couple on beach connect during vacation

Travel: Relationship Stress Test? Or Relationship Accelerator?


Travel brings many benefits for our emotional and mental well-being. It can make us feel happier and more relaxed; reduce burnout and give us renewed vigor when we return to work; and also has associated physical health benefits including weigh loss (assuming you’re moving around and not more-than-making up for it with added eating!) and better sleep. Travel can also have positive impacts on our personality, contributing to our becoming more open-minded and agreeable. And travel can help us practice gratitude, humbling us and encouraging the realization of how fortunate we are. All great things, no?

But what about travelling specifically with someone you’re in a relationship with? Taking a trip with a partner, husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend can be a great thing. After all, each of you should be experiencing many of the aforementioned benefits of travel in general. And this is just the experience, you might tell yourselves, that will bring you closer together. Indeed, that’s often the case. Alas, not always. Vacations also have built-in pitfalls that every couple needs to be aware of. Many a relationship has been ruined by travel, with countless others weakened or strained. With some proactive awareness and planning, however, you can follow the steps in this article to make your next holiday a memorable one with positive impact on your relationship.

A Cautionary Tale: Relation-Vacation Goes Awry

shutterstock_95475955Adam and Janet had been dating for three months. They’d never had conversations about living together or getting married. Then one day, Adam suggested to Janet that they take a trip together. The two studied a wide array of destinations and types of vacations, and eventually a booked a week in sunny Cancun. Already being “intimate,” they figured any awkwardness of sharing a room wouldn’t be an issue. What they failed to plan for, though, was the prospect of being together 24 hours a day for a full week. Neither Adam nor Janet were aware of the habits, patterns, wants and needs of their partner. Janet found out that Adam snored. Well, at least she knew now, and not after moving in. And Adam discovered that Janet “hogged” the bathroom for an hour or more in the mornings. Again, good to know. But those weren’t deal-breakers. The way each handled adversity, however, was a different story. Flight delays, lost luggage, a backed-up toilet in one hotel room and roaches in the other turned out to be tests that the couple ultimately failed. By the end of the week, Adam went on a drinking binge at a local club that wound up revealing a darker side than Janet was prepared for. And Janet had spent significant stretches of time texting friends back home, including an ex, which made Adam feel unimportant. The flight home was awkward, doubly so for the Uber ride from the airport, which wound up being the last time the couple spoke to one another.shutterstock_535233256

While not all relationship travel winds up this way, it serves to show the potential for things to go awry. “Your first trip will not only reveal your compatibility as a dating couple, but ultimately how you will relate as a married couple,” said Allison Pescosolido, co-founder of counseling service Divorce Detox in Santa Monica, California. “Traveling can be seen as a mini-test to see how your relationship works when you are together 24-7 and dealing with unpredictable circumstances.” More specifically, travel is a stress test for relationships.

Stress. That’s the best word that we can boil this all down to. Stress can certainly have a negative influence on relationships—even when that stress isn’t directly connected to the relationship itself. This is known as stress spillover (Neff & Karney, 2009; Neff, 2012), and it occurs when stressors outside of a romantic relationship lead to a decrease in one’s feelings of satisfaction in his or her relationship. These include:

  • Work or career pressure, burnout, etc.
  • Concerns about money and finances
  • Family issues
  • The physical and mental health of the individual

These stressors can lead to a breakdown in communication in the relationship. When we travel, of course, we take these stresses with us. Though travel seems like a fantasy, our reality is never far behind us. When things start to go wrong (and inevitably they will, for no journey is perfect, something unexpected or out-of-control is bound to happen), how we react is largely linked to the amount of stress that we’re under in life in general. Adding stress to the relationship can make things go south pretty quickly. Communication suffers, blame and finger-pointing take over, and before long, things are sour – sometimes seemingly beyond repair. That’s why some call travel a “relationship killer”

On The Flip Side: Travel Can Bring You Closer Together

shutterstock_709543969The key is communication.

Just like in the relationship back home, travel requires each partner to step up his or her communication game. This requires teamwork, a mutual effort to make strides together in achieving a common goal. The process starts even before the journey itself begins. Make sure you’re planning where and how you want to travel with each other’s best interest in mind. This is no time for selfishness. That’s not to say you shouldn’t vocalize what you want – this is important (and not doing so is the opposite extreme, which will also lead to issues down the road). But equally important to your needs and wants is to consider those of your partner. Work towards consensus, finding what works for both of you. This is a better alternative – when viable – to compromise, which is also fine and even necessary in some situations. Much like life in general, travel gives you opportunities to experience things together, so searching for places and activities that you’ll both like gives you a much better chance at mutual enjoyment.

Here are some more tips from travel and relationship experts.


Put Some Space Between You

Being “up in each other’s business” can be a shock for a relationship if you’re not already living together. Even for long-term spouses and partners, the increase in time and proximity together can be stressful. A great way to alleviate that is by intentionally adding in “me time” for each of you. Maybe instead of a couple’s massage, one has a spa afternoon while the other hits the golf course or Jeep safari. It’s not to say that you can’t enjoy things together – just not everything, all the time. Space is your friend.

Conversations, not Confrontations

Being proactive and communicating openly and non-confrontationally is of paramount importance when it comes to communication. We can’t emphasize this enough. And it rings even truer when taking the relationship on the road.

  • Get out ahead of the situations before they arise or become too daunting
  • Keep open channels of communication
  • Rather than confronting the other person, make sure they know you’re on their side, that you’re part of a team working toward a common goal
  • Define your roles in the process
  • Take turns taking the lead in planning and executing activities
  • Remember compromise and consensus… and pick your battles carefully (“know when to walk away”)

When you include these consistently in your travels, your chances of relationship success go way up.

Appreciate What You’re Learning About Each Other – Good and Otherwise

You’ll definitely learn a lot about one another when you travel. If you’re not yet married or living together, now’s your chance to get a “preview” of what’s to come… potentially.

  • Travel tests some of the “incompatibilities” in your relationship (re. stress, finances, new and different situations, etc.)
  • It also tests how you respond to one another under different and sometimes trying circumstances
  • Travel gives an idea about how this person reacts to various situations in general, and can yield insights about such traits as patience, kindness, tolerance, anger, frustration, etc.
  • If spending more time together makes you happier, that’s probably a good sign that you’re headed for relationship bliss
  • On the contrary, if this time together brings more stress and heartburn, you might want to heed these as warning signs of the potential dangers ahead

We’re not saying that these are absolutes, that you ought to base future relationship decisions (‘Should we get married?’ ‘Should we break up?’) solely on what happens when you travel. Still, the insights can be helpful.

Bad Relationship Travel: How Can Counselling in Ottawa Help You?

If you’ve recently experienced the stress test of travel and want to sort things out with a trained counsellor in Ottawa, we encourage you to get in touch with Capital Choice Counselling and book a session. Remember, this doesn’t have to be the end of your relationship. With conscientious effort and mutual understanding, you and your partner can grow closer from this experience. We’re happy to help facilitate that.