Building Bridges

Issue # 33 of 43 

David LeClaire
By: David LeClaire

Holiday Break Ups

Lately I've heard an amazing number of stories of people who are breaking up right before Christmas, or thinking about it. The question is, should you wait until afterwards, or get it done now, if you plan on ending it anyway?

The issue of giving and receiving presents further complicates this simple but realistic dilemma. Do you wait until they possibly give you an expensive gift? Then don't you look bad if you drop them a few days later? Do you save the money you would have spent on the obligatory present, but then risk looking cheap as well as being "heartless" around Christmas time? If you wait and your lover gives you a present, should you return it to them?

No easy answers here. Breaking up is almost always hard to do, and the holidays just make everything that much stickier. Why can't it wait? But then on the other hand, how would you like it if you found out later that your partner was planning on dropping you all along but wanted to wait till after Christmas. That whole time you were together would then seem weird, like they knew something you didn't and just put on an act for your sake. Poor, fragile you needed to be protected. You'd be insulted.

Add to this conundrum the issue of what comes after Christmas. New Year's. Do you want to start off the new year dumping someone, or are you worried about starting off their year being dumped? If you wait too long in January however, then Valentine's sneaks right up on you. What if you wait, and after the holidays, the person you are about to break up with gets sick, or has to leave town, or has a birthday?

Yes, trying to find the right time to break up can be tricky this time of year if you consider all of the above situations. But what should one do then? Play the game as if nothing is wrong, then drop the bomb? Or start hinting you're getting cold feet but not making it much of an issue till later, thus giving the subtle impression that trouble may be brewing? (Leaving a cloud hanging over your heads throughout the season.) Or just directly and promptly say you need out, living with the consequences of devastating your soon to be ex-partner, and dealing with the grief friends and family will probably direct your way?

Of course this whole dilemma could be avoided if you knew you were having trouble seeing the relationship going anywhere and you communicated that all along so there are no surprises when you choose the door. Having said that, chances are this is not the case, and any departure from being together now will seem a shock. I believe in being straight with each other all along, but that doesn't always happen.

If you sincerely care about this person and want to also feel good about yourself, you have a few things to consider. Ask yourself, which of the above situations is really most important? Do you care about the timing, or not? I have no easy answers, just the advice to talk it over with some friends and yourself, do a little soul searching, before you drop the bomb.

If and when you decide to split, consider how you can do so in the most honoring and loving manner. Communication is the tool used to bring people together and split them up. Ask yourself what it is about them you like and appreciate? What have you learned out of being together, about yourself, about relationships, about what you want and need? Share with them the positives, the gifts that being involved with them brought to you. Acknowledge the good as you see it, before and after telling them in a firm, clear, and friendly manner why you see yourself going another direction.

Yes, breaking up is never easy. But staying involved with someone that isn't doing it for you is tough too. And if you deeply want out, it's not fair to the other person for you to pretend you want to continue to be together. If you are careful, considerate, and handle it with maturity, no one has to feel hurt, angry, or resentful. And maybe, just maybe, ending a relationship that's going nowhere will be the best gift you give either of you for the holidays!

David LeClaire has spent much of his time teaching at community college and private school, and lead communications training for Fortune 500 companies. Now a popular and active Seattle area sommelier, this graduate of Central Michigan University led seminars for a wide variety of organizations. LeClaire is the author of "Bridges To A Passionate Partnership." He can be reached at

Building Bridges Table of Contents

Text © 1998, David LeClaire. Part of the original Sideroad.
More expert advice available at