Whether your relationship ended yesterday or months ago, the thought of dealing with holiday gatherings after a breakup can seem like an absolute nightmare. This time of year brings with it all sorts of expectations, which have a way of highlighting negative emotions. Add in prying questions from family, stress, and loneliness, and it can make for a tough time.
There is good news, though, in that it's possible to see family and attend events without it feeling too painful. And while it may seem counterintuitive, the best way to start is by acknowledging your sadness. "It's hard to feel grief when other people don't want us to be sad, or when it's not socially acceptable to be sad," April Bennett, M.A., Ed.S, LPC, a licensed professional counselor, tells Bustle. But that's precisely what you need to do.
Instead of tamping it down or forcing yourself to forget about your ex, set aside time to feel sad about the loss each day. Whether you journal or just sit and think, it'll be a way of allowing yourself to have that emotion, Bennett says, which can be helpful when it comes to managing it.
"It hurts more to go through a breakup during the holidays because there is pressure to be happy, and when we don't allow our sad feelings space, they actually increase," Bennett says. "It also hurts because there is a particular focus on couplehood and family during the holidays, and many people around us may be getting engaged or celebrating their families. It's particularly important to care for ourselves well around our sadness." And that can include reaching out to friends.
If you have a few parties to attend, see if a friend will come along as a plus one. Make it all about having a good time together, and ask if they can find ways to keep you distracted. Planning events that maybe aren't related to the holidays can also be a big help, like movie nights or a quick weekend away. This can give you something to look forward to, while also giving you the energy to cope with whatever else the season might throw your way, like prying questions from family who may be wondering what happened to your partner, why you aren't married, etc.
"A good way to handle this is to set a boundary," Leah Abrusci, MS, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder and clinical director at Steeped in Hope Marriage and Family Therapy, tells Bustle. "If you don't want to talk about it, there is no rule saying you have to. Lovingly tell your (typically well-intentioned) family member that you appreciate their thoughts and that you don't want to talk about it. And then hold to it."
Of course, not everyone will take no for an answer. "You know your family," Becca Hirsch, MA, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "You probably know ahead of time who has no self-awareness or boundaries and asks inappropriate questions, and who will support you or back you up." Stick to the ladder group, get away from the others, and then bring it all back to taking good care of yourself.
"Take a walk, write in a journal, listen to a mindfulness meditation, talk to a friend or an empathetic sibling or cousin, and do what you can to be in a relaxed and present head-space," Hirsch says. "Also, give yourself this opportunity to reflect on some possible answers to questions that may come up about your relationship status, such as, 'I’m satisfied with my life right now, including my romantic life. Thank you for asking.' Or, 'I’m doing my best, and I appreciate your concern.'"
And if all else fails, have an exit strategy for holiday gatherings that are doing more harm than good. "As much we can try our best to plan ahead and practice mindfulness and self-care, family gatherings can be triggering for many of us," Hirsch says. "You can always go to the bathroom and text a friend who may be in the exact same position you’re in, take 10 deep breaths, remind yourself how awesome you are and it’s absolutely OK you’re single, and you’re doing your best."
Holiday gatherings can be difficult when you're going through a breakup, but you will get through them — and may even find a way to enjoy the holidays in a different way — by keeping these tips in mind.
April Bennett, M.A., Ed.S, LPC, licensed professional counselor
Leah Abrusci, MS, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder and clinical director at Steeped in Hope Marriage and Family Therapy
Becca Hirsch, MA, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist