TORONTO - While the holidays have always been a time to be with those you love, experts say they've also become the time to ditch the one you don't.
Young lovebirds and old marrieds alike are more likely to pull the plug on their relationship in the stretch between late November and early January, experts say.
Something about the season makes people take stock of their life, particularly their romantic situation, says Kimberly Moffit, a Toronto therapist and relationships expert.
That, combined with the stress of buying gifts, juggling parties and handling often intense family reunions, is enough to make even seasoned relationships crumble, she says.
"There's added pressure on the relationship," says Moffit, adding that her business always booms around this time of year.
While it's hard to find any academic research on the phenomenon, there's no lack of anecdotal evidence.
Online forums are full of jilted lovers looking for comfort or advice on how to recover from a breakup during what's ostensibly one of the most cheerful times of the year.
Not to mention those planning their escape, like one poster in a recent web chat who described a machiavellian ploy involving a holiday cruise.
"That way, when I get back, my girlfriend will have spent Christmas with her family and without me, and will start to realize we’ve grown distant enough for me to do this," the poster wrote.
"Then she’ll likely break up with me when I get back, or else I’ll end it."
A study of Facebook profiles last year showed late November and early December are prime times for switching to "single" status.
Couples who are dating tend to call it quits before Christmas, while the married ones typically throw in the towel in the new year, says Debra MacLeod, a couples counsellor in Red Deer, Alta. "There's definitely a pattern," she says.
Among daters, some will break up just to avoid shelling out for a gift or navigating the holiday hoopla with someone for whom they have only tepid feelings, she says.
Others may find themselves pulling the trigger while cornered over "whether or not a proposal is going to come," she adds.
For many couples, married or not, the split is brought on by pressure — from relatives and the pair themselves — to live up to some impossible standard of holiday perfection, Moffit says.
"You think about whether you want to bring this person home to meet your parents ... it makes you think twice (about the person)," she says.
Significant others are often placed under the family microscope, even if it isn't the first meeting, she says. And relatives generally aren't shy about sharing their opinions or making indelicate inquiries about the state of a relationship.
What's more, the holidays shine a spotlight on family traditions and values. Major differences can be "a big red flag" and prompt some to reconsider the odds of making the union last, she says.
Lorne MacLean, who heads the MacLean Family Law Group in British Columbia, says financial disputes also play a significant role in holiday breakups.
Married couples usually try to stick out the holidays together, partly because they don't want to taint the season for their kids, he says.
But the happy front often cracks by the time the bills start rolling in, says MacLean, noting that divorce filings at his firm peak in the first week of January.
While some suggest there are tax incentives to filing for divorce at the start of the year rather than the end, MacLean says that isn't the case.
"It's not a tax advantage, it's not a strategic advantage, it's a symbolic advantage," namely the need to kick off the year with a clean slate, he says.
Kandace, who lives in Ottawa, suspects the appeal of a clean slate led a college boyfriend, Nick, to dump her on New Year's Day in 2009.
The pair had only been dating a few months and spent all of December apart while she went home and he stayed on campus, says the 23-year-old, who asked that her full name not be used, given the sensitive nature of the matter.
The distance brought out their differences and the couple spent several phone calls bickering, she says.
Finally, he broke the news on Facebook, says Kandace, stressing she was more upset by the way it happened than the breakup itself.
Now, she sees the bright side of the whole debacle.
"If we had spent the holidays in the same town, I'm sure one of us would have thought up some other excuse to end it," she says. "Except if that had been the case, we would have felt that we had 'wasted' the holidays by spending it together."
While it's worth putting in some extra effort to restore a neglected or faltering relationship ahead of the holidays, experts agree sometimes it's better to cut your losses before the season is in full swing.
If the relationship is already doomed, a pre-Christmas breakup "can be a blessing in disguise," suggests Moffit.
After all, the newly single will be surrounded by friends and family to cheer them up _ and the chance to hit plenty of parties to score a new flame.