7 Things Couples Should Talk About Before Going On Vacation

#4 is essential.

As summer begins to wind down, you'll want to make the most of every sun-soaked weekend while you can. And the only thing better than spending some time relaxing out of the office is doing it with a loved one — in theory, anyway. In reality, even the most devoted couples have arguments, especially when they need to work together to deal with the added stress of traveling. A couples vacation can be an amazing time to deepen your connection with your significant other, but it can also be an unexpected source of tension if you're not on the same page. 


To ensure you and your partner are on the right path to a positive vacation experience, communication is key. Three relationship experts, Dr. Karen Ruskin, author of Dr. Karen's Marriage Manual, Dr. Monica O'Neal, and Thomas Edwards of The Professional Wingman weighed in on the most important things couples should discuss before going away together. 

Here are their top 7 tips for vacationing couples: 

1. Expectations

To have a successful vacation together, you first need to manage and articulate your individual expectations. Ruskin advises people to take stock of both their conscious and unconscious expectations for their vacation. "You wanna have a little conversation with yourself first and determine 'What are these expectations that I have?' and really self-confront …" she told A Plus. "Be honest with yourself. Be self-reflective …  don't feel embarrassed with yourself to admit however small or however big they are." She encourages daters to create "conscious awareness" of their expectations by making a list of "must-haves," then divided into "wants" and "needs." From there, she says, "Determine what of these items do I actually want to communicate to my mate about … before we go, and what are the things that, while we are there, can be something more of a dialogue." 

Ruskin noted that while you're making your list, you may realize some of its items don't need to be discussed at all because it's something you can make happen on your own. Additionally, she advises individuals to determine which list items you can accept not happening, and then truly remove it from your mental list so you don't feel let down later. 

2. Scheduling

"One of the biggest things, I think, that people argue about ... is this issue of planning," O'Neal told A Plus. The tricky part is creating a schedule that incorporates activities that not only excites each person but meets their needs. To figure that out, O'Neal urges individuals to tell themselves, "I want to have this kind of a trip, but who is the person I'm going on a trip with? How do I make sure that they get what they want from this trip too?"

Another question Ruskin encourages daters to ask themselves and each other is: "What kind of vacation really is this?" Is this an activity-heavy or lounge-heavy vacation? Is this a "connective" vacation or one where we will spend some time apart? 

After answering those internal questions, O'Neal tells her clients to approach the joint planning process honestly, beginning the conversation with, "You know me as long as I've known you, and we both know that I'm not good with a Plan B or you're not good with this, so let's not set ourselves up to fail each other." O'Neal believes this method immediately drops any pretense of the "perfect vacation," so you can have a more productive conversation. 

3. Finances

Ruskin says that finances can be a common misconception for vacationing couples. This can stem from "an unspoken assumption" that the person who suggests the vacation will be the one paying for it. "Let's say, for an example, the guy or the gal says, 'Hey, I'm taking us on vacation,' that could mean that they're paying for the plane ticket but not every meal or the hotel or maybe it's the hotel and the plane but not everything else," she explained. Instead of assuming one way or another, it may be best to discuss costs and outline a joint budget. Even better, said O'Neal, is "if you can prepay for things" because "that will keep you from arguing about money." 

That being said, Edwards doesn't think it's necessary for a couple to talk about money. "Once you start trying to break down who pays for what, it gets too detailed and nit-picky," he told A Plus. "When in reality, this is a great couples experience you two are sharing together so money shouldn't matter." While that is hypothetically true, perhaps the best way to know if it will actually work for your relationship is to go back to O'Neal's question of "Who is the person I'm going on a trip with?" Answer that question honestly, and you'll have your answer regarding finances as well. 

4. Alcohol Consumption

While O'Neal understands many couples want "to have an easygoing, free-flowing trip" and might not feel the need to discuss something as relatively small and ordinary as each other's drinking tendencies, she cautions "that's setting yourself up to really have arguments that are unnecessary." While you and your partner may have similar views toward alcohol consumption at home, they may change when you're in a new place. "One person might drink too much and wake up with a hangover... and you can imagine that if your partner is also having a greater sense of needs — of feeling like they can depend on you — you being too drunk might certainly thwart that," she explained. 

O'Neal encourages couples to set "certain parameters around drinking," discuss how to handle if one person drinks too much, and perhaps even pre-plan a day to go wild and crazy drinking-wise that doesn't interfere with other activities.  

5. Arguments

"The biggest misconception couples have is expecting that [the vacation will] go smoothly without a hitch," Edwards said. "It's so rare for that to happen, but that's the very thing that makes your experience unique. So if something doesn't go according to plan, doesn't mean all is lost." To ensure an argument doesn't become the end of the world, or the end of the relationship, O'Neal encourages couples to agree on a "safe word" they can throw out in the middle of an argument "when you feel like things are getting heated," especially in public. 

That safe word conveys to the other person, ""Hey, look, it might seem irrational, but this is creating something in me, and I just need you to be aware of that." It can also help someone identify that they've hit the other person's soft spot, and even if they don't agree, it can sometimes jar them into thinking, "OK, this person is having an experience." The safe word allows both people to slow down, step back from the situation, take stock of it, and stop them from simply "emotionally reacting," so they can get back on track. The important thing isn't how few bumps in the road a couple encounters on their vacation, but how they work together to get over them. 

6. Intimacy

When couples go away together, they often do so to spend more alone time together and in an especially romantic locale. With all this, of course, comes expectations about physical aspects of the relationship. "You have this thought of what your relationship intimately is going to look like while you're away ..." Ruskin explained. "... Public displays of affection, for example, might be something they're normally not so into but, because they're somewhere else, they're feeling really free to do that." Their partner, however, may not want to change their PDA practices and don't understand why, all of a sudden, their relationship has changed. 

Another reason couples may want to discuss intimacy before going on a vacation is if they "haven't reached that zone yet," as Ruskin put it, and think that going away together means you're going to reach that zone for the first time. On the flip side, Ruskin said the physicality and sexuality of a relationship may be worthy of discussion even if a couple has been together for a little while but has yet to go on a vacation together. "You're thinking this is gonna rework your relationship because maybe you've been just apart for a little bit," she explained a potential scenario. "And you're reevaluating whether you want to be together and that's what this vacation is about." If the sexual part of your relationship has been stagnant or otherwise unsatisfactory while at home, you may be able to use a vacation to jumpstart your physical attraction to one another again — a joint goal partners should considering discussing before the trip. 

7. The Meaning of the Vacation

"Going on a first trip, whether it be overnight or actually something a little bit more substantial, is meaningful for a couple and it really is usually a statement of how committed, how together they are," O'Neal explained. Consequently, each person might be looking for certain cues that reinforce their perceived significance of the vacation. This may be most true for couples who don't conform to any official relationship label.

"If you're not in a place of commitment ... you might actually think to yourself, 'OK, going on this trip means that — if it goes really well — then we're gonna be committed.'" O'Neal encourages those with undefined relationships, especially if they were who suggested the vacation, to really ask themselves what they hope to get out of the trip. "... Usually it's not just like, 'I wanna go to the beach,'" she explained.  "That's the surface level, and down below it's like: 'And I wanna see if we're meant to be.'"

While Ruskin thinks "it's OK" to use a vacation to try "to learn more about the couplehood," she cautions individuals not to rely too much on it for information. She noted that while some may use a vacation to go to the next level, others may be trying to redefine their couplehood. Either way, she warns against thinking that going away will magically provide a solution to problems back home. "If you're riding or dying a relationship based on the vacation, you already have the answer about your couplehood, quite frankly," she said. 

While you may not want to tell your partner about any explicit intentions to learn what the vacations means for your couplehood, it's definitely important to have this conversation with yourself. Once you're aware of your relationship expectations, you can share them with the other person to ensure you're on the same page. If you don't feel comfortable doing that, you can still discuss the larger purpose of the vacation to figure out where you both stand. 

"I would also tell couples that a vacation, especially a first vacation, is not always indicative of the viability of a relationship," O'Neal concluded. "Sometimes vacations just suck, and that does not mean that the relationship is doomed." So when it comes down to it, even if a couples vacation doesn't go perfectly, that doesn't change the original intentions of the two people who decided to do this together.


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