For many people summer means getting together with family and friends, having fun in the sun, and vacation time. When your personal life is aligned with your expectations you have a great summer. However, when your relationship is troubled summer feels like long days of problems.
It’s hard to stay positive when communication is not effective, conflicts are not resolved, and resentment keeps building up. Hopefully you and your partner have started addressing some of this concerns with a professional marriage counselor or by yourself. All couples go through ups and downs and there is no running away from bad times – and that includes in the summer, too. But because its summer time, a family vacation comes up. and even though you are not in the best terms with your spouse your family deserves to enjoy the good weather together without shouting matches and tears. When you go on vacation, make sure to take a vacation from your problems as well so you and your family can enjoy the time together. Here’s how:
How to take a “vacation” from problems:
- Have a plan: During times of conflict having no plans for certain situations is a recipe for disaster. Don’t just leave everything up in the air. You know when and for how long the vacation will last, so plan for it. Sit down and discuss the possible scenarios that could create struggle and how to refocus on enjoying yourself. The bonus of this strategy is that you will be practicing communication skills and conflict resolution for post-vacation time. Make a commitment that although problems will not be discussed during the time off, both of you are committed to getting back to work on the relationship together.
- Have a list of “positives”: Take this time to reflect on the positives of your relationship and of your spouse. Not everything is bad in the relationship (even if it feels that way). You and your spouse still have feelings for each other, so reflect on what you like about your partner. Identify what you’re looking forward to do together. If the resentment has built up to a point that doing things together is not comfortable, work out a schedule where each can take time alone to recharge. Stay focused on what you want to get out of this vacation time.
- Acknowledge when issues come up, then save for later: Conflict will come up and you will feel tempted to fall into the same pattern of resolution – aka fighting. Brace yourself to resist. Fighting will only perpetuate the problem and ruin the fun for everyone. Communicate your feelings with “I statements”, then agree to return to the topic at a later time. It would look like this: “I am upset about (…) so I will take a step back to calm down. Can we discuss this at home?”
- Practice the “good skills”: Being on vacation can offer that neutral space to be someone else instead of “the bickering couple”. Not being immersed in your everyday life gives you the opportunity to step out of your usual role and act differently. Try using some positive skills you know: compliment each other, listen without reacting, and get to know each other again through new experiences. It’s a “fake it until you make it” with the purpose of developing positive skills and finding new ways of interacting with each other. By increasing the positive interaction in your relationship you will increase your marital satisfaction and consequently create more motivation to stay together.
When you return from vacation
Taking this extended “time out” from conflict to enjoy time together can actually be beneficial to your marriage. Once the time out is over, resuming the “relationship work” is as important as keeping the peace for the sake of vacation. Try exploring together what was a positive and negative about the experience and what can be repeated in daily life. Take your time addressing the relationship needs. Remember that your problems developed over time and it will not be resolved overnight.
About the Author: Patricia Cochran is a marriage counselor with The Marriage and Family Clinic. She is passionate about helping couples and families to feel connected again. In her spare time, she is busy with her toddler and enjoying friends and family time.