aboutWe are Akila and Patrick. Our†minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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three ways travel strengthens a marriage

In the same year that Congress impeached Bill Clinton for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, Patrick asked me to marry him.  We were twenty, with the fresh-faced views of the world that young doe-eyed lovers readily adopt.  I was appalled by President Clinton’s indiscretions, unable to understand how he could disgrace his family and his friends, to satisfy his own lust.  Ten years later, on the same weekend we celebrated our eight-year anniversary, another Southern politician wept over the political and personal debacle his life has become because of his philandering.  Today, I am less appalled by Governor Sanford’s behavior; instead, I am saddened that he was able to fall out of love with his wife and quickly find love with another.  I see Governor Sanford’s infidelity as a reaction to the long-term breakdown of his marriage.  Am I wrong in thinking that this phenomenon---falling out of love with each other---happens too often?

Caitlin Flanagan considers this same problem in her compelling article for Time, Is There Hope for the American Marriage?  She asks a critical question that should concern all of us, whether married or not:  “What is the purpose of marriage? Is it . . . .simply an institution that has the capacity to increase the pleasure of the adults who enter into it? If so, we might as well hold the wake now: there probably aren't many people whose idea of 24-hour-a-day good times consists of being yoked to the same romantic partner, through bouts of stomach flu and depression . . . .  Or is marriage an institution that still hews to its old intention and function — to raise the next generation, to protect and teach it, to instill in it the habits of conduct and character that will ensure the generation's own safe passage into adulthood?”

Yet, numerous studies have been done showing that the stress of raising children can demolish an otherwise-faltering marriage.  If the purpose of marriage should be the conception and teaching of children, how will empty nesters succeed in maintaining a relationship once the children leave home?  I am by no means an expert on marriage and, really, I know little about this issue.  But, it seems to me that the problem is not Americans’ focus on the wrong purpose of marriage, but rather an all-too-often debilitating displeasure in the marriage.  That disinterest originates from varying sources: distractions, irritations, changing perceptions, or simple laziness.  There are many ways to bolster and reinvigorate a marriage but I want to focus on three ways that travel has strengthened ours:

  • Creating new memories with each other.  Boredom is surprisingly a leading cause of divorce.  When we travel, we are exhilarated to find new places, interesting foods, and untold adventures.  At home, we savor the best parts of our trips and laugh about the bad parts.  These new memories help ward off the staleness that comes from mundane routines: waking up, going to work, coming home, watching television, and going to sleep. 
  • Increasing our dependence on each other.  When we travel to a foreign country or far-away city, we are alone.  Sure, we have access to e-mail, the Internet, and phones, but, for all intents and purposes, we rely on each other to make sure that we stay healthy and safe.  It is sometimes hard to abdicate my desire to be independent, but knowing that I have someone who I can depend on---and who can depend on me---is incredibly reassuring.  And, because our happiness becomes dependent on the other's happiness, we take our commitments to each other more seriously.
  • Developing a partnership.  Travelers are faced with decisions every single day, from where to stay, how much to spend, what to see, and where to eat.  Travel is often unexpected --- a hotel could have closed down, we could miss the train we were expecting to take, or we could get food poisoning resulting in the expulsion of our digestive tracts.  Dealing with the unexpected while compromising to make constructive decisions requires good communication and good communication leads to a happy trip and a healthy relationship.   
Has travel strengthened your marriage or relationship and, if so, how?

07/14/2009 18:11
I'd also add that it helps shape a common worldview. I mean that in the sense that the more you travel the more you realize how varied yet alike people are. I think traveling puts your life as a married couple in perspective and appreciate what you have together.
07/14/2009 21:03
Anil, I think that is very true. As we travel, it always surprises us how much we have in common with each other and with the rest of the world even though, superficially, we seem so different. Thanks for commenting!
07/28/2009 11:11
I introduced my boyfriend to the wonders of long-term travel in 2007. By the end of our trip, we were engaged. The experience not only produced a marriage, it even launched our website business - Briefcase to Backpack. We hope our story and those of others will help inspire more couples to travel!
07/28/2009 11:32
What a great post. My husband and I have 4 children and when we are able to travel alone just the two of us, it is such a fantatic experience. We can escape the truths of daily life. He is able to relax, which doesn't happen a whole lot. I always look forward to traveling with him!
07/28/2009 17:29
Thanks Michaela. What a wonderful and inspiring story! I had no idea that y'all got engaged while on your travels. I think your story will inspire more couples to travel.
07/28/2009 20:58
Thanks Kristen! One of my friends who has kids says that every time she travels with her husband on their own, she feels like they fall in love all over again. I don't have human kids so I don't know that feeling but I know that travel definitely relaxes both of us. It is wonderful that it does the same for y'all!
08/14/2009 17:08
Those are three reasons that I wanted to travel with my partner too. I know that this experience will be with us forever and that we will always talk about 'the time that....' and will have each other to remember with.
Gillian's recent blog post: Like A Rhinestone Cowboy
08/18/2009 18:48
That's really sweet, Gillian. I am sure y'all are creating so many wonderful memories already.
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02/05/2010 10:32
Thanks for this post. It's really interesting to me to read about other people's experiences of travelling as a couple. When I first travelled at 18 (alone) I was scathing of people would plan to travel with a partner, find the plans or the relationship fell through, or if they made it abroad they'd fight so much the trip would be ruined.
But having gotten into my own serious relationship, we completed our round the world travels after being together for 3 years. Before we left my feeling was - if this doesn't break us it'll only make us stronger. And it did. We fought only once in 4 months and that was about his decision to get a new tattoo...
I think you're exactly right. When you only have each other to depend on, your partnership can be wonderfully strengethed.
02/16/2010 05:47
Sarah, I agree - I definitely think traveling long-term isn't for someone just trying to test out a relationship but if you are serious about each other, it can only improve a relationship.
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03/04/2010 03:27
Malia
Great article, Akila, and I couldn't agree more. In my opinion, too often these days people forget to invest the time and energy in their marriage that they do in their career or friendships and fall into a feeling that love is "owed to them" by their partner and should be received gratuitously, effortlessly. Travel is an excellent way to reconnect with the person you originally fell in love with so many years ago. On a personal note, so glad I was able to witness the beginning of your love story with Patrick and so happy that the both of you continue to strengthen those ties that brought you together.
04/25/2010 10:32
Thanks Malia! I am convinced that travel has brought our marriage closer together because we work hard to be kind to each other on the road.
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02/16/2012 02:54
Thanks for reminding me how travel can bond two people in a relationship. I've always believed travel can make or break a relationship, but seem to see more examples of it breaking. In my own relationship travel has given me and my boyfriend a wealth of stories, jokes and fun times. Glad it has also strengthened your relationship with your husband. Happy travels!
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03/11/2012 17:32
Thanks Kathy! I have heard of a lot more stories about traveling strengthening a relationship than breaking it --- I think being with someone 24/7 brings either the good or the bad into sharp relief so it has to go one way or another.
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03/31/2012 07:37
Hi, thank you for the advice, I am 17 and my relationship aint that great. But the space advice is helping we are much more relaxed now and love the time we spend together. I also think that the advice on starting everything over was really well thought without this help I would not be with this beautiful girl :) Thank you so much!
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