The vision of holidaying with your partner is picture-perfect: white sand, blue sea, long romantic walks on the beach, gazing out at the horizon hand in hand, reconnecting and enjoying being together, away from the pressures of work. Yet that vision can sometimes seem rather rose-tinted. The reality of travel, luggage, getting lost, tiredness and delays can spark squabbles between partners that can threaten to turn a holiday – and the relationship – sour.
Research shows that four in 10 couples argue every day on holiday, and one in 10 will actually break up while they’re away. Driving holidays are the worst for breakups. Elsewhere, while arguments start over who’s carrying the luggage and tempers fray in the queue for passport control, the main reason for one in five couples splitting up on holiday is because they’ve simply spent too much time together.
In our work as couples therapists we see that partners with busy lives yearn to have time out with each other so they can decompress and relax. But when they do get the chance to spend 24/7 time together, the lack of other distractions can mean they start to see each other’s flaws and become irritated and argumentative. Old wounds can flare up and before you know it the discussion has escalated into a heated row. Worse thing is there’s nowhere else to go because you’re both stuck in the apartment, villa, tent or hotel room that you’ve chosen to holiday in for the next week or fortnight.
While it would be great to pack some peace and serenity in your suitcase alongside the sunscreen and flip flops, the reality is that a relationship can be tested while you’re away.
Here we share some of our tips for couples to help your relationship survive that holiday test:
Compromise before you go
One of you may love lazing on a sun lounger with a book. The other may prefer adventure and sightseeing. While opposites can attract, going on holiday with different wants and needs is unlikely to work. Best if you agree before you even book your trip what you want to get out of the break. Is there something for both of you? Can you agree to do separate things on some days and together things on other days? Working this out and agreeing it in advance will help stop resentment brewing over into a row.
One of the biggest stressors when going on holiday is time: lack of time to pack, too much time waiting in queues, or taking too long to get ready. However, one of the most common arguments between partners is what time to leave for the airport. One partner may be laidback and happy to leave at the last minute. The other may be more anxious and want to be there three hours before to get through security and browse duty free. Don’t leave that decision to the last minute. If possible, agree ahead of the day and book or plan transport to the airport at a time that suits you both.
Leave work behind
In the age of smartphones there’s nothing worse for your partner than that urge to check emails while you’re away. You may come up with excuses about that important memo you can’t miss, or that client email you just need to send. For the sake of your relationship and your stress levels, put up your out-of-office message and switch off for a few days.
Go with the flow
One of the reasons you go on holiday is to get away from it all. You don’t need to be stuck to a map or an itinerary and feel anxious about planning every minute of every day when you’re away. Being in the moment instead of worrying about later can be tremendously freeing. Be present to your partner and to new experiences. It will help soften you and strengthen your relationship.
Take a moment to really talk
One of the tools we offer couples who come for therapy is to invite them to really listen to each other. Set a timer for, say, five minutes, and one person says openly what they feel. The other person listens without interrupting and then repeats back what they’ve heard and understood – with no defending or explaining. The partners then swap over. On holiday you won’t need a timer for this. Take advantage of the change of environment to really open up to your partner and talk about how you’re feeling. Let them do the same. Speak honestly. Speak positively. Don’t rake up the past. Talking in this way will help you get to know your partner all over again – and perhaps remind you why you fell in love in the first place.
If you feel your relationship could benefit from some support and some helpful ways to work out your differences, you may want to try couples counselling – before or after your holiday. Call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected] and we will match you with one of our couples therapists.