Last year, my fiancé and I did an epic 5-week journey around majestic Ireland.
Five weeks … Alone. Just her and I. … Alone. Together.
I assure you: I absolutely love and adore this woman.
She’s the everyman’s dream female-lead in the rom-com movie of my life. She’s that beguiling, sexy, goofy girl-next-door who’s impossibly gorgeous yet also humble and generous to kin and stranger alike. She's wise and witty and suffers no fools yet has patience enough to suffer my foolishness.
In fact, I liked it so much I put a ring on it, just moments after the pic above, as we sat overlooking the Atlantic Ocean atop the windswept 700-foot Cliffs of Moher (Had she said no, I figured I'd just leap off into blissful oblivion. She said yes. … Phew!)
She’s truly the keeper I was waiting for.
Nonetheless, as I’ve been coaching well-intentioned couples for about 5 years now, and I've spent the last 3 years myself with this woman of my dreams, I’ve come to appreciate something primal and ancient about intimate relationships between a man and a woman:
Intimate partners are not supposed to spend every waking moment of every day with each other!
While the overwhelming majority of our trip was lovely and harmonious, we had a few particularly rough moments with each other, which is to be expected when any two people travel for that much time together.
But I was delighted to see us still laughing together in the final days of our adventure 'round the Emerald Isle. Because in one of my past relationships, one disagreement would ruin entire vacations.
Travel is stressful enough.
Travel with your partner can be like pouring miracle-grow on any challenges you were already having back home.
But if done right, travel can bring you closer together, guiding you deeper into each other's squishy lil’ hearts.
As I reflected on our 5-week adventure, I realized we did a few essential things that kept us connected and laughing together ’till the end.
So, if you’re about to embark on an adventure with your partner, here’s 9 wise insights and practices that helped Silvy and I not just survive, but actually thrive on our journey together!
1) Get clear on “Planning versus Flowing” BEFORE you leave.
I have an old military buddy who uses a spreadsheet when he travels with his wife. That spreadsheet has every hour of every day for the entire trip marked off with what activity they are doing, and where and with whom they’re doing it.
It just makes me sad. I’m more of a “Flow” traveler. I far more enjoy going where the winds will take us.
If you and your partner are both “Planning” spreadsheet types, you’ll probably do fine together (except as your desired plans clash). However, if one of you likes to plan upfront and the other likes to flow day by day, you’re likely to get frustrated.
Talk about this before you leave.
You might meet in the middle by planning some things (e.g. where you’re gonna sleep) and leaving other things open (e.g. leave some days unscheduled, wide open).
While my fiancé and I are both more “Flow” travelers, we still talked about this before we left. I wanted to be sure to lock in some good prices for lodging before we left, which requires planning. But she wanted some freedom to change plans, since we were traveling for 5 weeks. So I booked a few key spots while leaving certain days in between for whim and fancy to have their way with us.
Talking about this helps you both relax. The “Planner” can know their essential checklist items are addressed, and the … ummm … “Flower” … still gets to enjoy the thrill of serendipity’s mysterious ways.
2) Allow yourselves to do separate activities.
You are different people with different interests. That’s a beautiful thing. Caring about different things, being moved by different experiences, seeing the world differently is how you expand each other's hearts and minds.
Sometimes the best gift you can give your partner – and yourself – is to allow them time to go off without you and have an experience they want.
I love long drives and 5-mile hikes through stunning landscapes. My lady’s idea of hiking is strolling through a Sunday farmer’s market. She also gets nauseous after too much time in the car. So we spent entire days apart where I drove and hiked ’till I was filled with bliss, and she stayed home and rested.
This allowed her to feel rejuvenated by the time I returned thrilled and filled with new adventure stories.
Of course you might (and should) do things with your partner that you wouldn’t otherwise. It’s healthy to share new experiences together.
But there’s a big difference between making compromises and sacrifices.
3) Make compromises, not sacrifices.
Sometimes it’s wise to do the thing your partner wants to even if you don’t. But I don't encourage you to ever sacrifice your well-being to do something your partner wants to do.
For if one of you is miserable, both of you will be.
An essential relationship skill is knowing how to both respect your own physical, emotional, and mental limits, while also honoring your partner’s wants and desires, too.
I love spending time in remote, secluded places where no one can find or reach me. My lady needs consistent connection with friends and family. After a few days at a cottage in west Ireland, nestled at the bottom of a remote and hauntingly beautiful valley called “The Burren,” we lost internet.
She was suddenly disconnected from her family.
Though I loved waking up everyday in that secluded valley, I got us relocated to another cottage with internet, closer to a nearby village.
I knew that if she sacrificed connection with her family just to stay with me in that valley, she would have spent the next week in turmoil. I also knew that had I sacrificed staying in a remote cottage, I would have become resentful.
Either sacrifice would have put strain on our relationship.
The new cottage wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be, but it was still in a quiet, beautiful spot overlooking Galway Bay, and it enabled her to stay connected to her family.
The compromise allowed us to both feel cared for.
4) It’s ok to rely on outside resources to navigate challenges.
Even on a short trip you can find yourself suddenly reeling from some unforeseen challenge or inner turmoil triggered to the surface by your circumstances, or by your partner.
You don’t need to get through it alone just because you’re traveling.
I did a Skype session with my Life Coach in California to help me work through something that challenged me on our trip. My partner stayed connected with friends and family via FaceTime, which helped her get healthy perspective during a few raw moments.
When you hit a difficulty, your partner may not be able to help you through it – especially if you think it’s their fault. Don’t think you have to do it by yourself, either.
That’s what friends (and coaches/therapists) are for.
5) Be wary about using this time to fix the relationship, or each other.
It’s so tempting to think with all this time together, it’s good time to fix what ain’t working.
PROCEED WITH CAUTION!
This can be a recipe for further disconnection and disaster.
The best use of a vacation is to rest, relax, and enjoy new experiences together.
Trying to work on what ain’t working may just create more work for your already over-worked nervous systems.
When we feel attacked, judged, criticized, or fear never being able to do enough to make our partner happy, our walls go up.
Walls up means disconnection at best, battle at worst. This is the last thing you want to experience while traveling alone with your partner. Yet focusing on what ain’t working will usually bring the walls up.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have deeper conversations about your relationship if need be. If you need that, agree before you go that you’re going to create time for this, choose when, and then talk about it only during the agreed upon time(s).
Otherwise, you’re likely to just create more disconnect in trying to force connection. It’s also a complete waste of everyone’s time trying to force your partner to do, be, or think differently on your trip than they do, be, think at home.
Instead, try relaxing and making room for whatever the journey brings, including your partner’s “stuff,” and your own.
My partner and I did this – agreed to lay off certain trigger issues, and leave be a few annoying little tics and quirks we see in each other that at home can drive us a bit mad. Instead, we practiced just keeping our hearts open to each other, instead, even when we ourselves felt triggered.
It wasn’t always easy, but it helped us both feel fully accepted by the other, not judged, which ensured we both thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
It’s ironic, but sometimes giving yourselves the freedom from fixing might be the saving grace you need.
6) Have daily connection rituals together.
Travel can frazzle. From the moment you step out the door, you’re encountering environments unfamiliar or uncomfortable, that constantly change and can be wildly unpredictable. It can be challenging to stay relaxed, centered, grounded in your bodies, connected to yourselves and each other. It’s easy to get lost in your head as you face constant unfamiliarity and uncertainty.
To help us stay grounded in ourselves and connected to each other, we consistently practiced one daily ritual:
We meditated together for 15 minutes every day.
Doing this helped created a consistent, familiar experience that brought us together in an intentional way.
It also helped us quiet our stressful thoughts and not get lost in our heads.
Having a daily practice you share – at dinner, each sharing 3 things you’re grateful for about that day is another good one – can keep you connected while creating comfort and certainty in the midst of stress and uncertainty.
7) Understand that your sensitivities are heightened.
Travel is just damn uncomfortable. Packing, airports, strange food, unfamiliar beds, lost reservations, missing luggage … your nerves are on high alert as you endlessly seek out rest and comfort.
Little things your partner does or says that might not bother you back home can suddenly bug you insane. And vice versa. It’s not personal (even when you think it is).
My fussiness over scratchy sheets and ridiculous pillows clearly not designed for the human spine could have driven Silvy insane. But she accepts this is something peculiar to me, even though it never bothers her, and she simply made space in her own heart and mind for it.
Also, know your menstruel cycle (men: your partner’s cycle is your cycle, too!). If emotions swing during your cycle, travel can exaggerate it even more. Ignore at your own risk!
Bottom line: Give each other an allowance to be upset, bothered, grumpy.
This isn't permission to be nasty or hit below the belt. It’s just permission to be more easily bothered. Anyway, when you travel – just like at home – many upsets will often pass after a good rest, a good meal, or a good sleep.
Speaking of scratchy sheets and good sleep…
8) Get enough sleep (bring whatever you need to ensure it).
There's endless research pointing at the importance of good sleep. This doesn’t disappear on vacation. If anything, given the added stress you’re experiencing, you should get MORE sleep when you travel.
We started our trip by intentionally prioritizing sleep. We discussed allowing ourselves to sleep whenever we wanted, whenever our bodies felt sleepy.
Making naps more important than sightseeing makes sightseeing more enjoyable – you actually have energy for it!
I don’t sleep well on a bed with pillows too thick or too thin. When I don’t know the sleeping conditions ahead of time, I’ll lug my favorite pillow with me. I don’t care that I look like Linus.
Prioritize sleep. Bring whatever you need to make it happen. Your body – and your relationship – will thank you.
9) Welcome discomfort.
Seeking to avoid discomfort can often just create more discomfort.
So many relationship breakdowns are essentially caused by avoiding discomfort: One partner is upset and insists the other do something about it, which kicks off a cycle that rarely ends well.
During our 5-week trip, my fiancé and I both experienced being tired, cranky, frustrated, confused, home-sick, and even short bouts of loneliness together.
Whenever we resisted these feelings – wishing they weren’t happening, fighting against them, insisting the other do something about them – the discomfort usually just prolonged and got worse.
But when we were mindful towards these uncomfortable feelings – embracing of them, allowing them to simply be part of the journey – well, it’s amazing how quickly discomfort can pass when welcomed and not resisted.
Discomfort is an unavoidable part of any journey. Suffering doesn’t have to be.
Suffering is just discomfort resisted and held onto even when the actual discomforting experience is over.
It actually passes faster when you don’t resist it.