This 18,000-km overland journey from Thailand to Portugal has brought out the bitch in both of us.
Let’s face it, when you do something big together, even something you both want to do, it is going to cause some stress in your relationship. If you’ve ever vacationed, planned a wedding, remodeled a room, raised a kid, moved, started a business, gone on a diet, saved money, or even had a yard sale together, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
The stress of the ‘new’ in your life is piled on to your existing responsibilities, and when you add another person and their different way of coping to the exact same situation, you’re going to have fights. Incredible fights, actually.
So now that we are 14,000 or so kilometers into this journey, we’ve had a few things bubble up to the surface. Considering we are together 24/7 and sometimes making last-minute travel decisions, we are bound to have disagreements and misunderstandings.
There are 3 lessons we keep coming back to as we try to stop fighting so much and become rational again.
Be very specific about what you want/need
This is no time for being vague or putting everyone else first. Stress is high, so you need to make your needs crystal clear or they will get lost in the shuffle and your stress will continue to build until it explodes all over everyone around you.
I need alone time. For someone who really does love meeting people, I have a lot of hermit tendencies. If I don’t get some alone time, even from Warren, I get testy. I can’t write. My words become sharp. I eat and drink and sleep way too much. I feel very put upon and just want everyone to go away (and generally act in a way to make them want to do it).
Give me an hour or two a day to myself, a few mornings a week to write, and I’m a pretty well-adjusted person, suitable for human companionship. But take a look at how I wrote that last sentence: “Give me an hour or two…” If I really want to maintain my mental health and the mental health of those around me, I have to make sure I get what I need, not wait for someone to grant it to me.
It is not up to your partner to read your mind, sense your needs, fill the gaps, or right the situation. He or she won’t know, can’t know, really. It is your responsibility to make your needs clearly and specifically known.
You are not doing anyone any favors by making sure their needs are being met over your own.
Stop martyring yourself for the greater good. It’s not working.
Know your partner’s trigger points and tread carefully
Especially when embarking on something new, it is important to honor your partner’s quirks and habits so they can soothe themselves through the transition. Don’t ask him or her to adjust to something new AND take away or limit what keeps them on an even keel.
Just because it is your responsibility to state your needs clearly doesn’t mean your partner is off the hook. We’re in relationships for a reason, and if you don’t know what sets your partner off or how to keep them happy, you are not pulling your weight in the relationship.
Warren hates crowds. He always has, and we typically are able to work around this. We do most of our sightseeing at off-peak times and seasons, saving his sanity and usually costing us less. Win-win.
But this overland journey had us arriving in Europe on August 1, the start of the holiday month, and we’ve been dodging crowds ever since. Warren gets testy just anticipating the crowds.
While we can’t avoid all the crowds, we have been able to adjust our travel plans to minimize them. Thanks to our Eurail passes, we are not locked into any specific schedule.
Just last week while standing on the platform at La Spezia, Italy with about 1,000 other people heading to Cinque Terre for a day at the beach, I told him we should wait for the next train.
We had to pay a small surcharge for seat reservations, but it was worth it. Instead of cramming onto the train with our backpacks, we waited just 15 minutes to have seats with a table to ourselves (and a faster journey to boot). He was more comfortable, and that made me more comfortable.
Make life better for your partner and your life will be better, too.
Find a humorous way to end your fights
In a stressful situation, a resolved fight can still cause a lot of angst as you walk away and replay events in your mind. Give it a humorous end and you’ll get back to center more quickly as individuals and as a couple.
If you can create a funny saying – like, “so do we mud wrestle now?” – it breaks the tension and allows you to more easily move on to regular living.
When we’ve had a heated argument and the tensions have smoothed, Warren always wants to have sex. Sex is the last thing on my mind after an argument. Over the years this has played out over and over again, and now it is a joke between us. Warren makes a comment about getting randy with a hopeful grin, and I make a vaguely threatening comment about the foolishness of exposing his naked body to my waning wrath as I try to hold back a smile.
It’s a familiar dance, and it is a signal to both of us that the fight is over and we are on the road to normal again. We usually hug and make a few more lame jokes about whatever we’ve been fighting over before resuming regular life. There is always a clear cut-off to the fight, which helps us both come together as a team again, internalize the lessons and move on. We avoid the individual simmering that will inevitably erupt in round 2 of the fight in the not-too-distant future.
Create a clear signal for the end of a fight.
All’s well that ends well
One thing this journey has taught us is that nothing worthwhile comes without work. As we’ve explored Asia and Europe together, we’ve seen some amazing sites, met great people, and reconnected with good friends. Along the way, our relationship has matured as we’ve gotten better at being a team of two individuals.
We still have a month of travel left on this Eurasian Adventure 2012 before we transition to another grand adventure this fall: our first visit to the US after being away for 2 years. At election time.
Goddess help us all.
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Many thanks to Eurail for sponsoring our travel on this leg of our journey. Without the ease these train passes, we’d be fighting a whole lot more.