I don’t know how you guys do it.
– Many of our readers
Sometimes, we don’t know either.
On Valentine’s Day, couples around the world are thinking of ways to spend more time together. Then there’s us: almost not possible.
Traveling with your partner is terrifically satisfying. Shared experiences are fulfilling; your relationship can find itself strengthening in new ways. However, stress and challenges are a reality in all relationships, and especially so when traveling full time.
Many people have asked how we manage our relationship on the road considering that we are not only life partners but traveling and business partners as well.
We gave this question some thought and reverse-engineered our approach. Here’s what we came up with. We imagine many of these will resonate with you — whether you plan to take them around the world or just around the block.
1. Ditch the “perfection narrative”
“What’s the perfection narrative?” you ask. It’s the storyline you see in books or on TV that implies marriages are supposed to be perfect. Anything less and you’ve failed.
We counter with this: manage your expectations. No relationship is 100% perfect; each of us is human. Marriage (any committed long-term relationship) is hard work. Sometimes it thrives, sometimes it falters and sometimes it inches along toward shared goals. Recognize that you are not perfect and neither is he; perhaps you can accept your partner’s faults and he can love you for all of yours.
2. Communicate actively
After all this time together, it’s easy to believe you can read one another without having to speak.
Active and honest verbal communication should never go out of style. Ask questions and share, particularly if something is bothering you.
3. Keep checking in
Before you begin any journey (travel, life, business, etc.), it is crucial that you align your individual and shared goals.
This is often obvious. What’s less obvious: don’t assume this alignment will remain forever. People change over time; goals change. Check in with your partner periodically to confirm that your goals are still aligned. Keep in mind that you don’t need to wait for occasions like anniversaries and the new year to do this.
4. Create mental space
When physical space is limited, learn to create mental space.
Some find it surprising that we can be in each other’s company for hours on end without speaking. It’s perfectly acceptable not to talk with one another all the time when you’re together. Silence is not only golden, it’s healthy too.
This is especially important if one or both of you is an introvert (i.e., someone who derives energy from time alone).
5. Recognize strengths and weaknesses
Maybe you are proficient in all things. If – like the rest of us — you are not, leverage the strengths (yours and your partner’s) and manage the weaknesses.
Then of course there’s the case when you both share a weakness. In this case, do the best you can. For example, neither of us has a particularly good sense of direction. Even with a map we sometimes get turned around. Instead of becoming frustrated with each another, we accept that we’ll likely get lost…like, all the time.
6. Share the burden
There will likely be tasks that neither of you wants to do. Be honest about which tasks these are and divide them up. Otherwise, one of you may feel unduly burdened and taken advantage of.
Given that we’ve been traveling for over three years, it may surprise you that neither of us especially enjoys the logistical planning associated with travel. Once we get on the ground, we’re great. But transport and accommodation planning is something we often consider a necessary evil. We divide these responsibilities by divvying up countries or regions, and on a daily basis we sometimes resort to “My Day, Your Day” as a management technique.
7. Ride the ups and downs
Ideally, your individual ups and down will occur in opposite cycles so that when one person is feeling down, the other can compensate by taking on more responsibilities. The important thing is to recognize is that “downs” do occur; this is natural and not cause for a freak-out when it happens.
After traveling through Central America for fours month, I hit the culture shock wall one day in El Salvador. Dan stepped up and took care of everything the rest of the day so all I had to do was follow him and deal with my emotions.
8. Realize it’s not all mental
Are there times when your partner turns into a demon for no apparent reason?
Recognize the signs of when your partner is suffering from physiological impairments (e.g., low blood sugar, extreme fatigue, or hormones). Address the issue quickly if you can: “Why don’t we get something to eat?” or “Why don’t we take an afternoon nap?” If you’re in a bind (e.g., on a bus with no food), then put your armor on and realize that your partner’s behavior is connected to something physical. In other words, don’t take it personally.
The first time we traveled together long term (Europe in 2000 for five months), there were moments when Dan wondered whether he had just married someone with Jekyll-Hyde complex. I turned into an incoherent mess when my blood sugar became low. Nowadays we both actively manage this for one another.
9. Do something goofy
Humor and laughter are great stress relievers. When things get heavy and tough, crack a bad joke, break into song and dance in the middle of the street, resort to childhood tactics or do whatever you need to do in order to break the serious mood. You’ll both feel better after a good laugh and the situation won’t feel quite so overwhelming anymore.
10. Don’t take your partner for granted
When you spend so much time with someone, it’s dangerously easy to take him for granted and to forget to actively appreciate your time together. Unfortunately, life circumstances can change that in an instant.
Even if you believe your partner knows it already, make it a practice to tell him how much he means to you.
We’ve shared our approach, but know we have much to learn. What are your tips for keeping a healthy relationship on the road or at home?
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!
He/Him/She/Her note: I use the male personal pronoun throughout. However, we believe these principles apply equally to men and women.
Article Series - Valentine's Day on the Road
- Love in the Age of Skype
- How to Travel the World Together Without Killing Each Other