Sex & Relationships

An Expert Weighs In: How to Survive the Holidays While Going Through a Breakup

written by LEXI INKS
Source: @cottonbro | Pexels
Source: @cottonbro | Pexels

We’ve decked the halls, have had seasonal lattes in hand at every opportunity, and have already attended our fair share of soirees. Yes, the holidays are in full swing. It’s the most wonderful time of the year… unless you’re going through a breakup.

Heartbreak is tough, regardless of the season it may happen in, but dealing with a breakup around the holidays is a unique beast all on its own. One minute, you and your significant other are planning where to hang the mistletoe, and the next you’re debating whether to return or keep the thoughtful gift you bought for them. Beyond coming to terms with the idea that you’re going to be flying solo to your office holiday party or family Christmas dinner, becoming single before the holidays—especially when it’s unexpected—can throw anyone for a loop.

Not having someone to share the joys of the season with is hard enough, but the holidays can also be challenging on their own—even if you aren’t going through a breakup. Whether you’re navigating complicated relationships with your family or struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, not having your S.O. anymore means the only person you can really lean on is yourself.

“Breaking up around the holidays can be really difficult. If you are someone with challenging family dynamics, your partner’s presence may have provided a buffer between you and your family,” says Dr. Sarah Schewitz, a licensed psychologist and founder of Couples Learn. “The holidays also tend to be a time of connection—think snuggling up by a fire, decorating the tree, and cooking meals together. There are more built-in opportunities for special memories around the holidays, which makes it hard to be without someone special.” While they can feel heavy and isolating, holiday breakups don’t have to mean that your season can’t be merry and bright. Ahead, Dr. Schewitz shares her tips for making the most of your holiday season after a breakup.

1. Prepare yourself emotionally

If you’ve spent many holiday gatherings with extended family as an adult, you’re probably familiar with most of the age-old traditions that come with these events. Maybe someone always seems to forget the cranberry sauce, your uncle has one too many glasses of wine, or the most popular of all: You spend the evening shielding personal questions about your life.

“The holidays mean seeing extended family for lots of us, which means more people you have to tell about your recent breakup when they inevitably ask about what’s going on in your life,” Dr. Schewitz says. If you and your partner have recently split, it’s a good idea to anticipate that your loved ones might have questions about it. Preparing yourself for these inquiries ahead of time can save you from dealing with the discomfort of being put on the spot and can help you redirect the conversation elsewhere.

Have responses in mind to common questions or comments like “How have you been? I’m surprised [insert exes name] isn’t with you tonight!” or “You were so good together! What happened?!” or “That’s too bad… are you dating anyone new now?” Here are a few examples of things you can say to kindly acknowledge the question while changing the subject:

  • “There are no hard feelings! What about you, what’s new with [insert activity you know they enjoy or ask about their career].”
  • “We went our separate ways a few months ago. It’s for the best! But tell me about you, didn’t you just [go on vacation, get a promotion, re-do your guest bathroom, adopt a pet—literally anything else].”
  • “It’s OK! I am taking time to myself right now. I actually just [change the subject to something you would actually enjoy talking about much more like a new hobby you’ve started, a trip you have planned, or your new year’s goals].”

You can practice answering these questions in the mirror before seeing your family or even role-play with a friend to gain confidence and equip yourself to avoid a meltdown before the turkey is carved!

2. Set boundaries

Although nosy relatives may inevitably try sneaking in a question or comment about your recent singlehood, that doesn’t mean that you have to entertain them. Whether your breakup is too fresh of a wound or you simply just don’t want to talk about it, your feelings are valid—and you deserve to be respected.

Letting a trusted family member know that you’re not ready or willing to spill all the tea on your split is a good idea and can put someone else in your corner to deflect any prodding comments that might come up. Dr. Schewitz recommends doing this before the gathering even starts by sending a text ahead of time. You can say something along the lines of, “I am still processing my breakup, but I know people are going to ask about it. Would you mind helping me divert the conversation and support me in the boundaries I’d like to set when it comes up?”

When you arrive at the gathering and inevitably get asked questions, “Be clear with friends and family about whether or not you want to talk about the breakup when you see them. You are not obligated to divulge the details of your situation to anyone,” Dr. Schewitz encourages. If your friends or family still don’t take the hint that you don’t want to talk about it, you have every right to firmly say, “I don’t want to talk about my relationship, so I would appreciate it if we could move on from this subject,” or “My breakup isn’t something I am ready or willing to share about tonight,” and leave it at that.

3. Fill your social calendar

Sometimes, all we need after a breakup is to feel supported. Having your friends and family surround you during hard times can ease your pain and remind you that you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing. Especially if you’re newly single before the holiday season, you will benefit from having fun social events to look forward to. Rather than sitting at home mourning the matching PJs you and your ex bought together, go ice skating or gift shopping with your besties.

“If you had planned to spend the holidays with your partner, don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family about getting an invite to spend the holidays with them instead,” Dr. Schewitz says. “It might be nice to have pre-planned gatherings with loved ones to keep your mind off of the pain.” Even if you don’t have the energy for an all-out party, something as simple as taking a walk together to see your neighborhood’s holiday lights is one way to remind yourself that you are spending the holidays with people who love and care about you.

4. Be gentle with yourself

It’s easy to feel dejected going into the holidays newly single when you and your ex had so many exciting things planned together. Your sadness doesn’t have to overshadow the sparkle of the season; you can show yourself all the love you previously felt from your partner. Of course, the support and empathy of your friends is a wonderful way to heal from heartbreak, but practicing self-love and self-compassion is one of the most effective ways to remind yourself that there are good things on the horizon. “Enjoy the high moments, and don’t beat yourself up for the low moments,” Dr. Schewitz says.

Take time for yourself in between shopping or attending your friend’s white elephant party. Allow space and time for you to cry it out if you need to, talk through what you’re feeling with a friend (or therapist!), and treat yourself to anything from a massage to a delicious takeout dinner while you marathon-watch feel-good holiday movies. Whatever it may be, just know that the hurt will pass, you will be OK, and you deserve a happy holiday.