What is it and how can you survive it?

Welcome to December, aka Dump Month, the biggest break-up period of the year. Alley Pascoe investigates the not-so-jolly side of the festive season.

Isobel Larkin didn’t see it coming. She’d just finished her university law exams in 2013 and was getting ready for a celebratory night out with her boyfriend of three years when she received an email from him. “There’s no easy way or right time to say this,” he wrote, before breaking her heart and ending their relationship out of the blue.

“It was a real shock,” Larkin tells Body+Soul, adding that she spent that festive season in a state of depression.

“I thought we were solid. It’s a cliché, but I really thought he was ‘the one.’ We were only 23, though, and he was heading to the US for Christmas with one of his single friends. Maybe he wanted to play the field, too. I’d already bought his family a Christmas gift, so I went over to their house when I knew they wouldn’t be home and dropped it off. It was an iced-tea jug.”

After three happy years together, the relationship ended with an iced-tea jug left on a doorstep. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere. Perhaps heartbreak is like abandoned iced tea: chillingly cold and slightly bitter.

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Dump day

Larkin, now 30, is certainly not the only person to nurse a broken heart over Christmas. According to research, December sees more break-ups than any other month, and December 11 is the biggest D-day of them all (with “D” standing for distress, destruction and/or divorce). A team of digital statisticians looked at online data and concluded that the peak break-up period falls exactly two weeks before Christmas.

A quick whip around my friendship group confirms the research: one mate decided to end her two-year marriage in December because she couldn’t face Christmas with her then-husband’s family. Another friend had a relationship-ending fight with her boyfriend after a few too many silly season beverages, while a third just couldn’t be bothered getting her relatively new partner a gift (which, upon reflection, was obviously a symptom of a bigger issue: she didn’t like him).

Love, (not) actually

Sure, Christmas is meant to be all joy, mistletoe-kisses and grand romantic gestures, but we all know the reality involves a lot more stress, anxiety and arguments over the correct way to cut ham. Author and relationship expert Simone Milasas says the high number of splits in December can be attributed to the added pressures and heightened emotions of the festive season.

“December is a confronting time for relationships,” she explains. “There’s a lot of expectations about Christmas and New Year’s Eve thanks to movies and the media. People start to question what they actually desire.” Sometimes, the answer to that question is singledom.

The ex-factor

Whether it’s a sense of dread about spending the holidays with your partner (or in-laws), a drunken mistake at your work Christmas party or an inconsiderate gift (no-one ever wants a vacuum for Christmas, ever!), it makes sense that December is “Dump Month”. There’s something about the end of a year that makes us all pause, reflect on our lives and relationships, and think about the future.

And after the sh*tshow that was 2020, Milasas expects we’ll see more break-ups than ever. “I think there are going to be a lot of divorces this year – and a lot of babies. People are either finding the strength in their relationship or the antithesis to that: realising they don’t actually like their partner,” she says. “December is a good time to ask if you’re really living your life to the fullest, and if your relationship is making your life better. If the answer is no, then move on.”

After spending the 2013 Christmas period with puffy eyes from crying, Larkin crawled out of her break-up slump and made a New Year’s resolution: to say yes to every single social event she was invited to in 2014. And she did.

A year-and-a-half later, she met her current boyfriend, who she now shares a home (and a rescue cat, Esmerelda) with in Sydney. “Looking back now, that break-up was for the best,” she says, before imparting a piece of wisdom ahead of Dump Day on December 11. “Break-ups can shake you like nothing else, but know that you will come out the other side stronger and you will love again.”

Remember that iced tea metaphor we made up? Ultimately, the bitter taste turns sweet.

How to survive dump month

Relationship expert and author Simone Milasas shares her top tips for staying coupled-up over Christmas.

Relationship: Are You Sure You Want One? by Simone Milasas and Brendon Watt (Access Consciousness Publishing, $25) is out now.

1. Get vulnerable

“Ask your partner questions and be clear about what you want. If it’s a relatively new relationship, talk about your priorities, asking: What would you like to do for Christmas? Is it important to you to spend time with your family, or do you want to hang out together?”

2. Ditch expectations

“If you have expectations of your partner over the festive season, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Stop projecting and start being present. Getting rid of expectations is like working out at the gym: you can’t go for a day and come out buff, you have to work hard and train. When you notice yourself getting caught up in expectations, stop and recognise that.”

3. Shake things up

“We should all live every day like Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler in 50 First Dates, waking up each morning and starting anew (instead of staying mad with your partner for not taking the rubbish out yesterday). Take a moment to look at your partner and say, ‘I’m grateful to have you. How did I get so lucky?’”