Try this one on for size: Your three best college buds are again requesting your presence at a “girls only” weekend — biking to some bed and breakfasts as they’ve done many times during the past 10 years, catching some old movies on DVD, getting some exercise and remembering why you enjoyed each other so much in years past. You’ve never taken a vacation apart from your husband or kids, but have longed to reacquaint, check out their life stories and just have a great time with the girls. But how best to approach your husband on this sticky issue since he’s always been your vacation partner?
First, consider this — separate vacations should be an addition to your life — not an escape. Pursuing a new experience or strengthening/renewing long-term friend relationships can be extremely rewarding activities. Within the context of a healthy, stable relationship, a long weekend with the girls or camping with the guys is an extension of an already established bond — and should not be viewed as an interference or a threat to the other partner.
Balance and communication are key
Why might a spouse want to take a separate vacation? Is it to get away from the partner or rather to continue a long standing tradition of going on an annual trip with a friend? Is it to travel somewhere the other spouse would not be interested in going? Or, to take a child (without the spouse or other kids) for a very special experience or a bonding time — due to specific needs, family traditions or the maturity level that the child has reached?
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A committed monogamous relationship shouldn’t mean giving up who you are or your independent activities: career, friends, interests or all previous traditions (ski trip with the guys, shopping in the city with the ladies). A successful marriage or monogamous relationship does entail the willingness to make some sacrifices in an effort to accommodate the other person. In short, a good marriage necessitates communication, caring and compromise — the three C’s. Think about it, how boring would it be to marry someone with identical interests, careers, and friends? Marriage often leads to a larger understanding of the world, more people in our lives and a more mature and realistic take on how relationships work. If we married our clone, there would be little room for growth!
What’s important is to understand the meaning or dynamic of the different preferences in choice of vacation styles. Does one partner want to take only shared vacations together? Is this based in a lack of trust, or simply a desire to share as much time and as many experiences as possible with the other spouse? Many individuals have grown up with the tradition that marriage means the two people become “one” and ought to share everything, including all vacations. Or, others may feel left out and lonely if a spouse wants to travel without them. It’s imperative, in discussing separate vacations, that these issues are communicated, considered and compromised upon.
In terms of taking occasional separate vacations, the bottom line is this — good relationships cost — financially and emotionally. The expenditure for love is some sacrifice and compromise, not insisting on having your own way all of the time, and being willing to compromise in order to please your partner. This does not mean changing your core values, constantly giving in and faking your agreement. This means honest communication and a willingness to see things from the other’s perspective, to take some risks and to have trust in your marriage. The benefits can be enormous — renewal of the spirit, rekindling old friendships, rejuvenating the marriage by taking some time away from one’s spouse, and adding some spice to discussions and future vacation plans together.
Also, take into account the dynamic of your marriage. If this is a second or a later-in-life marriage each spouse may have already set vacation traditions that are not easily amenable to the addition of a spouse. Grown children from a previous marriage may be more comfortable with Mom-only or Dad-only visits initially, and this may need to be honored until new family bonds are formed.
If you’re considering taking a separate vacation for the first time, here are some points to consider:
- Talk about your concerns when considering separate vacations — perhaps the fear of being stuck in a rut if you don’t tackle new activities in life or not fulfilling some dreams. Or, if you do consider vacationing separately — fear of infidelity for the person who is traveling, or even committed by the one who is left at home. If these latter fears are real, I highly recommend spending your vacation money on therapy, not on a trip to Vegas with the guys.
- Reinforce the basis for trust: Don’t travel with someone of the opposite sex, but with good friends of the same gender. Limit alcohol consumption so that good judgment is employed. Remember who you are, what your marriage stands for, and avoid risky situations.
- Have a plan and a purpose for the separate trip — pure fun, bonding with old college friends, learning a new skill that your spouse is not interested in, or pursuing an adventure.
- Be polite — establish a communication channel and stick with it (cell phone turned on, sticking with set call times). Answer all questions fully. Anticipate sticky areas and compromise to make the stay-at-home spouse feel comfortable.
- Set the ground rules. “We vacation together first, then you go, then I go.” Don’t travel with people whom your spouse feels will lead you astray. This is not about control or selfishness. It’s about trust, growth and coming back refreshed.
- How much will our vacations cost? Can we afford short, separate vacations? If not, save for them. Choose inexpensive alternatives — like camping, or borrow a friend’s vacation home. The costs of the separate vacations do not have to be equal — one can cost more, but both partners need to feel comfortable with the end result.
- Use some business travel time to meet your separate experiential needs (touch base with old friends while in the city). This is often perceived as “more legitimate” since it is work-based, inexpensive and serves some of the same purposes as do separate vacations.
With kids at home
- If children are involved, make sure that the parent at home is aware of the availability of back-ups available (baby sitters, grandparents). Be sure that you check in with the kids, but reserve lots of time for yourself and your activities. What are the ground rules for the parent in charge at home in terms of responsibilities, chores, activities? Is this fair or will this be a burden? Remember, if it’s good for the goose, the gander will have to accept the same rules!
Be selective with your vacation plans
- Choose a place that the other spouse truly is not interested in. This frees up “couple” vacation time for things that you’d like to do together. But, don’t just assume that the other person wouldn’t enjoy it — check it out first! Before assuming that your desired destination or experience would not be interesting to your spouse, consider including another couple. You may find that your spouse is more interested in the experience when he has a buddy to play golf or go fishing with, rather than working on his tan or experiencing rock climbing with the ladies. Don’t take unnecessary risks or dangers — both physically and emotionally. There is safety in numbers — group travel is significantly more secure than traveling alone, especially in locations foreign to you. Consider the varied tours available for special interests, locations and activity levels. Prices and accommodations vary, and the Internet can provide many excellent options to explore.
Vacation is a time for relaxation and fun. Dragging a partner to the beach when he really wants to be hiking in the mountains is not going to be fun or meaningful for either of you. When the relationship is intact, occasional separate vacations can add a terrific dimension to your marriage. But if trouble is already brewing between partners, a separate vacation may do more harm than good. Consider your true motivation for the vacation, the stability of your finances and relationship, ages of your children and willingness to compromise. If this all checks out — enjoy and make some memories!
Dr. Peters is a clinical psychologist and regular contributor to “Today.” For more information you can visit her Web site at www.ruthpeters.com. Copyright ©2006 by Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. All rights reserved.