Relationship struggles on the road
The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them. ~ Author Unknown
I truly feel that relationships of any kind, need consistent nurturing whether it’s a friendship, romantic or even a working relationship. You need to be consistently meeting one another’s needs and thus communication is key for these relationships to function well. This doubles in importance when that relationship must stand the test of travel (I of course am speaking from personal experience here). I am by no means a guru on the subject of relationships or communication, but I would like to share some of the things I have learnt this year about fostering relationships of a personal kind. So, I think to keep the main ingredient of communication open and romance alive in my marriage, in the midst of catching an economy class flight with a three-year-old, I would like to share with you some practical tips on sustaining a healthy bond with your partner. These tips or advice sharing as I would like to call it, can hopefully not just apply to married folk who are travelling (like me) but to others looking to strengthen relationships of any kind.
Openness and Honesty
If you’re preparing to embark on a year of travel or any sort of trip for that matter you should be aware of your partners needs ahead of time. A simple and effective way to figure this out is by taking the Love Language Test together. Based on your significant other’s “love language,” you can determine how to show him/her affection while you’re away. Before leaving for our extended period of travel, Peter and I unfortunately didn’t take the test. We have however taken this test in the past (I think before we got married during that pre-marriage course) but to be honest I can’t really remember what our love languages are (Peter and I need to take this test again). I would advise partners to do this test whether you are travelling or not, as it could really help in times of conflict (on what to look out for when your partner is trying to show you love especially). Both partners should also address any unresolved conflicts or misunderstandings before travelling. You won’t want to deal with past conflicts two weeks into a vacation, so settle that tension and start on a positive note.
Know what your partners expectations are
Nothing stretches out time like ambiguity, so make sure to clarify what exactly you are wanting whether it be takeout for dinner or needing a “me day”. This way, your significant other will not have any doubts about what your expectations are whilst travelling and the channels of communication are kept clear. Also, a romantic date night or day activity that you both would enjoy can go a long way in sparking up some passion while travelling with a child (like us). I’ve had to be clear with Peter that time as a family unit is not per se quality time between him and I. Sometimes parents need time to communicate about adult things without your children being present.
Talk to Each Other Regularly
This may seem like a no-brainer, but many couples forget to stay connected throughout the day. Maintaining continuous dialogue while traveling is critical because, otherwise, the old way of thinking mentality (just getting on with it) could become your new reality. To avoid this, agree upon a communication schedule for the duration of your travels. You can get creative and send sweet notes whilst your partner is sitting right next to you or even post sweet messages or silly anecdotes on one another’s social media accounts to show that you value them and what they do for you. But, above all, commit to keeping in touch and the channels of communication open as your top priority.
Agree on a Budget
Carefully track how much money you’re spending while you’re travelling (in our case Peter does that – I’m finally getting my use of his accounting skills) but always make sure that your partner is aware of what is going on with the expenses. It’s tempting to overspend on certain things whilst travelling but this year for us we have had to be very careful to make sure that we are staying on track. This has been stressful at times because Peter and I have separate ways of viewing money and how we should spend it. I of course would like to buy more, but Peter has often had to keep us on track and this has led to conflict. Thus, you should be communicating with your partner constantly on spending boundaries and expectations. You could also set a budget beforehand then strive not to exceed that predetermined limit. Saving versus spending is a sensitive debate within any relationship, so don’t let the pressures of budgeting (or overspending in my case) aggravate your financial and personal situation.
Keep Your Partner in the Loop
Although you might be on different wave lengths at times, that’s no excuse to fall off your significant other’s grid. Inform him/her of when you are not feeling like you’re having a good day or are in a grumpy mood. These details provide a sense of comfort, knowing you both are remaining active in one another’s lives. Also for the times you are apart when travelling remember to tell your partner about the sights you encountered or the people you met, then listen attentively as he/she recounts what happened back at home (this has been very important for us this year). It can be very upsetting when your partner has been out on an excursion all day and they come home only to not tell you about how it went. On the reverse side for the partner that stayed at home remember to ask your significant other how their day was, and you could even add that you missed them and that you are glad they had fun etc.
Deliver on your promises
Making promises, then failing to deliver fuels underlying tension that eventually escalates into a dispute. You’ll feel guilty and your partner will feel neglected, so simply honour your end of the communication bargain. Even set reminders on your phone if you need to. Whilst travelling it is important that if you promise to give your partner a break from child duties for example, that you do not let weeks go by and then forget to follow through on that promise.
Do Things Separately
Pursuing similar interests creates closeness however whilst travelling it is important to do things separately. This gives each partner that breathing space time, which you might not think that you need, but trust me, you need it. This time could be used for exploring unfamiliar places on your own, exercise or even new hobbies. I try and exercise a few times a week. This time gives me time to relieve stress and reflect on conversations with Peter or friends. This could even lead to stimulating conversations between you and your partner at a later stage. That “alone time” or doing things separately can go a long way in strengthening your relationship whilst travelling.
Continue to express your Love
Ensuring that romantic intimacy doesn’t fizzle out can be a daunting task when you and your significant other are looking after a child 24/7. So, keep the spark alive by surprising him/her with “thinking of you” mementos, like a post it note saying “Love ya” on the mirror in the morning or reserving a night to watch a special romcom of your choosing. There’s also no better feeling than waking up to a specially made cup of coffee (lovingly left next to your bed) too. Have fun with this because even the most trivial romantic gestures will remind you both that the love is still alive and well.
Focus On Each Other
When talking to your partner make sure you focus on them (be present in the moment), not on what may be going on around you. Paul Moore, a businessman and the marketing strategist for Aries, has had extensive experience learning how to maintain relationships while on the road (could be related to travel in our instance) over his 28 years of marriage. He shares what he’s learned from his experience: “When you’re spending time with your loved ones, be fully present and committed to them. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by your phone or other pressures. It’s far better to spend 5 minutes fully focused on your spouse than to spend 30 distracted minutes where they don’t feel you’re really focused on them.” I couldn’t agree with this way of thinking more.
Pursue Your Own Hobbies and Live Your Life To The Fullest
It’s important to maintain personal interests and carve out some “investing in me time.” Then, when you and your partner touch base, update one another on these individual pursuits, such as playing an instrument, going for a bike ride, trying out a recipe, dabbling in photography, or whatever you enjoy. Although you’ll understandably miss each other, avoid wallowing in these feelings. Keep pressing forward and nurturing yourself emotionally. If you are not watering your garden so to speak how can you continue to water to others? This is an important lesson that I have had to learn this year. Most of my life, if not all of it, I have been a people pleaser. Trying to please others all the time is emotionally exhausting, and I had nothing left in my tank for me. This year of travel has taught me to do more things just for me (without having to worry if it is going to detract from time away from others). Not to say, that I haven’t maintained my friendships or relationships (and yes I do still people please at ties) but I think by watering my own garden this year, has only strengthened my relationships with family, friends and my husband.
Use Technology at the right times
It is the era of modern technology and we are becoming absorbed with LED screens, which often distracts us from investing in real-world relationships. Here are a few suggestions on putting your gadgets away:
- Program your phone to switch off after 8pm (then you have no excuses not to converse with the people around you)
- Share photos and videos via social media at specific times and keep to those times (I like to do most of my social media stuff in the mornings)
- Be open with your partner about how it makes you feel if they are constantly on their phone (once you let them know that it bothers you, you can go about rectifying the situation)
- We do a lot of online work so inevitably one of us is always on a device. This has been tricky for us this year especially with doing business with others in different time zones. Peter will often have to work late into the night to chat to people for work related things. This means I go to bed alone most nights. I have had to be understanding about this as at least then Aiden and I have his undivided attention in the mornings for example. Using technology at the right times has no wrong or right answer, you need to do what’s best for you and your family, but I think clear communication on the matter is essential, so as to avoid any conflict on the matter.
Travel With Your Partner??
If your schedule and budget allow (we have been very fortunate to be able to travel for 12 months consecutively), I would indeed advise travelling with your partner to cultivate lifelong memories. Even job-related travelling can be relaxing when you turn it into a couples’ getaway (yes this can be done). Travel has opened our hearts up to, so much richness and it has been so rewarding for us in terms of our marriage, friendships, communication battles and of course as individuals. For many years I had travel quotes and inspirations as my background on my laptop but now I am true proof that those quotes and inspirations can become a reality if you want them too.
By implementing some of the above tips or just soaking in some new knowledge (this could be from just merely reading my blog), I hope that I have helped in some small way on opening those communication channels in your life whether it be for personal or professional reasons. When it’s right, marriage or a lifelong relationship can be a beautiful thing. But that doesn’t mean it’s challenge-free. Even those that seem the happiest encounter their share of problems. It’s all the more reason to focus less on other couples or people and how green their grass must be and more on taking care of your own grass i.e. watering your own garden.
There are times when we are facing a trial in our relationship and find ourselves searching for answers. We desire to fix the situation yet in the midst of it we struggle not to lose hope or inevitably walk away feeling defeated. But sometimes a few words can be all it takes to encourage your heart. I often google inspirational quotes, pictures, or look on Instagram for motivational people to follow. It is also important to focus on your partner and their needs (and be less selfish with just thinking about your own needs) and your hope could be seemingly restored and your desire to strengthen your union ever-present. The reality is the tough times will come. You will get through them and that life will very likely present you with another set of challenges again down the road, however this time you will be prepared….
Until next time