Dr Charlotte Russell, Clinical Psychologist
We all hope that trips with our partner will be romantic and carefree, and that our holiday will allow us to connect with one another. But what happens when we experience challenges and what does this mean about our relationship? In this article I’m going to talk you through the common relationship challenges when it comes to travel and how to manage these.
Benefits of travel for relationships
Let’s start with the positives; is it worth travelling with our partner? Absolutely yes! travel involves spending time together doing new and interesting things which can increase our sense of connection with one another. It also provides the opportunity to enjoy positive experiences together, in contrast to everyday tasks that are not so enjoyable; taking out the bins and washing the dishes for example.
Positive experiences together are stored in our minds as treasured memories. When we return from our trips these can help to cement our relationship during the more challenging times that we will inevitably experience as a couple. These positive memories can help to balance out the challenges.
What if I’m going on a vacation with someone that I recently started dating?
Well good for you. The first holiday together is a good opportunity to get to know someone better; their likes and dislikes but also our quirks and the things that we don’t always show to people when we first meet them. This can be an exciting time, and an opportunity to begin to be vulnerable with one another.
At this stage it is helpful to be open to your partner’s preferences and to be thoughtful, but also to be clear about communicating your own needs and preferences. If they cross a boundary or do something that you find upsetting, it is important to let them know straight away. If they fail to acknowledge this or imply that you are oversensitive, this is a red flag. More on this later.
While travel can be a positive experience for couples, there are a lot of decisions to make: Where should you go? How will you spend your time? How much money should you spend? As there are so many decisions to navigate, travel has the potential to amplify any existing tensions within the relationship. Common areas of tension in relationships are differences in preferences, and decisions around finances.
No two people are the same, and so even if you are well matched, there will always be some differences in opinion. The important thing is how you navigate this.
Being thoughtful and considerate of each other
Travel, especially long-distance travel can be stressful and exhausting. None of us are at our best when we are tired and our ability to communicate sensitively is massively affected by lack of sleep. As such we need to be understanding of this and to be thoughtful and kind to each other.
When we spend so much time with our partners it is easy to take them from granted. You may remember in my previous articles that I have talked about hedonic adaptation; the idea that we adapt to pleasurable and positive things in our lives. As such it is important to remind ourselves about how important our partners are to us, and to be intentional in thinking about their thoughts and feelings. Yes, even if their quirks can be irritating sometimes…
Generosity and gratitude have been found to be important for maintaining relationships in the long term (Ogolsky et al., 2017). They are also reciprocal; if one partner shows more generosity and gratitude, their partner tends to do the same. It is a case of give some gratitude, get some back! Unsurprisingly couples who show generosity and gratitude to one another tend to have increased relationship satisfaction (Ogolsky et al., 2017).
It’s the small gestures of appreciation that matter; compliment your partner on how they look, offer to go and get the drinks, reach out and hold their hand whilst you are exploring together.
Communicating our needs and preferences
When it comes to expressing our own feelings and preferences, being clear is always the best strategy. It is easy to avoid conversations that might bring up tensions because we all want to keep the peace. But really this just leads to bigger tensions later down the line. It is always worth talking sooner rather than later.
It is important to ask for what we need in a non-blaming way, because we want solutions and not to put our partner on the defensive. Here is an example of how we might communicate a need in a constructive and non-blaming way:
“when we are away I know you like to have a few drinks by the pool, and I understand that this is your way to relax. I know that you have been working hard. However there are some sights that I really want to see, and I’d really like it if we could go together. So would it be ok if we have a pool day today and go and see the sights tomorrow?”
It is important to pick the right time and place to talk properly about issues where there might be tensions. Choose a time when you are both feeling calm and when you have the time to talk things through.
In terms of financial considerations, it is worth setting a budget that you both agree on before you set off. Work out roughly how much spending money you will have each day and agree to work together to stick to this.
The research in this area is strong; couples who communicate better have increased relationship satisfaction (Ogolsky et al., 2017). It really is worth the effort to communicate clearly and sensitively.
Having ‘me’ time
It’s totally ok to take time to do separate activities or have time apart when you are on holiday together. We are all different and so are our relationships, and couples will vary in how much time together and apart is right for them.
Do not read into this and whether this means that you are more or less compatible; many strong couples find that time apart helps them to better appreciate and connect with one another. This is supported by the research; it is the quality, and not the quantity of leisure time spent together that is important for relationship satisfaction (Berg et al., 2001).
Plan for how you will manage known tensions
If you have been on holiday previously and have noticed tensions in certain areas, it can be helpful to talk about how you will navigate these before you go away. I advise clients to imagine that the problem is separate to you both, and on the table in front of you. Now it is your job as a couple to think about how to tackle that problem together, working as a team.
Humour has been found to help couples to manage stressful situations and is associated with increased relationship satisfaction (Ogolsky et al., 2017). The important thing to remember is that any humour between you should be shared. Banter is fine, but teasing your partner about things that they are sensitive about is not ok, so remember to be sensitive and to keep communication flowing both ways. If you can both laugh together about your differences and quirks then this can be a great way to connect and to bring a lightness to any differences between you.
Relationship red flags to be aware of
Even if you have followed the above advice it is possible that your partner chooses to ignore your preferences or does not work with you to find solutions. In this case, unfortunately there may be bigger challenges in your relationship.
We are all human beings and we have days when we don’t communicate as well as we’d like to, or do or say something we didn’t mean. When this happens, a green flag is we / our partner genuinely apologises for what how we behaved and acknowledge the impact this had. A genuine apology is also accompanied by a change in behaviour.
On the other hand problematic behaviours, or red flags, often become apparent over time because they start to become a pattern. The following are red flags to look out for:
· Apologies that don’t result in a change in behaviour
· Apologies that minimise the impact of the behaviour
· Blaming you for the behaviour
· Minimising your feelings or blaming you for how you feel
· When your partner takes control of everything and always wants things their way
· Your partner puts you down
· You start feeling anxious about asking for what you want, or feel that you are ‘walking on eggshells’.
· Your partner behaves in an unhelpful way, causing arguments or giving you the ‘silent treatment’ when they are not the centre of attention or when they don’t get their way
· Your partner humiliating you, for example making a scene
· Physical violence in any shape or form
If you notice any of these I would encourage you take it very seriously. If possible discuss this with a trusted friend or family member. Many countries have helplines and organisations that offer advice and support for people in abusive or coercive relationships. In the UK this includes Women’s aid who offer advice via phone, text and email.
For more information read this article: I’m not sure if my relationship is healthy
Healthy relationships involve couples being thoughtful and appreciative of each other, working together and compromising when there are differences of opinion. The most effective tools in our toolbox are to communicate clearly with our partner, and to do our best to work as a team and to avoid being to be blaming or critical. Gratitude, generosity and shared humour are important ways of keeping relationships healthy and we should be conscious in trying to cultivate these.
In healthy relationships. travel can be a way to reconnect with each other, to enjoy positive experiences and to make memories. Trips can be a chance to enjoy shared interests, and can also be an opportunity to enjoy separate activities. Focus on making your time together quality time by organising a new and exciting activity or a romantic evening together.
Berg, E. C., Trost, M., Schneider, I. E., & Allison, M. T. (2001). Dyadic exploration of the relationship of leisure satisfaction, leisure time, and gender to relationship satisfaction. Leisure Studies, 23, 35–45.
Ogolsky, B. G., Monk, J. K., Rice, T. M., Theisen, J. C., & Maniotes, C. R. (2017). Relationship maintenance: A review of research on romantic relationships. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 9(3), 275-306.