Last month, the unimaginable happened: My husband and I went away on a vacation without our children.
We were set to spend three nights in Charleston, South Carolina — in part to celebrate my birthday, but mostly because it had been years since we had gone away together, just the two of us. My mom friends ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the thought of exploring a city, kid-free, doing whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, with zero responsibilities. The grandmas were booked to babysit our seven-year-old twins, as was the hotel with a giant soaking tub, and actual books were packed in our carry-on luggage. I was going to get to read! And eat! And drink! And just generally relax with the person I said “I do” to twelve years ago (but who has been my partner for 22).
I was beyond excited, but then a friend made a comment that made me take pause. "I wouldn’t know what to talk about with my husband if we had to spend that kind of time alone together," she said. Suddenly I started to wonder: After all these years as parents, once it was just us, would we still have anything to say to each other?
After all these years as parents, once it was just us, would we still have anything to say to each other?
Of course, the hubs and I talk to each other daily, but when I really thought about it, I came to the realization that we almost always had our two little relationship buffers around us whenever we were together. The twins have brought immeasurable joy to our lives, but they have definitely changed our relationship. Their needs come first and everything from where we go to what we eat and do and say is somehow influenced by them. Who would we be without those little people following us around? Would we still work?
“The routine nature of life with children is wonderful for stability and long-term nesting, but it can be an intimacy killer,” conscious relationship coach Danielle Robin told me. “Qualities like deep presence, curiosity and spontaneity are usually nowhere to be found in the Monday-to-Friday routine. While it is totally possible for couples to build these types of interactions into their lives with children around, one of the best ways to hit the reset button is to truly take some space and focus entirely on the couple’s connection.”
That sounded like a tall order, but the moment we got to the airport and both started doing our “we’re on vacation!” happy dances to some very strange looks from strangers, I knew that we were on the same page.
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“It makes sense that stepping into intentional alone time might feel totally new and a bit foreign,” said Robin. “You might even find that when you step away from the routine and distraction of everyday life, there is a bit of shyness or uncertainty around how to connect simply as humans, friends, partners, lovers.”
Robin told me that this isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. “Treat this time together as if you are getting to know each other,” she suggested. “Embrace the newness as an opportunity to meet each other with fresher eyes.”
The next few days in Charleston were spent taking rambling walks around the city, having long conversations (some about the kids, some not) and getting out of our daily routine. One afternoon, we took a drive to Johns Island to visit Angel Oak, a tree estimated to be 400-500 years old with branches extending over 100 feet (it’s thought to be one of the oldest living things in the country). With rain pouring down on us, we marveled at this feat of nature, basking in its majestic beauty. After almost half a lifetime together, we still liked having new experiences together and this was a great one.
I was happy to find that spending uninterrupted time together didn’t make us feel shy around each other — in fact, it was surprisingly easy to jump back into our easy rapport. In our life before kids, we had endless amounts of time to be with each other. If anything, I think we treasured the time on this trip together even more because we knew it was limited. Away from the daily grind, there were no fights or arguments, just a deeper level of connection that I’d been too busy to realize I’d been missing.
By the third day of sleeping in, eating in restaurants and just enjoying having no plans, we were starting to miss our mini-mes. The bags were packed, and our Uber was waiting downstairs. It was time to go home. As we headed to the airport, I wondered how we could keep this feeling of closeness going when we weren’t in a gorgeous boutique hotel with a rooftop pool. The thought worried me, since I knew that realistically, it could be years until we had another chance for a getaway.
“If you can’t take a full trip, you can create a staycation or date night that has almost all the same qualities,” Robin said. “Some of the magic is in getting away physically, but more of it is in how you choose to spend your time.” She also suggested giving ourselves a souvenir from our trip.
“During your time away, make a commitment to a new ritual,” she suggested. “Maybe it’s something you can do once a week or a nightly bedtime ritual. You can’t necessarily expect to come back and continue the same level of totally present connection, but you can use the energy of the experience and integrate it into your life.”
Robin suggested committing to a monthly no-devices date night or trying what she calls a “sharing practice.”
“As an example, try sharing everything you are celebrating in your life, followed by everything that you need to clear and vent about, followed by your desires — things you want to call into your life. You can do that once a week, and then switch. It takes 20 minutes and allows you to feel so much more connected, instantly.”
In the end, it was my husband who came up with a suggestion that would remind us of who we were as a couple once we got back to reality.
“Will you make another photo collage?” he asked me as we rode the shuttle to the airport parking lot back in New Jersey. I had made one to commemorate the last vacation we took to Bermuda years ago, and it hangs in our bathroom where we can see it every day.
I suddenly realized that these photos were more than just a reminder of good times spent hanging out at the beach and drinking pina coladas; they were visual proof that our relationship could and should sometimes take center stage. I agreed it would be great to be reminded, not just of the sights, tastes and sounds, but of the feeling we got just from being with each other. I knew the Angel Oak would be at the center of the collage. It was old and grounded. Its surface showed the years of experience and its outstretched branches provided shelter, creating a canopy for all of the life happening around it. It was everything I wanted our marriage to be.