I knew parenting was going to have sacrifices. I was prepared to give up all kinds of things in the name of being a good parent, but some of the (worthy) sacrifices have been surprises. One of those things is an easy relationship with my husband. Now, we always have a good relationship, and sometimes we have a great relationship, but an easy relationship-the kind of bond that just flows? That went out the window with the first set of diapers.
To have the kind of marriage relationship that stays strong, especially when caring for little kids, is just plain work. It doesn’t cultivate itself and it will certainly wither and die if we don’t purposefully plan to build that relationship. By far the best way to nurture my relationship with my husband has been in traveling places together. Nothing else has the connecting magic that can be found in setting aside a few days to just be us away from everything else.
Of course, there is a catch, there’s always a catch. We can’t just pack our bags and hope for the best. Much like everything else in the parenting/marriage mix, it takes the right kind of pre-planning with careful attention to the details to make the trip really work to help us reconnect.
Five Things you Have to Do to Plan a Successful Parents-Only Trip
Don’t feel like you have to go too far. Have you ever had a chore that you put off because it just seemed so daunting? Stick with me; I am not comparing spending time with your spouse with a daunting chore. My point is that sometimes we build something like a ‘big important trip’ up so massively in our mind that we feel like it can’t be achieved. The ‘big important trip’ doesn’t have to be monumental to make it memorable. Give up on the dream of 10 days in Paris or a slow travel tour of Thailand-at least for now- and focus on planning a trip that is doable for your current life situation. Maybe 3-4 days is all you can spare right now. Take what you can get.
But, you do have to go somewhere. Yes, I know staycations are all the rage in budget getaways, but I am starting to hate the concept of staycation as much as I hate that hybrid word. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the ‘staycation’ is partially to blame for decline in couples getting a true getaway. Let me explain. We’ve done the weekend at a hotel thing, or the quick roadtrip to a nearby town thing, and those are not nearly as satisfying or unifying as a genuine getaway. A weekend staycation trip can quickly find its way into the “have to” column of the things to do in a very busy life and not get the special treatment it deserves. To really get a couples getaway that does the job of reconnecting, you have to have some skin in the game. It has to be important. There has to be build up. It has to be something that you have made an investment in financially and otherwise to make an impact. You just have to plan to go somewhere out of the norm so that it will register on the ‘things that matter’ meter.
Plan for purposeful downtime and busy time. I know that when you dream of a vacation away from the kids, sleeping is a huge item on the wish list. Pretty much since the first child was born parents have been desperate for more sleep. A little relaxing is a must for your couples-only trip, but relaxing can quickly turn into the two of you sleeping your time to connect away. To make a getaway special, make a plan to spend your days in purposeful activity. Have a reason to get out of bed and go enjoy the location-and each other. And then plan for some time each day where you can enjoy conversation over a slow meal or a leisurely walk. Both kinds of activities will make for a memorable trip. While you are at it make sure that each partner gets and takes the chance to plan the way the time will be spent. Planning for the day gives each person an investment in the trip and opens up opportunities to surprise each other with a special meal or excursion.
Plan to do something out of your normal. The phrase “in a rut” was probably created to describe busy couples and parents. There is so much that has to be done each day that a routine is born out of sheer survival. That’s partly why marriage can get so monotonous. You are doing the same things the same way day after day. It’s so hard to make a connection in the midst of the mundane. Going somewhere new does part of the job of setting the stage to do something different, but you also have to choose to spend your time together in a way that is special. Reading the paper each morning overlooking the beach isn’t that much different than reading the paper each morning overlooking your living room. Dare to be different-at least for a few days.
Plan to do something out of your comfort zone. When you do something that challenges you, it changes the way you interact with the people who share that experience with you. That’s why team building exercises often include a physical or mental challenge. There is something bonding about doing something that scares you a little, or challenges you in a way that you really have to work at it. If you are sharing that moment with your partner, not only are you making awesome memories (remember the time we nearly flipped over in the ATV), but you are re-connecting in a deep way.
A few parting suggestions: Talk about the kids. It will be hard not to. But, find a time to talk about anything, but the kids. Talk about the future, your hopes, your dreams, the things you will do when it’s just the two of you again. Be silly together. Laugh. A lot. Hold hands. Sit close to each other, even if it’s been so long that it feels foreign. Take pictures of both of you doing things together. Let the joy of that moment show through in your smile. And when you are back at home, and the press of reality forces you to be more parents than partners, look at those pictures and remember. Remind yourself that although you might not get to see it every day, that special spark that only lives between the two of you is still there somewhere.