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Ask A TFI Clinician: Vacationing as a Couple

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As we gear up for our vacations this summer, we’re looking at the different family and relationship issues that might come up.

Today’s expert tips, provided by Family Institute staff clinician Kathleen Gettelfinger,LMFT, focus on how couples can plan for and experience their vacations in the most positive ways.



New experiences can trigger old intensity.

Summer is a season during which couples may try to make time to travel together on a trip or a vacation. Whether this is in the form of a short weekend getaway or a longer international adventure, a vacation can be a great opportunity for couples to slow down, spend meaningful time together, and reconnect. Americans tend to live busy lives that are full of obligations related to work, taking care of the home, raising children, and other activities. Having time to rest and relax as well as reconnect with your partner is important in any relationship.

Additionally, research shows that for couples, sharing new experiences together stimulates the same part of the brain that was first triggered during the early stages of the relationship. Couples often look back fondly on those early months of falling in love and tend to share memories of intense passion and excitement. That intensity tends to naturally fade as a relationship matures, and ideally, love and commitment remain. However, novelty is the best opportunity to recreate those early feelings and emotions, and vacations include plenty of opportunities to share new and exciting experiences as a couple. Rekindling those early feelings can also help explain why couples tend to report having better and more frequent sex while on vacation.

Vacations aren’t immune to day to day conflicts.

Of course vacations are not immune to the day to day struggles couples face. For example, couples who tend to argue about money may be vulnerable to doing so both before the vacation and while away if they do not share expectations and an agreed upon travel budget.

Another potential area of conflict may involve a partner’s work priorities and willingness to unplug while away. If this commitment is not shared by both partners, one party may feel hurt or like less of a priority. Further, partners may also disagree about how time should be spent while vacationing and even how much planning should take place prior to the trip.

These potential disagreements can be alleviated by clear conversations regarding, among other topics, the cost of the vacation, the capacity to unplug, expectations for activities as well as how much time will be spent together versus apart, and how flexible the planning should be. Because vacations require an investment of both time and money, feeling disappointed by an experience or by your partner can feel especially disheartening while away.

Despite the potential pitfalls, the rewards of vacation far outweigh the risks. Setting aside time together as a couple is an important practice that can help benefit the relationship and make partners feel refreshed as both individuals and as a pair.

Tips for a successful vacation experience:

  1. Agree on a budget. Money issues are among the most common trigger points for couples. Prior to the trip, work together as a couple to determine an appropriate amount of money to spend saving room in the budget for unforeseen opportunities or costs that may come your way. Also consider paying for activities and accommodations in advance so as to alleviate some of the stress around continuous spending.
  2. Agree on a plan. Some people like to have every moment of their trip planned well in advance of the vacation. Some people like to arrive at their destination without a plan and would rather simply take the opportunities that come their way. If you happen to disagree with your partner on these strategies, try to meet in the middle by planning some activities but also allowing room for spontaneity.
  3. Unplug. One of the prime benefits of vacationing is having the opportunity to get away from work and other responsibilities. If this won’t be possible for you, let your partner know in advance so he or she knows what to expect and when you may not be available to him or her. Also consider disconnecting from your phone and social media in general. The only thing more irritating than being with someone who is constantly on his or her phone is being away on vacation with someone who is constantly on his or her phone.
  4. Just do it. Vacations can come in many shapes and sizes. If you can’t afford a week, try for a weekend. If even that seems like a stretch, plan a staycation with your partner. Set aside time to share new experiences in your city that you’ve never before had the opportunity to try. More important than the money spent is the quality of time spent together.



Kathleen Gettelfinger, LMFT, is a staff therapist at The Family Institute. Ms. Gettelfinger has a special interest in working with couples. As a former teaching assistant for Marriage 101, a Northwestern University course designed to help college students learn more about and prepare for the institution of marriage, she uses her teaching as well as clinical expertise to help young couples discern and make important lifecycle transitions, including engagement, pre-marital counseling, transition to marriage, and transition to parenthood.

To read Ms. Gettelfinger’s full bio, visit our website.

Learn more about The Family Institute on our website.

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