Tuesday 20 August 2019

The ultimate guide to surviving a break-up over Christmas

Two weeks before Christmas Day is a peak break-up time. Our reporter has expert advice for freshly minted singletons

Two's company: Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston are a couple who go to great lengths to keep their lavish condo from each other after splitting in the 2006 film 'The Break-Up'
Couple breaking up

Tanya Sweeney

Perhaps it's to do with the prospect of breaking bread (and bird) with loved ones this month. Perhaps it's the proliferation of TV ads glorifying (commercialism and) cuddly family values. Either way, 'tis the season for close relationships to fall into sharp, merciless focus. Some of us do well - brace yourself for a lot of engagements on your Facebook timeline in the coming weeks - but others aren't quite so lucky.

Two weeks before Christmas is a peak break-up time, according to a study conducted by journalists David McCandless and Lee Byron for the book 'The Visual Miscellaneum', who based their analysis on Facebook updates. Match.com also notes that its peak surfing season starts on December 25, just as the break-ups of break-up season are sinking in.

The reasons are manifold: end-of-year reflecting. Wating to cut one's losses before year's end. An attempt to avoid introducing a significant other to family. The pressure to buy an expensive gift can also be the final straw for many romances. Factor in seasonal rates of stress, anxiety and depression, and the festive season is a ticking time bomb for relationships that aren't in the whole of their health.

"January is usually our busiest month," affirms Rena Maycock of Intro Matchmakers. "I have been through a break-up over a Christmas so I know that coping with the breakdown of a relationship amidst a sea of joy and happiness can be a most agonising experience.

"It seems December can be the virtual straw that breaks the back of fragile relationships. This time of year basically throws the strength and longevity of relationships into sharp focus and ends the weakest."

Adding children into the mix - at a time that has huge importance to them - can also aggravate an already difficult situation. Safeguarding festive traditions is one thing, but arranging them with minimal blowback is quite another. Now more than ever is the time to work as a team (if only to avoid buying the same Christmas presents).

"If there are children involved, it can make it more complex as their needs have to be accommodated," explains psychotherapist Lisa O'Hara. "Particularly around presents and access, it may feel like your ex is pulling a fast one and some of your old patterns (that may well have led to breaking up) become activated again.

"Try to keep the children's needs to the forefront - it's not easy but there is evidence that says that adults seem to adjust better when the needs of the children are prioritised."

Couple breaking up
Couple breaking up

Common though the festive split is, it's still a particularly hard time to endure heartbreak. Whatever the time of year, Maycock says, the rules for recovery remain largely the same.

"Going through a grieving period is necessary including every stage of dealing with grief. Accepting that will help the moving on process," she explains.

"Understand that feeling terrible is natural as the blueprint of your future needs to be completely remodelled and filling the gap that person left in your daily life will be hard. Taking your time, talking about your feelings and crying it out are all stages that will quicken your recovery."

Surely party season - when everyone is out and about and at their most, ahem, socially liberated through libation - is an opportune time for a soul-bolstering rebound?

Two's company: Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston are a couple who go to great lengths to keep their lavish condo from each other after splitting in the 2006 film 'The Break-Up'
Two's company: Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston are a couple who go to great lengths to keep their lavish condo from each other after splitting in the 2006 film 'The Break-Up'

"That old saying that the quickest way to get over someone is to get under someone else most certainly is not true. Rebounds are a thoroughly bad idea and a recipe for adding guilt/nausea to the doom of heartbreak," says Maycock. "But once that initial few months have gone by and the pain has dissipated you will be ready to meet someone new.

"Whatever you do, just give yourself time to get over it," she adds. "If you are still hung up on your ex then there is no point putting yourself out there and trying to meet someone because you'll only end up comparing them to the one that got away and feel worse.

"Worse still, you'll get yourself hammered and be that sobbing wreck in the corner trying to bend everyone's ear about how amazing your ex was.

"By all means, try and enjoy your Christmas, but stick with close family and friends who will mind you and understand that you're feeling upset and you don't need to put on a brave face."

O'Hara adds: "The partying season is loaded with opportunity to hook up with someone new. When you are still grieving, your choice of partner is made through the lens of grief and often one that is made from need (to not be alone) and not necessarily one that you might make otherwise.

"Those relationships can often be a distraction from pain and, although it can be a welcome panacea, they rarely go the distance. Try to keep your expectations realistic and recognise that this might be just a bit of fun and nothing more - otherwise, you are risking a deeper, more intense grief as yet another relationship doesn't work out."

Of course, family and friends can be one person's sanctuary and another person's Waterloo. It's very easy to get caught off-guard over the turkey by a simple, often innocent line of enquiry by a bumbling aunt or uncle.

Have a few cool responses up your cuff to fire off to nosy relatives: "He didn't measure up," or "Once I meet someone worth talking about, you'll be the first person to know." Forewarned is forearmed, after all.

And, if you happen to have a freshly minted singleton at your own dinner table, remember that silence is golden.

"If you are reading this and you know someone who has gone through a break-up or is single - for goodness' sake remember that asking why they are single is uniquely cruel and hurtful," advises Maycock. "Whatever you do, don't embarrass someone that's alone by putting them on the spot.

"If you want to help then set them up on a date with a single friend that might be a suitable match. There is nothing worse than hearing 'it'll be your turn soon'."

How to heal a broken heart over Christmas

1 First things first, you need to deal with the practical stuff. This means cancelling dinner plans with his or her family, returning your gift for them (if needs be) and the other grim admin: cancelling flights, hotel reservations/New Year plans.

2 Next, while retail therapy is rarely the right answer to life's stresses and strains (though it certainly feels it at the time), a bit of seasonal self-gifting might be just the thing at this time of year.

3 If you think about it, winter affords us the perfect time to indulge in classic break-up behaviour with total impunity. You've heard plenty about 'hygge' this year - the Danish art of being cosy, swaddled and content in front of the fire with hot chocolate and sheepskin slippers. What better time than to go full-blown hygge than post break-up?

4 While it'll be totally natural to feel left out of the party loop, attempting to fly solo over Christmas is a fool's errand. You will, very simply, have to be your own arm candy.

5 Make a point of meeting good (read: reliable) friends for coffee, drinks or dinner. It may feel as though your coupled-up friends will be booked solid, but you'll be surprised how many of them will be only too happy to rally around.

Irish Independent

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