A breakup is never easy and rarely simple. No matter the time of year or who initiates the split, there is always something to unpack and process. This time can come with denial, grief, relief, guilt, sadness, anger, confusion, and many more feelings. If you are the person ending the relationship, you might have been putting it off for a while, or you might have realized all at once that you had to do it. The person you were seeing might be someone who was creating distress or anxiety in your life or be someone with whom you got along well, but ultimately you didn’t feel it was right for you. If the other person initiated the split, you might have seen it coming, or you may have been caught off guard.
Following a breakup, not only do we tend to process the specific relationship that just ended, but others in our past as well. We might find ourselves saying, “I always go for the wrong person,” or seeing patterns that we didn’t notice at the time.
When we think of the way our culture portrays the holiday season, it can feel like the last thing in the world anyone would choose to end a significant relationship, but it does happen. A breakup during the holiday season can feel extra difficult, as the message of “togetherness” permeates advertising, film and television, and our family group chats. It would seem to be the last time on earth that someone would choose to separate from someone, but there are some reasons why this time of year can prompt a split.
Why do breakups happen during the Holidays:
1. Holidays are stressful; they might be the final straw:
Trouble may have been brewing for a while. There may be more distance between the couple, more bickering” or even full-out fighting. If there has been an increase in hostility in the relationship leading up to the season, holiday stress can be the final nail in the coffin. Any situation that is already under pressure can give way with one more added stress. There can be a time crunch for us outside of work: old friends return to hometowns and need to be balanced with family time; shopping can feel harried and take time and patience. Our work may have a “holiday closure” that decreases our workdays, but the same results are expected to be delivered, leading to high-pressure overtime. Something that adds to “obligations” as far as time, energy, and emotional output, such as a floundering relationship, may seem to be the thing that has to be eliminated from our schedule.
2. The holidays come with increased family time:
This can be tough to process or explain to a partner. Sometimes, the impending extended quality time with our families can make us think more seriously about the future. If you can’t see this person becoming a part of the family, you might feel like it doesn’t make sense to participate in this time period together. Other times, family obligations begin early in the season, and disputes or disagreements between our partners and our trusted family members can serve as red flags for future issues. There is no rule that says our partners and families have to blend perfectly, but it can still be alarming to see the tension and/or friction.
3. You feel ready to make a change for a healthier you:
Similar to how you might think about this person’s potential to move forward with you as a family member, you may also be looking toward the impending New Year and considering what you want for yourself with the sylleptical “fresh start.” You may feel like you and your partner have lived separate lives for a while. The holiday season may be a reminder of the differences in your relationship that tell you that you and your partner are no longer compatible. It doesn’t mean that someone is the bad guy. You realize you can’t just fake it. You want to enter the new year with more positivity and freedom to create your path.
These are some of the reasons you may feel the need to end your relationship during the holidays or the reason someone may have felt the need to end a relationship with you. There is also the possibility that the person ending the relationship doesn’t feel that this is an exceptionally tough time of year to go through that kind of loss. If you are broken up with during this time, you may find yourself asking the person why they couldn’t have done it sooner or waited. The imagined visions of attending holiday markets, bringing the person to your family’s Ugly Sweater Party, or drinking eggnog in front of a fireplace may seem to mock you as you attempt to process the end of your relationship. No matter when a breakup occurs, it can feel incredibly painful and isolating. You may worry that your friends and family are tired of hearing about it or that they can’t truly understand the hurt you are experiencing. If you are going through a break-up, you are not alone. Individual therapy in Woodland Hills can help you process your feelings.
4 Ways to Cope with a Breakup During the Holiday Season:
1. Understand your triggers:
Emotions can be difficult, and triggers can be unpredictable. Nobody would ever say just to decide to get over the breakup and move on the next day. But there are ways to set yourself up to handle things more easily. To understand your triggers, get curious about your pain, fear, and anxiety.
What is it behind the breakup that is hurting? Are you grieving the end of a relationship, and would be so whether it was a holiday season or not? In this scenario, where you have had your heartbroken, it can feel like an additional slap in the face that it happened right before/during “the most wonderful time of the year”. You may want to lean into holiday traditions that were in place before the relationship to get you through this first tough season, put a ban on any and all romantic movies, and approach the break-up the way you would at any other time of year. This includes working toward acceptance, avoiding fantasizing about the other person’s return, and ruminating about what you “did wrong.” Allow yourself to feel the sadness and anger you are feeling, setting aside any holiday pressures to put on a happy face. It is more important that you look out for your mental health than it is for you to smile through an entire family dinner.
Is your pain more than the holidays are heightening your emotional state? Were you counting on having a picture-perfect season to remember? Or perhaps the holidays are always a little sad for you, and this year you were excited to have someone to have fun with. Never underestimate or brush off the allure of putting your energy into something you feel you can control at a time of year when you feel vulnerable? Do you feel the pressure of comparison that comes with the season, wanting to experience what you see people online enjoying throughout the holidays?
2. Process your feelings:
It can be extra painful to go through a breakup during a holiday season because you want to enjoy yourself and feel the joy that seems to be all around you. When the urge to suppress how you feel occurs, you need to remind yourself that waiting until after the holiday to process your feelings isn’t a better idea. Remember, that holidays or not, the relationship ran its course. It is time to feel and heal.
Processing your feelings can look different based on how the breakup took place, meaning: was it a mutual decision or an unexpected turn of events? Don’t underestimate the impact it has on you in either circumstance. If the decision was yours, you are still permitted to have sadness over the relationship’s ending. Maybe you wanted this person to be right for you because there was so much about him/her/them that was great! Or perhaps you wanted this person to be right for you because you are exhausted from dating and being single. You might care deeply for this person, and hurting him/her/them was tough to do. Don’t tell yourself that you have to be happy about it just because you ended it. Feel however you feel, even when you feel guilty. After all, you also feel relieved or sad because you don’t feel right about being happy.
If the other person ended the relationship, you will likely experience a sense of powerlessness alongside your pain and anger. You may cycle through these feelings for a while, going back and forth between them or feeling emotionally numb. Take the time and space you need to feel what you are feeling without shame. You cannot heal from what you won’t acknowledge; suppressing those emotions won’t make them feel better. They will continue to impact how you feel, no matter how deep you try to bury them. And while they are buried, they will be festering and adding stress to your mental state.
3. Connect with other areas of your life that bring you a sense of connection and contentment:
This is the part of grief that can feel “wrong” to do but is actually an effective action you can take to move forward. You may find this to be a straightforward endeavor if you ended the relationship in order to focus on yourself or make a healthy change. Throwing yourself into your goals may affirm your choice. This could include taking a class, picking up a side hustle, adding exercise to your days, or a multitude of other things. Make a list of the things that you didn’t have the time or space to enjoy when you were coupled up, and do them as often as you’d like. This might mean watching a marathon of your favorite TV series while eating peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. It might mean training for an actual marathon. The choice is yours.
If you were not the person who ended the relationship, you may still want to make a list of the “single things” you weren’t able to enjoy in the same way while in a relationship. It can help you to remove focus from that person as the lynchpin of your life; let’s face it, most of us fall into that pattern when in romantic relationships. Without reserving time and space (including emotionally) for that other person, what do you have room for? Coloring, drawing, painting, singing, knitting, yoga, that language app on your phone that you keep forgetting to use? How about more time with your friends and family, and more time on your own?
4. Do what’s best for you unapologetically:
If you need alone time, go for it. If you need to party, go for it. You don’t owe an explanation to anyone. Focus on yourself. Focus on the moment. Ask yourself, “What do I really need right now?” If that includes togetherness with others in non-holiday settings, you have every right to ask for that. It doesn’t mean that you are reckless with the feelings and/or safety of others, but rather that their opinions do not confine you.
Your breakup is not an inconvenience to other people, ruining the holiday spirit or derailing their planned activities. It is your experience. It is the life you are living at this time. If someone comments that you should have waited until after the holidays, you have every right to ignore that comment or to explain to that person why you did not wait. If you were the person who was broken up with, then anyone who cannot show compassion for your grief probably doesn’t belong at your holiday events anyway. Communicate with the people you trust and invite them to participate in your mission to serve your needs. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with people, either! You have the right to advocate for yourself.
There may be some aspects or traditions of your relationship that you’d like to keep. Did you and your partner get Thai food every Thursday? There’s no rule that says you can’t continue to do that on your own or with a friend. You don’t have to erase every memory and avoid every trigger, though you may need to work on them slowly and gently. Over time, you will be able to revisit places that remind you of the person and not feel an ache in your chest. You might worry that you won’t ever get there, but you will, even if you need support and guidance for a while.
Other Services at Embracing You Therapy
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije, Ani Seferyan, AMFT, Cindy Sayani, AMFT, and Ani Seferyan, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns including panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression, Codependency, and Addiction.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.