Vacationing together, relationships: Can it ruin yours?

If you’ve watched HBO’s “The White Lotus,” you know vacations sometimes can go awry. Over cocktails on the beach, away from the monotony of work and kids, you and your partner might realize what makes you most — or least — compatible.

“You learn some of the nuances or quirks about a person’s personality when you’re traveling with them, for certain,” says Moe Ari Brown, a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Does that mean vacationing together could end a relationship?

Vacations certainly can help us learn a lot about relationships, experts say, but they don’t necessarily make or break relationships on their own.

What does a vacation tell us?

Different people have different expectations.

“Some wish to relax and unwind,” says Laura Petiford, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Others seek adventure, learning or discovery or a combination of these things.”

Our partners might have hidden aspects of their personalities — but that’s not always bad.

“Take the new things that you’re learning as information,” Brown says. “But try not to be in judgment of those things.”

But pay attention to your partner’s behavior.

“When traveling with a partner, I pay close attention to how they treat workers such as hotel staff, vendors, and tour guides,” says Melody Li, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Inclusive Therapists. “Their attitude towards people working in service of travelers offer a lot of insight into their values especially because traveling is a privilege and luxury that many cannot afford.”

Are vacations a ‘test’ for relationships?

“The stakes are higher because vacations often involve an investment of time and money and are typically a distance from home putting both parties out of their element in a shared space for a fixed amount of time,” Petiford says. “There are usually significant expectations around vacations. And too often it is assumed that the other person is on the same page, which can be problematic.”

But don’t necessarily think of vacations like pressure cookers or be-all, end-all answers regarding a relationship’s health.

“Living together might be like a pressure-cooker, whereas vacation is like cooking your rice in a pot,” Brown says.

Still, Petiford says, “If you aren’t already living together, this can be an abrupt change.”

How couples can prepare for a vacation

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. “Try to understand what your partner is looking for out of the experience as best you can, and be sure to express what it is you want out of the time away,” Petiford says. Brown recommends planning your itinerary together and troubleshooting in advance what problems might come up, like deciding on transportation and meals.
  • Remember that a vacation can’t fix what’s not working at home. “Couples may have a great time while traveling and feel a harsher impact of falling back into a slump when returning home,” Li says. “Vacations can be the sprinkles on top of a relationship if the foundation of connection and intimacy is consistently maintained.”
  • Save some issues for when you get home. It might be best to set aside concerns for when you return — when you do, be specific about them. “Once you are clear, have a conversation with your partner, stating how you felt when specific behaviors occurred, making sure to ask for what you need instead,” Petiford says. “We are much more likely to get our needs met if we ask for what it is we want.”
  • It’s OK to be nervous. “I want to remind anybody who’s going on a trip with their partner for the first time that it’s the first time, and there can be so much anxiety, so many expectations, so much newness wrapped up into going on a vacation for the first time, a lot of pressure for it to go perfect,” Brown says.

But don’t let it ruin the potential for fun. Brown says: “A lot of times, the pressure of that can get to us, and then we show up more anxious or fearful than we would’ve liked.”


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