“Darling, I love you passionately and I want to spend this weekend rekindling our spark and reading aloud to one another from our favorite books of poetry, but let’s not forget we’ve got to do laundry, take the dogs to the groomer, get the car washed, clean the grill, get stuff for the barbecue and return the broken fan to Home Depot. Also, it’s your turn to pay the car bill.”
This is a slightly dramatized version of what I said to my husband this morning, as we were organizing our weekend schedule. We don’t even have kids yet and have only been married a year, but it’s already apparent that despite our best intentions to keep our romance alive, the business of running a life together can be a real buzzkill. Most of our time together is spent in maintenance mode. We’re cleaning or running errands or spending time with family. Even date nights, appreciated as they are, have a kind of rote quality to them. We frequent the same restaurants, movie theaters and concert venues.
How can we give our marriage a little jolt to revive that spark and help us reconnect on a more intimate level?
“Taking a vacation with your partner may be the exact remedy needed to reignite that connection and spark,” says Christie Tcharkhoutian, a licensed marriage and family counselor, who finds that one of the main reasons couples are unsatisfied in their marriages is because they feel stuck. “Often times, couples find they are living lives in parallel, but just being together in a beautiful place creates an opportunity to face each other and reconnect.”
We consulted several relationship experts to learn what a vacation that can help couples revive the romance and deepen their connection might comprise (and yes, actually, it’s about a lot more than sex).
Ask your partner: ‘What do you want out of this vacation?’
Make sure that you and your partner establish that part of the goal of this vacation, even if you’re traveling with kids or visiting family, is to rekindle your romance. Aim to be as specific as possible about how you want to feel once you’re back home.
“I suggest asking and really listening to each other about what is the desired result of this vacation,” says Michelle Fraley, founder of Spark Matchmaking & Relationship Coaching. “In order to strengthen your emotional connection with your partner, it is vital that they feel heard and understood. Once you know what your partner really wants from the vacation, you can create a plan that is mutually beneficial. Truly understanding your partner's wants and needs and validating those with your behavior will go a long way in deepening your intimate connection.”
Couples should also discuss their individual expectations for the trip.
“This prevents over scheduling yourself [and] a hidden mismatch in expectations,” says Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., a licensed family and marriage counselor and certified sex therapist for Adam & Eve. “Being on the same page for travel helps couples feel like a seamless team.”
Make planning the itinerary your ‘vacation foreplay’
“Make choosing a vacation and creating an itinerary part of the fun, kind of like vacation foreplay,” says Fraley. “Spend some time together as a couple discussing potential travel destinations and [lodging] possibilities."
Instead of a packed itinerary, maximize downtime
“Remember, you are looking to make this a relaxing experience with your partner,” highlights Erica Rojas, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and founder of Broadway Psychological Associates. “If you plan too much, you’ll tend to focus on adhering to the schedule rather than being present and taking in the experience. Taking a cue from research regarding memory and emotion, we know that emotions are the glue that allow us to form long-lasting memories in the brain. So give yourself a chance to feel-all-the-feels with your partner while on vacation. If you do, there’s a better chance you’ll remember it for a lifetime.”
Take time to just make out
Candice Smith, a sexual intimacy coach, notes that on vacation, there’s a lot of pressure to have the "perfect vacation sex”, and that such high expectations can lead to internalized pressure and disappointment.
“Instead, start with a throwback — just focus on making out, without any pressure to have sex or even get undressed,” says Smith.
Choose activities new to both of you
As for the stuff you should do outside of your hotel room, therapists recommend trying out activities that are new to both of you.
“To really deepen your emotional connection, I suggest choosing an activity that is new to both of you,” says Fraley. “Learning something together is an experience that can deepen your bond as well as increase your feelings of excitement towards each other and make the relationship feel less stagnant. Whatever activity you choose, ziplining, pottery or a brewery tour, just make certain it's a new experience for both of you.”
Free yourself of the roles you play at home
We juggle so many roles in our daily lives. On vacation, you and your partner should feel encouraged to let go of your titles and engage in a purer sense of self.
“Let go of the roles you have in your daily life — husband, wife, partner, mother, father, worker, friend, sibling, child, co-worker — and bring in the playful part of you: the adventurer, the lover, the free spirit,” says Barbara Morrison, MSW, a therapist practicing in Canada.
Practice active listening (and put those phones away!)
“Mindful presence is an issue for everyone these days, not just couples in long-term relationships,” says Smith. “Intentionally plan time to put the phones away (or even leave them at the hotel in the safe) for a mini digital detox. Have an undistracted conversation and practice actively listening to each other.”
If you don’t know where to begin with active listening, consider Smith’s recommendation to sift through The New York Times’ “36 Questions That Lead To Love”.
Tap into one another’s ‘love language’
A few of the therapists and relationship experts I consulted for this piece cited the importance of learning, or relearning, one another’s “love language” as you strive to reconnect. This is a term that traces back to Dr. Gary Chapman’s 1992 bestselling book, “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate”. Chapman asserts that we express and understand love through one of five languages: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service or physical touch.
Learning something together is an experience that can deepen your bond as well as increase your feelings of excitement towards each other and make the relationship feel less stagnant.
“Most of the time, one or both partners are focused on their own love language — whether they are aware of it or not,” says Michelle Baxo, founder of Power Love Programs.”When you wish she’d say I love you more or that he’d help more around the house, you’re focused on your own love language. Vacation is a great way for you to focus on showing love through the other person’s love language.”
Reminisce joyfully about how you first met and why you fell in love
When was the last time you talked about how you met or what your wedding was like? How recently did you really think about and name aloud, the qualities you love so much about your partner? Take this time to celebrate your origin story and to remind your partner specifically what traits they possess that you most admire.
“Talk about when you first met, what you loved about each other,” says Morrison. “Sometimes people focus on the negatives about their partner — make time to remember what attracted you to each other.”
Rojas suggests taking up activities on your vacation that might foster the qualities that initially drew you to one another. So, if you were attracted to your husband’s adventurousness, plan a hike off the beaten path. If your wife’s literary wits charmed you, visit independent bookstores in the area and/or attend local author events.
Talk about what you need to do to connect in your daily lives
“If it’s important for the couple to spend some time together while on vacation, discussing how to keep the connection alive in their daily life, then make [time] for that,” says Morrison. “Each person can say what is important to them in terms of connecting with their partner. Have a strategy for doing that once back in your daily routine.”
You might also want to use this vacation as a time to acknowledge if and how you’ve been neglectful in your partnership, so as to “re-commit to each other [your] intention of engaging in the relationship in a manner that supports growth, fun and connection,” says Morrison.
A vacation is a great refresher, but for deep issues, invest in therapy instead
Alas, not even the most phenomenal vacation can mend a broken or wounded relationship, and a romantic getaway should not be framed as a time for serious healing. Keep it light and positive.
“Vacation isn’t a great time to focus on attempting to resolve relationship issues — that is best saved for work in couples therapy,” says Morrison. “Don’t place too many expectations that any given vacation will be the sole answer to the problem of disconnection; it can, though, be an important time to spend alone together to focus solely on each other, having no other day-to-day distractions that most couples have.”
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