unstated feelings around the romantic experience," says Susan Winter, an NYC-based relationship expert and bestselling author. "The 'letter format' is beneficial in that it forces the writer to label the issues at hand, condensing and clarifying any loose ends that would disallow closure."
Meet the Expert
Whether you decide to write your words on paper or type a heartfelt email, keep reading for key tips on writing a closure letter to your ex that will help you come to terms with your relationship ending and get over your former flame.
According to Winter, timing is everything. Specifically, closure letters should be sent within two weeks of the breakup or not at all. "If you choose to send a closure letter, do it as soon as possible after the breakup," she says. "If weeks and months have passed since the breakup and you're still obsessing over your ex, don't send the letter." Sending a closure letter after a huge chunk of time has passed will make you appear weak, needy, and insecure to your ex, says Winter, which is the opposite of how you want to come off. That said, if lots of time has passed, you can still write the letter—just don't send it.
When you sit down to write, it’s important that you’re in the right state of mind. For example, if you're feeling emboldened after a few glasses of wine or hyper-emotional after a hard day at the office, this may not be the best time to approach a writing exercise pertaining to your love life. Instead, find a time when you feel level-headed, can think about your past relationship in a rational and objective way, and can truly focus your thoughts without any interruptions or distractions. If you write a scathing message to your ex and hit send without thinking, you're going to regret it, and it will be even harder to find closure and move on.
Focus on Yourself
When writing a letter to your ex, the focus should be on yourself and how you feel. Rather than pointing out all their faults or blaming them for what went wrong in the relationship, it's better to look internally. "The therapeutic benefits of writing a closure letter to your ex is mostly for you, the person who needs to create the closure," says Winter. "Don't prolong the agony of re-stating the obvious. Summarizing the experience with your own narrative allows you to speak your peace." You can use this letter as a way to share some insight into your own actions and reactions and explain why you felt the way you did at certain points in your relationship.
Don't try to psychoanalyze your ex or focus too much on their actions in your letter. If you take the approach of self-explanation rather than accusation, they will be more receptive to your message.
Steer Clear of Insults
It’s important that you take the high road when it comes to handling a past relationship. That means keeping insults or passive-aggressive jabs out of the letter, both in terms of specifics as well as the overall tone. "Do not bring up issues of the past or re-accuse your partner. That does not close the wound," says Winter. After all, if your ex feels disrespected, judged, or that their character is being attacked, they might become defensive and disregard your letter altogether. Rather than relying on criticism and low-blows, make sure that your words are constructive and productive.
Write From Your Heart
While the letter may have your ex's name on it, remember that the purpose of this writing exercise is to help yourself move on after the relationship. Be heartfelt and share your raw emotions. You don't necessarily need to forgive your ex, but you do owe it to yourself to be honest about your feelings to help you actually move on. "Express what you wanted and needed and did not get. Say goodbye. Be diplomatic," says Winter. "It doesn't mean that you forgive cruelty. It simply means you're walking away from it."
You can also use this letter as an opportunity to apologize to your ex. After all, if you know that you're also at fault and this has been preventing you from finding the closure you’ve been seeking, this is the perfect time to say you’re sorry. "It will feel as though you've put a period on the final sentence of your novel," says Winter.
Hit Send—or Light a Match
Now that you've gotten everything off your chest, it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t actually have to send that post-breakup email or letter. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find that the simple act of writing out your thoughts and feelings about what happened between the two of you and where things went wrong in your relationship can be powerful enough to help you move on. "If you've been stuck for weeks, write your closure letter and put it into the fireplace to be burned," advises Winter. "Say all that needs to be said once and for all. Say goodbye to your ex. Say goodbye to the pain. Light the match and set yourself free. As you watch the letter burn, imagine the fire destroying every last particle of pain and heartache."
Mugerwa S, Holden JD. Writing Therapy: A New Tool for General Practice? Br J Gen Pract. 2012;62(605):661-3. doi:10.3399/bjgp12X659457