Valentine’s Day is less than a month away, and many couples will celebrate by taking a romantic getaway together. In fact, according to a report by Statista, Americans dished out $493 million on Valentine’s Day travel in 2017, more than they spent on flowers and jewelry combined.
While taking this first trip together marks a significant milestone, it’s also new territory laden with potential relationship landmines.
“Travel can be as exciting as it can be stressful,” says Michelene Wasil, a marriage and family therapist who works with LGBT couples and is also a board member for San Diego Pride. “For a couple who is traveling together for the first time, this can have an added sense of anxiety.”
“Traveling together often creates the convergence of highly emotionally charged issues: personal boundaries and rituals, values and needs related to money, emotional reactivity to social interactions, and the need for control,” agrees Manhattan psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona, who similarly works with many queer couples.
Dr. Cilona continues: “When you add in differing needs around boundaries for personal time and space, personal rituals, being in a strange environment, spending what is usually a much higher amount of money than the norm, and even simple eating, sleeping, and drinking habits, it’s easy to see how things can really shift rapidly and in different ways.”
But for newer couples contemplating a romantic getaway as their gift to each other is there such a thing as “too soon”?
“I would say that ’too soon’ is subjective,” says Wasil. “Be honest about your relationship: Do you easily decide where to go for dinner? Or is it a giant production and someone’s feelings are always inevitably hurt? How good are you at conflict resolution? Also, take into consideration the type of travel. Is it a local weekend stay-cay? Or, are we talking Third World country and seven layovers? Arduous travel is difficult as a single person, so navigating potentially foreign ground can be doubly hard with two. I would actually recommend taking some easy weekends prior to embarking on a weeks-long dream trip overseas.”
To keep things on track, Dr. Cilona recommends couples do the following to prevent trouble before it starts:
Plan AheadPhoto by Betsie Van Der Meer/Getty Images
Schedule a few different planning meetings about a possible vacation before you purchase. Discuss needs and preferences and goals of each person to see if you’re both aligned. Recognize that even the happiest of romantic partners simply may not be good travel partners. Aim to find the option that ticks off as many boxes on both your lists.
Negotiate ConflictsPhoto by PhotoAlto/Getty Images
Take turns describing the perfect day wherever you are considering going. Discuss past vacations and why or why not they were enjoyable. Discuss habits around eating, sleeping, and spending money, and try to identify possible conflicts. Then, negotiate to resolve them in advance of leaving. Remember that compromise is key, and that you may need an established give-and-take dynamic for your vacation to sail smoothly.
Pre-Plan Time OutsPhoto by MixMike/Getty Images
Have a specific plan to enact should things get heated, and discuss and agree on how it will be handled before you leave. Use experiences from the past to devise a strategy. For example, if you know one person loves to immediately talk when there’s conflict and the other typically needs a good night’s sleep, identify this as a likely scenario and figure out how it will be handled so that your vacation isn’t spoiled.
“Despite the potential pitfalls and challenges, traveling together for the first time creates the possibility for many positives,” concludes Dr. Cilona. “A fun, relaxing, and enjoyable trip together can contribute to creating a foundation for greater connection and intimacy, and for knowing each other on a deeper level. It can also contribute to building a shared history. These things can act like a glue that helps keep a couple together, and that can buffer against challenges and hardships in the future.”