Brace Yourselves, It's Breakup Season
DEAR DR. JENN,
I have heard that in between Christmas and Valentine’s day is called “breakup season.” Is that a real thing? How can I make sure my relationship doesn’t fall apart? —Tis the Season
‘Tis true. We are in a high risk time! Facebook statistics show that there are actually two peak times for breakups: the weeks leading up to the December holidays and, now, ahead of Valentine’s Day. It appears that there is a mass relationship exodus at this time of year. A 2014 survey from dating site Coffee Meets Bagel backs up these breakup peaks, but adds that there’s another jump around spring break (you know why), and, generally, on Mondays (ouch).
It is not surprising that many relationships collapse under the pressure of Valentine’s Day. Some of the most common reasons I see relationships ending at this time are: pressure to define the relationship, conflict about how significant the evening should be, fears about measuring up to expectation or one person being ambivalent about next steps.
There’s a lot of relationship angst before the holidays, and a lot of people abandon ship before taking big steps like meeting the family at the holiday dinner, or they crumble under the pressure to define their relationship or show their commitment on Valentine’s. Sometimes simply knowing you need to make dinner reservations at a nice place and buy an expensive gift forces people to evaluate where the relationship is heading, and many decide to save the money, and cash in their chips. Many people, often men, feel pressure to take the next step in the relationship — to say “I love you,” move in together, get down on one knee and propose — and when faced with answering to whether they’re ready for that step, opt to break up instead.
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Consider a couple who’s been together for a while when the holiday season — also commonly referred to as “engagement season” — comes and goes. One person expected a proposal, thought they were moving in that direction, and is disappointed or resentful that it didn’t come to pass. For these holiday-focused few, Valentine’s Day presents a real “shit or get off the pot” situation. The fights and tension that may have boiled up during and after the non-proposal might’ve stewed enough unrest that either or both partners realize they aren’t meant to be at all. Someone’s going to get off the pot. This is not uncommon.
Big holidays and events can bring relationship stress to a boiling point, and what is Valentine’s Day if not a reason to put your ‘ship under the microscope and take an uncomfortably close look at the germs growing there? That is what makes this time of year so dicey. Ahead, some tips on how to get through it on solid ground.
Discuss expectations. Get on the same page about how you hope your holiday will go. Reduce pressure wherever possible. Sometimes setting a gift-giving financial limit can reduce pressure; you know what you’re going to get.
Evaluate the relationship. Relationships need to be evaluated on a regular basis by both people. We are able to improve our dynamics the most when we give each other regular feedback and voice our needs. If you do this on and ongoing basis, instead of saving it for Valentine’s Day, you are more likely to have a smooth holiday.
Nip problems in the bud. Address relationship problems as they come. If this is someone you care about and you’re concerned about tackling certain relationship problems together, consider giving couples therapy a try. It is never too soon to improve your relationship skills with the help of a professional.
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Connect daily. The most important foundation for an intimate relationship is connection. In this age of distraction it is easy to let days go by without sitting and talking face to face with your partner. This distance erodes the connection and relationship. Make sure you both take 20 minutes a day, every day, to sit and talk face-to-face without distractions. If your relationship is like a car, this is like putting gas in the tank: necessary to keep things running smoothly.
Prioritize intimacy. You want to be connecting physically, too. Is sex a priority in your relationship? Set limits on the outside world — technology, children, in-laws, houseguests, friends, work, household chores, and the like — to protect your erotic space together. Sensual time together bonds you. It can make you both feel loved, appreciated and cared about.
Practice all of these healthy relationship habits and you’re probably going to make it — at least until spring break … or Monday.
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