It’s the most wonderful time of the year–unless you just got dumped, that is. Unfortunately with the approaching holidays so comes the end of many relationships. So why are the holidays so fraught with break-ups? And what can a newly single gal do to keep her holiday cheer?
We asked Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka “Dr. Romance”) psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again why so many relationships seem to fizzle out each December.
“Holidays can be pressure time,” she says. “Pressure to meet family, problems with exes and children of past relationships and struggles over whose family to spend time with. If your relationship isn’t solidly established by holiday time, and if you haven’t discussed your holiday arrangements, these pressures can lead to fighting and breakups. Also, religious differences can arise at holiday time, and believe it or not, I’ve seen couples in my practice fight because of disappointment over gifts.”
So what are some warning signs to look for before the axe falls? Tessina suggests keeping an eye out for the following:
- You aren’t fighting — but you aren’t communicating. If you’ve been fighting, or dread fighting, moving into a phase of not talking meaningfully at all can feel like a relief — but it could be a sign that you’ve both given up on being understood. When this happens, divorce is often the next step if you don’t get counseling and figure out how to talk to each other without fighting.
- No sex. While sex in long-term relationships isn’t the easy, self-igniting excitement it was in the beginning, it’s still the heartbeat of your relationship. If you haven’t learned how to keep your sex life alive, and it sputters out, you open a wound in the relationship that invites an affair. If you haven’t had sex with your partner in a while, start talking about what’s not working — or divorce could be the solution.
- You’re only parents, not partners. If you have focused so much on being a family and raising your kids, (or being a part of your own extended family) and let your couple relationship go, you may find that you’ve lost your couple connection completely. This is why so many couples break up as soon as the kids are grown (or even before) Your man and wife relationship is vital — it’s the foundation your family is built on. Don’t get so into your role as parents that you forget to be partners.
If this sounds familiar–there may be still a way to make things right, says Tessina. The important thing is not to panic.
“Couples often feel panicked when something goes wrong during the holidays. Understand that problems are just opportunities to learn and grow, and to find a new and exciting way to do things. You can’t think when you’re upset, so don’t talk when you are. Take a moment to calm down, take a deep breath, and talk rationally about what’s going on. Any problem can be fixed, if you both focus on finding a solution.”
And try your best to avoid drama.
“Avoid dramatic pronouncements, scenes and ultimatums when holiday problems and issues arise, and don’t be so consumed with holiday and family differences that you neglect your marriage,” Tessina says. “Who you spend the rest of your life with is much more important than who you spend the holiday with.”
Instead, she suggests, sit down as an adult and talk things through. “Think and act as you do at work when a problem arises,” she suggests. “Most people can’t throw fits and keep their jobs.”
And go to counseling at the first sign of trouble. “Getting counseling early, before the drama sets in, will help you negotiate holiday and marriage issues without being destructive.”
But sometimes, no matter what you try, you’re going to get dumped. So how do you still manage to salvage a happy holiday?
“If you have a breakup just before the holidays, it can be devastating, so process that first,” Tessina says. “Write in your journal, talk to an understanding friend or family member, and sort through your feelings. If you’re struggling to process your feelings, then consider getting the help of a good therapist or support group — don’t deal with tragic news alone.”
Then get out there and enjoy the holiday as best you can. Tessina offers a few suggestions:
- Don’t let the holidays just happen. Make plans for yourself and your children, if you have them, that will feel better than being alone. Don’t suffer. You can grieve, and analyze what happened later. For now, you need to be around people who care about you, and have yourself a merry little holiday, as best you can.
- Consider pampering yourself. If you have the budget for it, take a spa day, or a night in a hotel. If the budget is shot, then get together with girlfriends and give each other manicures or makeovers. Set aside an evening with family or friends for, a DVD and popcorn, or just hanging out together, without all the company. Take a nap, a bubble bath, or a day off to do nothing. Picnic in the living room with your kids and pets.
- A new year is right around the corner — consider refreshing yourself with something different. Try a different hair color, new makeup, a new workout routine, or take some (inexpensive) dance lessons or pottery or art classes at your local Department of Parks and Recreation, Community College Adult School, or your church or Jewish Community Center.
- Have some simple fun. Holiday preparations usually involve doing complicated things — working out family holidays, buying gifts, cooking, shopping and entertaining. Do something very easy that’s fun for you. Take a bike ride along the beach or the river, read a new novel, watch your favorite comedy movie, hang out with your best friend for coffee, e-mail a funny YouTube video to your friends. Focus on what’s easy and will cheer you up.
What do you do to keep the spark alive in your relationship around the holidays? Have you been dumped/dumped someone around the holidays? How did you get through it?