You’ve booked the flights, triple-checked your reservations, and ensured that you packed enough sunscreen to protect a small school of children from the sun, but chances are you haven’t given much thought as to how to prepare your relationship for the exciting vacation ahead. Summer vacations are often visualized as being blissful and seamless, but frequently these lovely adventures are paired with arguments, stress, and unmet expectations. One of the most overlooked aspects of organizing vacations is how to handle and plan for the relational difficulties that tend to arise.
This brings us to the question: Why do couples argue while traveling? We often find that what starts as an exciting adventure turns into a stressful and expensive nightmare. Although this doesn’t always have to be the case (continue reading for tips on how to navigate these stressors), there are several reasons that make travel a recipe for relational conflict.
One of the primary aspects of travel that can be hard on a relationship is the component of stress, which stems from the unexpected and unplanned quality that is paired with travel. The element of seeing a new place and having a new adventure is the same reason that makes travel engaging – there are aspects of travel that are out of our control and challenging to plan for. Within our day-to-day routines, we often feel secure and familiar with what we know. We have our morning routines, take the same path to work, spend time with our colleagues, visit the same restaurants, and return home to our partners and families. While we can still have new experiences and stressors in our routines, we are also within a familiar context and able to adapt and adjust accordingly. For example, if you lose your ID or belongings on the way to work, it is a hassle but manageable. On the other hand, while traveling there is the potential for a lot to go “wrong” or not as planned. You may get lost, lose an item, have problems with reservations or have failed plans. This component of the unexpected leaves couples much more vulnerable as individuals, let alone couples, to stress and trying times. This, paired with lack of sleep, jet lag, and other challenges only exacerbate this phenomenon. As these stressors emerge it is quite common for couples to unintentionally project frustrations on to their partner.
In addition to stress, there are many logistics to coordinate with travel, which involves planning beforehand and also communicating. Couples frequently experience hardships with communication and teamwork regarding day-to-day aspects of life like household responsibilities, love languages (more on this below), and more. Traveling tends to highlight a couple’s weaker points in communication and we often see that the typical patterns of ineffective communication and the relational roles become more apparent. For example, it is quite common for one partner to be more of a planning type, while the other more laid back in nature. While this can provide great balance in a relationship, it also has the potential to evolve into a “blame game” if one partner is left feeling more responsible for the travel plans and agenda or if each partner has different expectations of travel. This is especially true if unexpected aspects of travel go wrong. Furthermore, due to the fact that partners in relationships take on different roles or characteristics, it is quite common for assumptions to be made when it comes to travel. If things go wrong during travel plans, or natural stressors arise, it is typical for couples to veer away from a team mentality and to turn against each other as stressors arise. Comments like “you always” and “you never” are phrases that are not only inaccurate but are also accusatory. For this reason it is crucial to communicate about the travel plans and expectations as a team beforehand to prevent unmet expectations or unneeded arguments.
Logistics and travel itineraries are typically discussed between couples prior to takeoff, but one element of summer vacations that tends to be an insidious instigator of disagreements is the overall goal of the vacation. For example, perhaps one partner is primarily looking forward to the vacation as a means to finally get away from work demands, while the other partner anticipates a romantic getaway with the focus being on intimacy and connection. While both travel goals are attainable in the same getaway, failing to address these goals tends to weigh on a couple while traveling. When we think of summer vacation, obtaining a sense of connection and intimacy seems like it should be effortless due to the romantic scenery and exotic ambiance, however communicating love and affection to your partner in the way in which your partner prefers still takes work and effort, just like it does while spending time together back in your home city. Imagine this scenario: you are traveling with your honey to a foreign land where they don’t speak a language that you recognize. The person behind the counter wants to show you to your hotel room, but you have no idea what they are saying. While the intentions are well, the language barrier makes for a stressful and confusing experience. This is NOT how you hope to spend your time afar. Just like this scenario, learning the language in which your partner expresses their love is crucial in forming intimacy, connection, and preventing communication breakdowns from taking place. Learning which Love Languages and forms of expressing fondness for your partner can take a regular vacation and transform it into a rejuvenating and intimacy inducing getaway for you and your partner when understood and applied. For more information on Love Languages pick up The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman. This is the perfect novel for the plane ride to your retreat with your boo!
Preparing for the relational aspects of travel are equally as important as remembering passports and the proper attire. For this reason, let’s take a look at the most effective tools to prevent, work through, and avoid these difficulties before they arise.
With travel comes stress.
It’s true that traveling is exciting and relaxing, but the long lines, lack of sleep, lengthy airplane rides, and various other elements can easily become stressful. Perhaps you misplace your ID or your luggage is delayed – while no one wishes for these instances to happen, the reality is that at times they do. Mentally prepare for these elements and recognize that some aspects of your travel will be stressful in order to prevent the impact of stress and displacing anger on your partner. If your baggage is delayed, for example, remember that your annoyance is a result of the airline company and not your partner. Try not to sweat the small stuff!
2. Your partner can’t read your mind.
Save the reading for the plan ride! Have a conversation about the expectations of your trip before you go. Perhaps one of you wants to sleep-in while the other is excited to chip away at the long itinerary planned, or one of you prefers a tightly planned agenda while the other prefers a more take-it-as-it-comes attitude. Both of these options are possible so long as you communicate beforehand. Have a conversation about how you want to spend your days is crucial when it comes to preventing miscommunication. Cover the basics in regards to your stay and have a dialog about sleep, food, accommodation(s), itinerary, pace, and expectations of the trip before you go so that you can work to find a compromise. Have fun with this! Be creative and think outside of the box. This may mean that you have to prioritize some of the top sightseeing locations, divide parts of the day for different activities, research restaurants beforehand, or spend some part of the day taking some time apart.
3. Technology mindfulness.
It’s true that you are on vacation, but many of life’s stressors are not. Whether you find yourself preoccupied with work, the kids back at home, or the endless notifications your phone reminds you of, go into your vacation with intention. Have a conversation with your partner before you go about what your goals are in regarding technology and to stick to your goals! If you find it necessary to check work emails or keep in touch with those back home, try to do so with intention – perhaps this means to give yourself 30 minutes of “technology time” in the morning and evening, for example. Remember that this is a time for you and your loved one to disconnect, enjoy your surroundings, and connect with one another. Your phone, emails, and work will be eager to greet you upon your arrival back home.
4. Now is not the time.
Chances are, you hope to spend your vacation enjoying one another and the beautiful destination place. Although your vacation may mean that you finally have some uninterrupted time with your partner, this does not mean it’s the best time to bring up ongoing issues or disagreements – try to resist this urge! Your disagreements will be waiting for you as you return home so discussing serious and heavy topics during your vacation is one way to have a fun filled trip and turn it into a dreadful nightmare. If it feels like there is an issue you need to talk about, try to discuss the issue before you leave and agree to come back to the issue once you return.
5. A vacation from vacation.
Spending 24/7 with anyone, let alone your loved one, is bound to stir up some friction. Setting aside some alone time during your vacation is not only rejuvenating, but it also provides a pep-in-your-step for the days to come. Taking some time to yourself doesn’t mean spending hours upon hours apart, but carving out a simple 20-30 minute solo-activity, like taking a walk along the beach, reading your favorite novel before bed, or going on an afternoon jog, are simple measures you can take to prevent unwelcome annoyances with one another before they happen.
Going on vacation with your loved one has the potential to be a new exciting adventure, make lasting memories, and bring you closer to one another. By engaging in these activities before and during your vacation, you have set the stage for a much more realistic, meaningful, and enjoyable experience with your honey.
The book Amber recommends can be found here.