Travel — especially when you’re in a foreign country where your first language is not the dominant language spoken — can be stressful. If you’re not at ease in your visiting country’s language, even something as simple as making a purchase or asking directions can be mentally taxing. You might assume that being off work with nothing to do but eat, sleep, relax, and see the local sights would be good for our psyches and create space to connect with our partners, but sometimes, like a rock under extreme pressure, the stress reveals the cracks in the relationship.
Here’s why it’s still important to travel with your mate:
Travel exposes us to other cultures. It opens our eyes to how others live, and especially if we travel to 3rd world nations, it can remind us of all the blessings and privileges we live with back home.
You get to see how your partner reacts when they are cranky and stressed and travel and sleep sick. You get to see how they react when there is uncertainty around them, or if they don’t know how to communicate effectively to convey their requests to people from the host country. Do they take out their frustrations on you? Snap at you? Or do they laugh about their bumbling attempts to communicate?
A small hotel room means intense one-on-one time together. It also means one bathroom. With foreign food, this can lead to dicey and potentially embarrassing situations. How do the two of you navigate balancing each other’s vacation wishes? Do you compromise and each does something the other wants to do? Do you split up and do your own thing and come back together at the end of the day? Do you talk about how you want to experience your vacation together and how much individual time you may want? The answers here don’t matter as much as you both being in agreement on what feels supportive and relaxing for you.
My partner and I are both very affectionate, playful people, and the way we interact — both with each other and with other loved ones — reflects this. On a recent vacation we even had several people ask if we were on our honeymoon, to which my boyfriend laughed and replied, “No, we’re just very much in love.” I thought it was hilarious, as we had not been excessively snuggly or smoochy, just open, happy, and curious about the culture and the people around us. And holding hands.
We had left the rainy, drizzly (and snowy!) Pacific Northwest and were in a sunny, tropical paradise. Waking up to 88-degree weather and a gentle warm breeze, sipping iced coffees while laying beachside, listening to the waves crash against the white sandy shoreline, and spending the mornings snorkeling with brightly colored schools of fish was a nice change from the snow/sleet/hail/thunderstorms we’d been receiving the week prior to our trip. We were both tanned, relaxed, and happy.
The resort was all-inclusive, in order to take away the stress and worry of planning activities and deciding where to eat. So you’d think everyone there would be feeling relaxed, playful, and affectionate with their partners, but you’d be wrong. We witnessed hissed conversations amidst the palm fronds and in the breezeways. We heard snaps of “Well then stop being so annoying,” echoing off tile floors. We watched dads, a tequila sunrise in one hand and a beer in the other, as they alternated which cup they gulped from and ambled along after their toddlers next to the pool while their wives struggled under the burden of a pile of towels, a bag of sunscreen, snacks, and pool floaties that kept falling off the pile in their arms as these laden mothers huffed at their partners to watch junior and make sure he didn’t fall in the water. We saw couples sit side by side at dinner, neither looking at, nor talking to one another, but instead staring off into space, frowns etched semipermanently on their faces.
We saw a couple on the beach and I nudged my partner so we could witness their engagement. He was kneeling in the sand and she was sitting on a chaise lounge. With her massive dark sunglasses covering most of her face, all I could see is that she was crying. And then…it became very obvious that this wasn’t a proposal at all, but a fight. She was drunk and crying and he was trying to soothe her, and then she started screaming at him and he eventually walked away.
We even saw a grown man throw a temper tantrum a la toddler-style in one of the dining rooms when the table he wanted to sit at wasn’t clean. Instead of asking for assistance from one of the many (many!) dining captains, he threw a whole shelf of wine glasses on the floor, shattering them, and put his grubby fingers all over every serving utensil laid out on the tray so that he could grab a knife and fork. We actually watched his fingers crawl all over the silverware. *Cue shudders*
Open schedules — with plenty of time to fill and little to distract from one another except the vibrant people watching — don’t help all couples, it seems.
Life is still life, wherever you live it. Your relationship goes with you even when you travel.
My ex always liked me best when we were on vacation. We didn’t go often in our 14 years together — more frequently at the beginning of our relationship and then more sporadically as the joint toll of our relationship and my duties running my business wore on us — but when we did go, it was my chance to sink into peace and let go of the rigid schedule I felt I needed to keep in my “regular life.” It was my chance to stop worrying about paying the bills and what to cook for dinner, how much laundry was piling up, and whether the dogs had been fed or walked. It was my chance to let go of thinking about bills and maintenance tasks. My ex used to regret aloud (and often) that I wasn’t always that relaxed and free, and so I tried. I tried to carry vacation Kyra along with me when we returned home. But there was something different about our home life together that was missing, and I still can’t tell if the change was me, or him, or us both. Or perhaps it wasn’t so much that something was missing as that there were elements present at home that weren’t nagging at me when we were away. Someone else could do the dishes and cook for us, because we would eat out more often. Laundry could wait until we returned home, so that wasn’t something I needed to think about or plan. There was no grocery shopping required — except for snacks — and for once, I didn’t have to adhere to a rigorous schedule to ensure everything got done.
On vacation, I didn’t work 16-hour days and come home so exhausted that it was all I could manage to eat some string cheese and crackers or grab a bowl of cereal before showering, going to sleep, and getting up the next day to do it all again.
On vacation, the tickets had been long ago paid for (with airline miles and credit card points) so I didn’t need to worry about making sure we had enough to cover the costs.
It was a vacation from all the day-to-day pressures of my life, so of course I felt relaxed. Of course I could let go and be a nicer, gentler, more in-the-moment person rather than worrying about and planning for future catastrophes.
There’s a part of me that regrets that I couldn’t always be that relaxed with him. It always took me a few days to settle into the relaxation, and I always felt a little jittery and anxious, but without duties pressing in and limited time to complete them, I had the space to be more patient.
Now, I’ve intentionally designed a life I don’t feel like I need to vacate from. Sure, trips are lovely, but so is my day-to-day routine. Yes, there are still business matters to take care of, but now I have a right-hand person at work and she is capable and dedicated and wonderful so I don’t have to be there 16 hours a day, every day, forever. I mostly get to work from home and when I need a break, I go mow the yard and pull weeds or grab my headphones and an audiobook and take my dog on a walk. It’s easy to throw in a load of laundry between conference calls, or run midday errands — shopping for and prepping for the next meal. My overall pace is slower and my partner also pitches in, though he works out of the house and I have more control and flexibility in my schedule.
I’m still glad I got to travel with my partner. It reaffirmed that he is just as patient on vacation as he is at home. It reaffirmed that we enjoy spending time together, and visiting new cultures, and getting off the resort for a truer glimpse at how the locals live. It reaffirmed that we have similar values and that we are able to communicate through stressful situations without taking that stress out on each other.
It also reaffirmed that we enjoy “regular life” together too.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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