Holiday and New Year breakups are nothing new. Dec. 11, for example, was once said to be the most common breakup day of the year, while January has been called National Breakup Month. It’s easy to surmise that people end their relationships early in December to avoid spoiling the holidays by spending time with a partner they no longer love, or having to introduce said partner to their families. Breaking up in January, on the other hand, might save people from an awkward and unwanted Valentine’s Day celebration. But there are other reasons for the breakup season.
“The idea of breaking up is likely reinforced around New Year because of our heightened desire for fresh starts, which stem from our innate and ever-present need for novelty, exploration, and change,” Novie Duquilla, a clinical psychologist based in Manila, Philippines, told VICE.
Of course, people can get fresh starts in many other ways. They can Marie Kondo their room, get a new job, try a new haircut, and so on. But Duquilla explained that the sentimental and introspective mood of the holidays leads people to focus on things that are most important, and many times, that means taking a good look at their romantic relationships.
“In some cases, people may feel like their relationships restrict them from growing because their partners are too closed off or controlling. This fuels their motivation for fresh starts.”
Whether or not the feelings of wanting to break up are seasonal—or that they’ll go away after all the celebrations—depends on what psychologists call “perpetuating factors,” or things that cause and maintain relationship problems, Duquilla said. Examples of these include physical and emotional abuse, cheating, and other unresolved issues.
Holiday reflections and the looming opportunity for a fresh start come the new year may put the spotlight on these perpetuating factors, encouraging people to hasten the countdowns on their relationships. But the holidays are simultaneously a joyous and stressful season, and breaking up with someone might spoil that joy and add to that stress.
“However, that doesn’t mean that the holiday season is not the best time to break up with someone. The best time to break up with someone is when you realize that your general experience in the relationship is no longer positive. Romantic relationships start to fail when we have more negative than positive experiences in the relationship,” said Duquilla.
To help people decide whether breaking up with their partners was a long time coming or just a seasonal whim, Duquilla pointed to four factors that influence breakups, according to renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel.
“First is violence. When we say violence, we don’t just mean major acts of violence involving abuse. Violence can also be in the form of microaggressions or those subtle behaviors that cause harm to your partner. Microaggressions can be verbal or non-verbal in form, such as derogatory comments. Second is indifference. This is when your partner starts to stop caring or starts acting cold, as if you are being dumped. Third is neglect or that feeling as if your relationship is no longer a priority, or your needs are not being met. Fourth is contempt. Contempt is the killer of them all because this is the experience of being devalued, as if you are nothing or you are worthless.”
Duquilla added that if even just one of the above factors is present in the relationship and a person has been contemplating breaking up with their partner even before the holiday season, then the feeling of wanting to break up is likely not just a whim.
If a person does decide to go through with a holiday breakup, Duquilla offered some advice.
“It is important that you own your emotions when you decide to break up with your partner. Breakup conversations are tension-provoking. During breakup conversations, often make use of the word ‘I’ rather than ‘you.’ [For] example, instead of saying, ‘You make me feel neglected,’ say, ‘I feel neglected.’ This is to avoid blaming, resentment, and other negative emotions that may arise from the breakup.”
“You can also do some breakup rituals to alleviate the pain, like sending a closure letter, getting rid of things that remind you of your partner, or doing the activity that you enjoyed together for one last time, such as eating at your favorite restaurant, singing your favorite song,” said Duquilla, adding that these rituals may help mark the end of the relationship.
After the breakup, people should prepare to manage complex emotions.
“Relationship breakups produce complex feelings of denial, anger, rejection, guilt, shame, sadness, or even relief. Generally, we experience grief when we experience relationship breakups. To manage your grief, start with normalizing your emotions. [For] example, acknowledge that sadness is a normal response to grief. It is easier to process and change your emotions when you start viewing them as valid or normal,” she said.
She also said that what people think of a breakup will affect how they feel about that breakup, because people focus on “meaning-making” and how they compose the story of the breakup in their minds. Sometimes, according to Duquilla, people cannot change a situation, but they can change their interpretation of the situation, which in turn determines how they feel and behave towards it.
“First, identify the meaning that you associate with the breakup. Commonly, people associate breakups with being alone. Second, challenge your association through probing questions. Are you really alone? How about your family or your friends? Don’t you think you can still build new relationships, romantic or otherwise?”
While breakups may not be the most festive thing to do around the new year, they may still fit well with the themes of the season, and may be exactly what people need for the fresh start they crave.
“Breakups could be breakthroughs for both parties. Breakup is a catalyst for rediscovery, redirection, and reconnection. Breakup can be a wonderful experience because it produces an intense desire to improve aspects of yourself, and it serves as a reminder to focus your attention back to yourself—those parts of yourself that you have long forgotten,” said Duquilla.
Follow Romano Santos on Instagram.