Alaina Leary
December 10, 2018 9:00 am
HelloGiggles/Anna Buckley

One of the most potentially crappy things about the holidays is having to be away from your significant other, especially if you two want to spend it together but can’t—because of distance, money, obligations, or another reason.

Being apart is especially hard at this time of year because you’ll probably see other couples spending the holidays together. But that’s okay! You and your partner can get through this tough holiday season with as little stress and sadness as possible. Here’s how:

Give yourself time to feel crappy.

Heidi McBain, a licensed professional counselor in Texas specializing in women’s mental health, tells HelloGiggles that people need to give themselves time to grieve “the loss of the way you would like things to be versus the way they are this year.” It may be strange to think of not spending the holidays with your S.O. as a loss, but if you were hoping or expecting to be together, it is one.

McBain says, “Remind yourself that even though this year may be very hard for you both, try to keep hope intact for the future that things may be different and more in line with how you would like to spend the holidays in the years to come.”

Shift your mindset.

It’s easier said than done, but one of the best ways to weather the separation is to shift your mindset and focus on the positives.

“While feeling alone at times is unavoidable, it doesn’t have to be a negative,” says Jennifer Uhrlass, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the founder of Modern MFT in Manhattan. “The way you engage your feelings can determine the meaning you make of the feeling and help you respond to it in a way that honors your own unique process and context.”

Uhrlass says that it’s important to remain connected to your S.O. and for both of you to listen and share your feelings with each other. It’s helpful for each of you to be totally honest about what you imagined the holiday would be like and have an open conversation about what you’d like to happen. If you think starting the day with a phone call is important and will make you feel connected to your partner, let them know and see if that’s something you can arrange. Similarly, if there’s something you’d like to avoid—like maybe going the entire holiday without any phone conversations—express that too so you can plan together.

Refocus how you’re spending your time.

It’s hard be separated during the holidays, but what if you spent your time thinking about who you will see instead? It’s a great idea to take all the energy you’re spending missing your partner and focus it on having an engaging time with someone else.

“Focus on building relationships with people you don’t get to see often or might not know that well,” says Maria Sullivan, the vice president of Dating.com and a relationship and dating expert. “Spend time with a younger cousin or an older aunt. Making an impact on someone else’s holiday, who may also be riding single or alone, can be rewarding and leave you feeling fulfilled instead of sorry for yourself.”

You can use this time to get to know someone who’s involved in your holiday celebrations better, whether they’re new or you two haven’t had as much time together one on one. Ask that person some questions about their life and take the time to really listen. It’ll help you make a connection instead of feeling lonely because you’re missing your significant other’s physical presence.

It’s also okay to reach out to your friends and family if you need a little extra support to get through the season. “Give yourself permission to reach out to others and make plans to see them when you feel you need support from family and friends during this hard time,” says McBain. Non-romantic relationships are just as important as romantic ones, and this is a great time to lean on the people closest to you and nurture those friendships.

Another option is to consider giving back for the holidays and refocusing your time in that way. Could you do some volunteer work on or around the holidays with the time you may have spent cuddling and exchanging gifts with your partner? Maybe you could make or buy and then donate gifts to others, spend some time at a local Boys & Girls Club, or make some baked goods for a local non-profit auction. Giving back will take your attention off of feeling sad about being apart from your significant other while making a positive impact you can feel good about long after the holidays are over.

Find unique ways to connect with your significant other.

Maybe you two can’t see each other in person, but there are more options now than just calling them on the phone. You can video chat, even right in the moment while each of you are celebrating if you want to pass your S.O. around to everyone at your holiday celebration so they can say hi. “Try to do something every day that keeps you feeling connected to one another and lets the other person know that you’re thinking of them and that you care and wish you were together this year,” McBain recommends.

It’s important to consider what will make your partner feel most loved. “Perhaps there are traditions from your family of origin you’d like to continue and others you’d like to develop new based on your understanding of each other,” says Uhrlass. “You can be really creative in this area and develop new traditions that make you feel connected and fulfilled as a couple.”

If your significant other is really into long, handwritten love letters, write one in advance and send it to them to open on the day of. If they’d prefer something to look forward to, book something you two can do together after the holidays are over—an escape room, a paint night, or a horse-drawn carriage ride depending on their style—and make that their gift this year.

“While you can always wait to exchange gifts when you reunite, a great way to remind your partner that you are thinking of them while long-distance is to plan ahead and send gifts or organize surprises,” says Sullivan. She recommends something out-of-the-box, like matching underwear sets so you and your S.O. can feel connected even while you’re physically apart.

The important thing here is that you two find ways to show your love that will be most appreciated. Pay attention to what makes your partner feel special and find a way to incorporate that into your holiday.

Spending the holidays without your significant other can be a challenge, but you two are cut out for it. Think of this as a temporary situation and focus more on the life you’re building together than on what you don’t have this year. If you both approach this knowing what you’re going into, you’ll come out that much stronger when the holidays are over—plus, you’ll be super grateful the next time you get to see each other.

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