Reposted and used with permission by The 80/80 Marriage
If you believe everything you see on Facebook and Instagram, the summer family vacation is an experience of bliss.
It’s that exquisite time when you can unplug, connect, laugh, and go on adventures together, as a family. It’s full of smiles, fun, and glorious sunny days where everything works out with perfect logistical precision.
If you’ve ever actually been on a summer family vacation, however, you know better.
You know that this precious time is also a lot like being stirred up together in an emotional pressure cooker. You’re all together, all the time, often cooped up in a car for hours or sleeping an arm’s-length away from each other.
We experienced this just last week. We had an amazing summer vacation to Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. And yet we also had many moments of irritation, anger, and disappointment.
One day, for instance, Nate discovered a massive miscalculation in our route. Instead of driving for thirty or so minutes to see the Buffalo in Yellowstone‘s famous Lamar Valley, it would take us three hours to get there and three hours to get back, all in a single day.
We both felt frustrated at the idea of sitting in the car for six hours, all to get a few glimpses of roaming bison. We then turned all that frustration towards each other. “I’m tired of being the one responsible for planning our daily activities on vacation,” Nate remarked. “I’m tired of feeling like we have no clear plan,” Kaley insisted.
It was a classic family vacation argument, an example of what happens when you remove personal space, the distraction of work, and add in and the uncertainty of being in a new place where just about anything can happen.
So how can we all experience less drama during summer family vacations?
The experience of a summer family vacation and Covid-lockdown have one thing in common: no space.
In both cases, you’re stuck together, often in close quarters, all day, every day.
The antidote to this claustrophobic experience is also the same: space. When it comes to summer vacations, we’ve found that the best way to create space is through instituting a mandatory afternoon “rest time.” No, you don’t have to take a nap. You could check your email. You could go for a walk. Or you could lie in the grass staring blankly at the sky. It’s simply a time for being alone and feeling refreshed when you return to family activities.
2. Avoid the blame game.
Going on a summer vacation where nothing goes unexpectedly wrong is like playing a Beethoven Sonata perfectly on your first try. It’s nearly impossible.
In fact, it’s almost like the summer vacation is designed to give you the experience of the unexpected. Your flight gets delayed for three hours. You end up booking the hotel room for the wrong day. Or you find yourself caught in a one hour line to drive through the entrance of a National Park (that might’ve just happened to us).
When things like this go wrong, we’re wired to find someone to blame. For instance, it must be your partner‘s fault that the flight is delayed for three hours. “What were they thinking when they booked an afternoon connection through Chicago?” “They should have known that there are always afternoon thunderstorms there!”
Catching yourself in the act of blaming your partner and then shifting to realize that sometimes bummer situations happen and no one is at fault is one of the best ways to eliminate summer family vacation drama.
3. Find time to connect.
Here’s another thing that happens during summer family vacations. You spend so much time together (as a family) that you spend almost no time together, as a couple. This becomes yet another force of disconnection and drama. It results in misunderstandings, bad communication, and a situation where you rarely, if ever, reveal your full experience to each other.
The antidote is obvious but often difficult to achieve: carve out a small amount of time to connect as a couple. This doesn’t have to be a date night. That’s probably not possible. It might just be spending fifteen minutes talking about your experience of the day before bed. Or perhaps it’s having a conversation for thirty minutes while the kids listen to audiobooks or watch movies in the backseat of the car. The more you can connect together, the less you will find yourselves caught in drama.
4. See the impermanence of your mind.
During those intense moments of family vacation, we become especially forgetful of one essential truth: everything that arises in the mind, also fades away. When you’re in an unfamiliar place, separated from the ordinary distractions you use to soothe discomfort, anger, frustration, fear and disappointment can feel like they will last forever. You might get upset and start thinking, “This is going to ruin the entire trip” or “This feeling of frustration is never going to go away.”
So it can be useful to remind yourself of one of the core insights of mindfulness: the fact that our emotions, our thoughts, and the sensations in our body are in a constant state of change. In short, nothing lasts.
These insights and tools can dissolve the weight of such difficult emotions and bring you back to the fun of your family vacation.
Nate and Kaley Klemp are authors of the new book The 80/80 Marriage: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Marriage, a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection. To download their free PDF guide to Epic Date Night, tap here.
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