This blog post was inspired by a trip to Thailand with my wife.
Obviously, traveling can be fun. When you travel with someone, the awe and excitement of the new experiences, people, and places are mutually amplified. As a result, bonds are naturally strengthened with your travel partner as you two are co-creating shared memories. If you two are traveling effectively together, you are also co-creating a template that is ideal for an optimal and secure-functioning relationship.
To co-create this template, you and your partner must communicate overtly and covertly in ways that assure each other that you have the best interest of both the trip and the relationship in mind. If one partner operates through a self-centered agenda, and only wants to see and do what is on his or her agenda, then both partners lose. You must both be on the same page, and be able to create win-win situations. What if my partner really wants to ride the elephants, but I want to see the Buddhist temples again? Then we must adjust and change the itinerary in ways that no one feels like they are losing. Just as Stan Tatkin says, “If one partner is losing, then both partners lose.”
Traveling in a foreign land also accentuates your reliance on your partner for survival. When in a foreign land, you relinquish familiarity – with the culture, customs, currency, and possibly language. Thus, you must be able to rely on your partner to successfully navigate the inherent stresses and potential dangers of an unfamiliar place. A tour guide helps with this, but they are getting paid, and their service is until the completion of the tour – not exactly unconditional love. Your partner may be the only one present who cares deeply for you personally, and the only one who will be there when you are suffering from the sweats and shakes of TD (traveler’s diarrhea). Just like at home, you look after each other full time because no one else will.
In a Wired for Love retreat my wife and I attended in September, Stan Tatkin and Tracey Boldemann-Tatkin discussed a phenomenon with street-couples they work with. They state that since such street-couples are literally relying on each other for survival due to the dangerous circumstances they inhabit, they are not, “contemplating if their partner is their soulmate.” Such circumstances push you to the essence of a relationship. This also holds true for traveling in a foreign land. People are stronger paired up and they can achieve more together.
In order to rely on your partner for survival in a foreign land, there needs to be effective communication: communication that is open and free in regards to keeping the budget, protecting valuables, buying souvenirs, and making/adjusting the itinerary. Effective communication also means perceptivity of your partner’s nonverbals. Is your partner nervous or feeling overwhelmed negotiating with a street vendor? If so, it is your duty to help your partner. Based on their nonverbals, is your partner having difficulty adjusting to the culture? Then it is your duty to facilitate their transition. If the trip is to be successful, both partners need to feel protected and feel that both partners have the best interest of the trip and the relationship at the forefront of their minds.
If you find yourself traveling with someone who struggles with mutuality or worse, they are untrustworthy, then you are better off traveling alone. Most likely, you will have vetted your partner prior to the trip, so hopefully you won’t find yourself in this situation. However, if you do and are not in danger, look at the bright side. Travel is a great way to accelerate the vetting process. It is a good way to assess your partner’s attitude towards mutuality. Is he or she able to rely on and place trust in you? The need for trust will be made clear by the circumstances. If we sense that our partner is not 100% invested, or is not interested in being on the same page, then our experience will suffer. Our cognitive bandwidth, so-to-speak, will be used accessing our security and the potential risks of the partner, and it will not be freed up to take in and fully enjoy the travel experience.
Travel can be a reminder of why we form intimate relationships. Since safety and security are at the forefront of our human priorities, it is paramount that our partner is someone we can rely on and trust. We rely and trust that they will be there for us no matter what – even if we may be a huge pain in the ass, on occasion. As Stan Tatkin writes, “No one is low maintenance.” This, of course, doesn’t mean you should be a pain in the ass on purpose, as a test. But one of the best things about being in a relationship is knowing you are loved despite your flaws.
Obviously, I am not against traveling alone. Traveling alone takes courage. But the funny thing about traveling alone is that we tend to look for fellow travelers with whom to share our experience. We are social creates, and we need other people to feel safe and to regulate our emotions.
Traveling with your partner provides the benefit of not having to look for others in a foreign country. It also provides conditions that push you to rely on your partner, that push you toward a secure-functioning relationship. You need to be able to rely on and communicate effectively with your partner. It’s not just your enjoyment of the trip that depends on it; it’s the long-term survival of your relationship.
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