The Joy of Married Travel
Travel can put extra strain on a marriage. Being the same old couple in a new and different place is a disorienting experience. All too often, when people don't know where they are, have jet lag, can't speak the language, figure out the money or maintain intestinal regularity, they get hostile. And, since they don't know anybody else in Kyoto to take it out on, they take it out on each another. Because couples therapy is rarely available on vacation, it's important to be aware in advance of the special challenges associated with traveling while married.
Just deciding where to go can often test the marriage's flexibility. One wants to do something physical and adventurous, like trying to outrun molten lava down a volcano; the other prefers something more restful, even spiritual, like raking gravel in a Buddhist monastery. Taking turns is only fair -- this vacation, run down the volcano; next year, rake.
Negotiating what time to leave for the airport can be trickier. I think we need to leave enough time to get lost at least once, run out of gas and get stuck in traffic. I also emphasize the distinct possibility that my bridge work might set off the security alarm and they'll have to do a strip search, for which we need to add on at least another ten minutes. My husband Larry prefers the excitement of the photo finish. Dashing across the tarmac as they're rolling away the stairs, is Larry's idea of "right on time." The inevitable, mutual rage with which we begin each trip only helps us to appreciate better the good times that lie ahead.
Neatness counts when you're traveling married. Often husband and wife have different comfort levels with regard to orderliness. We've resolved ours. The minute I enter a hotel room I mentally divide it into "his" and "her" sides. I stake out my side of the room, my side of the bed, and my night table where I put my book and my watch and my key to the room and anything else I want to be able to find.
I carefully unpack, hang up my clothing in my half of the closet and put the foldable items in my allotment of large and small bureau drawers. Then I go into the bathroom and line up my pharmaceuticals on my half of the glass shelf, most of which, it may come as no surprise, are prescription drugs meant to relieve anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
Meanwhile, while helping himself lavishly from the mini bar, Larry is tossing belts over the back of his chair, emptying the contents of his pockets on his night table, abandoning shirts on his lampshades, and dropping wet towels on his side of the bed.
Travel, for all its spontaneous joys, can disrupt a couple's lifelong routines. Waiting until 11 p.m. to have dinner in Madrid is one thing; waiting for the bathroom in your own hotel room where you're supposed to be on vacation is quite another. A four bedroom, two-and-a-half bath colonial marriage can crack under the pressure. What kind of lower intestinal droit du seigneur makes him feel entitled to go first and bring a book?
As sociologists have observed, men tend to stop talking when they get married. They take this penchant for muteness with them when they travel. A woman's efforts to bring her husband out of his shell with "How was your day" may jump start him at the dinner table at home, but it won't work on vacation, because you've both had the same day.
In anticipation of such a circumstance, many couples choose to travel with another couple; others hope for a chance encounter with a couple they know from home, or a couple they don't know from home, or a couple they know but don't particularly like from home. It doesn't matter. Embrace them enthusiastically. Invite them to join you for dinner.
The introduction of a new female and another alpha male into the dinner table society causes the men to revert to their talkative, flirty, funny pre-marital selves. What a delightful evening! What a nice couple they are! What a nice couple we are! You decide to get together when you both get home.
The vacation's over. You're in the terminal; the bags are checked. If the marriage can make it through the airport shops, you're home duty-free. Traveling while married has given you the opportunity to share moments of rare intimacy you might never have enjoyed had you stayed at home -- like sex. Buckle up, settle back and relax. A marriage is at its best at an altitude of 35,000 feet on its way home from vacation.
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