Relationships During the Holidays

For couples, the holiday season can be a time of merriment, mistletoe and mixed feelings about where the relationship may be headed. While Christmastime is peak season for marriage proposals, it also happens to fall into what has been termed by some as “breakup season.” Data analyst David McCandless recently combed through over 10,000 Facebook posts from 2010 and found that more couples broke up during the two weeks preceding Christmas than any other time of year. In fact, “breakup season” seems to span from the time immediately following Halloween to just after New Year’s. So, what prompts the schism formations between what seemed to be healthy relationships? A major contributor to the rise in breakups during the holiday season is stress linked to various factors, including the pressure of buying gifts for significant others, spending time with each other’s families and miscommunication of shared responsibilities and expectations.

The stress of gift-giving may be linked to the fact that Christmastime and the end of the year are usually times of reflection for people. As one is perusing gift options for his or her partner, one might begin to wonder if this person is really worth the trouble of buying a gift if they do not see the relationship following a long-term trajectory. Additionally, a partner’s attitude toward gift giving is often a signal to how committed he or she is to the relationship. The more invested a partner is in the other, the easier and more enjoyable the process of finding a gift will be, and vice versa. People in more seasoned relationships also face increased pressure as they reflect on the next phase of their relationship and how they might expect their significant others to act toward them because it’s the holiday season. If one partner is expecting an engagement on the horizon, the other might feel put on the spot. While it may have been easy to dance around the issue for most of the year, the emotional intensity associated with the holidays inevitably helps bring it to the limelight. It may lead to the one partner seriously considering if the other is truly who he or she wants to spend the rest of his or her life with. If the answer to the question at that point in time is no, it might trigger someone to end the relationship because the stakes seem especially high during that time of year.

The idea of spending time with each other’s families during the holidays also heightens the anxiety surrounding relationships. Younger couples may be meeting each other’s families for the first time, and the unknown expectations of both the family and the partner can be especially stressful. If someone in the relationship feels particularly trepid about the prospect of his or her significant other meeting the family, he or she may be tempted to cut things off before having to deal with a potentially awkward or disappointing situation. For older couples, the idea of having to suffer through another holiday dinner with family when you are already feeling less invested in the relationship may be enough of a deterrent to stay in the relationship.

There may also be prior unspoken tensions and resentments between lovers building up that come to light during the holidays. Lawyer and couples’ mediator Laurie Puhn says that from her experience, some of the most common and avoidable arguments that lead to splits during the holidays are related to finances and holiday spending, resentment for unequally shared responsibilities, oversharing of information to family members and the feeling that one’s significant other isn’t as involved as he or she should be.

A common theme from experts on how to avoid these arguments is the importance of communication of expectations and desires before the holiday season. If one partner feels like they’re bearing the brunt of tasks in preparation for the holidays, they can communicate to their partner the specific tasks they wants them to do rather than attacking them with a blanket “I always do everything” argument. Before going to each other’s families’ homes, partners can come to an agreement on what information they are and aren’t comfortable sharing with family. Also, to quell anxieties about meeting family members for the first time, a helpful approach is to just be upfront with one’s partner and family about those anxieties. Instead of exclaiming that “we can’t afford that,” a less volatile approach may be to sit down together and examine the state of finances, therefore using hard facts to come to a consensus on money rather than pushing assumptions on one another.

Even if a split during the holidays is around the corner, it is important to remember that it’s okay to let oneself feel sad during the holidays and that there are many more holiday seasons in the future. Conversely, it’s important to take advantage of the warmth and presence of others around the holidays by reaching out to potential support systems so that you don’t have to go through the breakup alone. Finally, remember that statistics show that there are plenty of other people in the newly single boat and that there’s always an opportunity to mingle with potential flames for the new year.

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