Couples therapy comes in many forms. One of the best forms is a vacation. Here’s why…
CHARLIE: My family never took vacations when I was a kid. Consequently, I grew up thinking getaways were not important and only for other people, like those with lots of money. Over the years, and with Linda’s help, I’ve found that neither of these notions is true. As an adult I’ve learned that a vacation doesn’t have to take place in a faraway, exotic land, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. And that it’s not necessarily a self-indulgent luxury. Vacations can occur anywhere and anytime that we are temporarily relieved of the ordinary responsibilities of daily life. As long as there is the will, there are ways to take time off that don’t require you to finance a second mortgage on your home.
Interestingly, the word “vacation” comes from the Latin “vacatio,” which means “freedom; release from occupation.” When our lives are so filled with obligatory activities, those things that we feel compelled to do out of necessity, like care-giving, working, housecleaning, answering emails, driving the kids to their appointments and athletic events, and the countless other responsibilities that consume the vast majority of our energy, it’s easy to feel like we’re not free, and that life is about doing what you have to do. At the end of the day, there’s not much energy or motivation left to put into your relationship, and even if there was, doesn’t it sometimes feel like it’s just another obligation? It’s not likely that being emotionally intimate under the circumstances is something that seems a particularly attractive idea.
Vacations are not just about taking a week or two a year to recover from a life defined by the fulfillment of obligations, but giving ourselves the gift of freedom sufficiently frequently to interrupt the relentlessness of the demands of our lives that can leave us feeling more like slaves than free persons. When we don’t feel free, it’s hard, even when we do manage to find the time to be together, to bring the kind of spirit and feeling to each other that deeply enhances the quality of our connection. When we can temporarily, whether for an hour or a week, disengage from the obligations of our busy lives, it becomes possible to re-experience the passion and romance that originally brought us together. An interruption in the routine and a change of scenery can recharge our relationship, invigorating it with renewed spirit and emotional intimacy.
During those times we are more apt to see the beauty in our partner and have the time to feel and express our appreciation for them. Being away from the routine of our lives also offers us a fresh perspective that can open our eyes to new possibilities for the future.
Since it’s hard to miss what you never had, in the early days of our marriage I never lobbied for vacations. In fact, I often resisted Linda’s efforts to have us take time off together. I’d say, “We can’t afford it,” or, “There are other things I’d rather spend that kind of money on,” or, later, “The kids will be bickering and fighting and it’ll be the vacation from hell.” I’m grateful to Linda for persisting in her efforts. I’ve since become a true believer in this kind of time off, and these days it’s often I who tends to initiate our breaks — the long ones as well as the mini-ones.
LINDA: A year into parenthood, I was at my wit’s end. Our firstborn, Jesse, was an intensely energetic, active, and loud child. I didn’t sleep much the entire year. I got to the point where I felt that my sense of self was being sucked out of me along with my breast milk. I knew that I needed a change of scenery, but we had little money because I wasn’t working and Charlie was still in graduate school. My friend Carole, who lived near the beach on the north shore of Boston told me that she was going to the mountains for a week, and offered to let us stay at her home while she was away.
It was wonderful! Jesse loved the ocean, and being away from home gave us a new slant on life. I still shopped, but in a different market. I still prepared meals, but in a different kitchen. Charlie and I shared some wonderful times there.
Life seemed sweeter because I didn’t feel empty. I learned a huge lesson that summer about how to take care of myself and how to take care of our family. I realized how important it is to get away on a regular basis. Vacations don’t have to cost much, and we don’t have to go very far from home, but we do need to go. By interrupting our normal pattern, we not only gain a fresh perspective, but we also get to rest, refresh, and recharge. No matter how little time or money you think you have, you just can’t afford not to take vacations!”