Tools for Couples Happiness — 26 May 2009
Do you travel well together?

Traveling is a highly recommended recreational and educational endeavor and may also be a stressful undertaking. Some couples travel well together, while others find this activity to be fraught with conflicts. How can you improve your leisure pleasure?

At home, couples establish their routines, control their options and feel empowered about managing their lives. When pairs travel, much is out of their control. Some of the pleasure/stress determinants involved are: the partners’ capacity for enduring change, inconveniences, unpredictable circumstances, stress and loss of control, their gender, innate personality and relationship patterns.

When couples travel with children all of these factors are further compounded by the needs, temperaments, age and flexibility of their children. Similar to adults, some children travel well while others are more prone to the stresses involved in change.

University of Maryland’s researcher S.E. Iso-Ahola, in “Motivation for leisure” found that tourists’ motivations for travel are propelled by the need to escape from their familiar surroundings and their ongoing stress as they seek to enhance their psychological well-being.

Yoshi Iwasaki and associates in “Gender-Based Analyses of Coping with Stress among Professional Managers” detail their findings that though men and women share some common benefits of leisure escapes, they do vary from each other. Women valued leisure as “compensating for the cumulative effects of juggling a wider range of stressors/demands than their male counterparts.” Males appreciated the self-rejuvenation of leisure itself without issues of compensation. Women also saw leisure as a reprieve from ”always giving” and taking care of others, while men viewed it as a personal reward.

One’s personal capacity for tolerating change, frustrations and unexpected circumstances affects their mood while traveling. For some individuals the unpredictability and lack of control of many events become upsetting enough to sour their mood and negatively impact their and their partner’s pleasure. If they tend to complain and feel dispirited by all the changes, the benefits of ordinary life stress reduction quickly fade.

Optimistic and emotionally flexible individuals are more likely to accept disappointments that travel brings and disallow them to negatively impact their enjoyment.

When both mates are of the same inclination, either flexible or stressed by change and inconveniences, they may fare better than if one is easy going and the other intense, unless they learn to compensate for each other’s tendencies. Couples who are good communicators and compromisers are more likely to successfully iron out their differences about what to see, how active to be, how swiftly to cover sights, how much rest to get and how to spend their time and money.

To maximize your traveling pleasure,

• Choose your travel destinations to match your negotiated “ideal” vacation.
• Plan your itinerary to accommodate your levels of energy, interests and time management styles. The more you agree upon in advance, the greater the likelihood of having a smoother, mutually enjoyable vacation.
• Assume that there will be some unexpected and disempowering events and decide to treat them light-heartedly.
• Keep your partner’s preferences foremost in your mind. Make every effort to protect your mate from stresses that may cause him/her anxiety or unhappiness. For example, if your spouse is particular about food, accommodations, service, noise, crowds, or sufficient rest, make these concerns your highest priority.
• Model a positive, relaxed mood. Minimize the importance of frustrating events.
• Be attentive to your mate’s emotional state. Ask often if he/she is enjoying the experience and how you may help make it even better, if needed.
• Relieve your female partner from excessive “caring for others” duties particularly when you are traveling with your children. It will allow her to feel truly rejuvenated.
• Remember that the most important aspect of your vacation is the happy sharing of experiences with each other. Nothing matters more than your emotional bonding with each other as you create another chapter of your life history.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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