When you and your partner jet off to an exotic location (or an idyllic nearby one, as the case may be), work is probably the last thing you want to think about. But you can come back from a couples vacation so much better off if you do just a little bit of work — on your relationship. Your spring, summer, or winter break can be relaxing and productive at the same time, and if you use it intelligently, facing the real world afterward can be a lot less stressful.
Couples therapist Marissa Nelson, LMFT, started her couples and singles retreat Intimacy Moons for this reason. Many of her clients were going on vacation in order to fix the problems in their relationship in an environment free from their daily stressors. So, she offers therapy sessions and healing exercises amid the backdrop of a beautiful Barbados beach and resort. I went last year and would highly recommend it, but you can still reap the benefits of a therapeutic couples vacation without a retreat specifically for that purpose.
Here are some tips Nelson has picked up from running her private practice and retreat that any couple can use to make their next vacation memorable and useful.
1. Take A Break From Technology
Vacations are one of the rare times when you don't have a million notifications distracting you from your partner, so take advantage of that. Set an auto-response on your email, and if you must use the Internet, cap yourself at an hour a day. "Spend the rest of the time exploring, engaging, and being present with one another," Nelson tells Bustle. "Take the time to have in-depth conversations about your future together, what you want to achieve personally and as a couple."
2. Set Expectations
While couples vacations can bring you closer, they can also cause fights. And one common source of these fights in Nelson's experience is lack of clarity about how each person expects to spend their time. For example, one person may want to squeeze in snorkeling, dancing, and shopping while the other wants to chill out and do whatever they feel like in the moment. Figure out what each of you wants to do before the trip is over, including down-time, and make sure you both get it.
"Schedule a day or two within the trip to do some self/relationship care like scheduling a massage and a lazy day where you stay in bed, make love, or have a cocktail by the pool," says Nelson.
3. Sex It Up
If one of your goals is reviving your sex life, decide in advance how you'll do that. Bring sex toys and/or massage oils, light candles in your room, or find somewhere with a luxurious bed or bath. If you haven't been having much sex, start with handholding and kissing.
"Once safety and bonding is present without pressure, it can create a path to passionate lovemaking and intimacy," says Nelson. If you're looking to make your sex life even hotter, try both choosing two new moves you want to try on the trip.
4. "Fight Fair"
When you devote attention to your relationship's issues, you could end up fighting. That's not to be avoided, but decide how you'll do it in advance. Nelson recommends the following ground rules: "Explain your perspective of the situation with no blaming, shaming, or name calling. Don't shut down and walk away when you're at an impasse. Use your words to convey how you feel. Don't interrupt or talk over your partner when they have an opinion or concern and don't be dismissive."
In other words, make an honest effort to see their perspective. Challenge yourself to be as understanding as possible, even if it requires considering ideas that go against your strongest beliefs, before you respond.
5. Lighten Up
Maintaining a healthy relationship requires hard work, but it also requires positive memories. So use your vacation to let loose and indulge instead of processing your feelings the whole time. "Laugh a lot together, explore, experience," says Nelson. "Eat good food and drink great drinks. Intimacy and love are about creating memorable shared experiences, so make the most of your time together by remembering what brought you together in the first place."
Taking the extra effort to plan and be conscious about your vacation is so worth it, because afterward, your daily life can feel a bit more like a vacation all the time. In addition to potentially resolving that one fight you always have, you'll remember why your love is worthwhile despite it.