Why So Many Relationships End After The Holidays

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Have you ever noticed that a lot of relationships end after the holidays? Call it the January comedown, call it breakup season, call it whatever you want. But there's something in the air after the clock strikes midnight on December 31 — and that something signals the end for plenty of couples.
It's not just a random coincidence. A lot of people in relationships will stick it out through the holidays season, even if they feel that the partnership has run its course. The dumper might find it awkward to end a relationship just before Christmas, after plans have been made to spend the season together. "This time of year evokes such an emotional response in people, that they sometimes want to hide from the negative things going on in their lives and focus on the happy stuff," says Carlen Costa, PhD, a therapist and sexologist. "Instead of facing reality, it's easier to just go into Christmas dreamland and pretend everything is okay."
This time of year also has a funny way of putting the pressure on your relationship. "We're exposed to family dynamics and cultural expectations more so during the holidays than during other parts of the year," says Amie Harwick, PhD, a marriage and family therapist. "You may have family asking you when you're planning on getting married, which may make you question whether or not that's actually something you want from this specific partnership." Dr. Harwick also says that the stress of being around family can trigger feelings of unease in your relationship, too.
But what both she and Dr. Carlen agree on is that waiting until after the holidays is a terrible idea. "If it's an imminent breakup, hanging on can actually have more long-lasting, negative affects," Dr. Harwick says. "It affects your way to set boundaries when needed in a healthy way, but it also teaches you not to be honest and upfront about your feelings."
Dr. Carlen notes that it can also take you out of the bigger picture. "People put their lives on hold during this time of year, just to get through it," she says. "But that means that you're not moving forward in a positive way. Your life can't just stop because it's Christmas." It also isn't fair on the person being dumped, to have the process elongated, especially if they don't see it coming.
So if you're plotting to go your own way sooner than later, it's better to pull the plug now, even if you're worried that breaking up around the holidays will be hard — for you or your partner.
"We're all so concerned about having a 'good' breakup," Dr. Harwick says. "But there's always going to be a reason not to break up, whether it's a holiday, a birthday, whatever. Waiting for a certain time of year is never going to make the breakup better or worse." So as much as you don't want to feel like the only one riding solo around the holiday party circuit (which you won't be), or you can barely face explaining to your extended family that things didn't work out, it's better to do it now. Christmas might even be an ideal time to recoup.
"It's better to rip the Band-Aid off," Dr. Carlen says. "It will be better for you both in the long run."
This article was originally published in December 2017 and has been updated.
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