Only a few weeks ago Ben Affleck mentioned the difficulty of marriage in his Oscar winning acceptance speech.
“I want to thank you [Jennifer] for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good. It is work, but the best kind of work and there’s no one I’d rather work with.”
It was a bizarre statement to make for the setting, but I think it was an honest look at marriage and the reality of love.
Marriage is tough. It’s long term day in day out, nose to the grind constant work. Every decision you make is centered on what is best for each other, not just for yourself-difficult, as by nature we are pretty selfish.
You get sick of the sacrifice and often, when you are tired, resentful, angry, frustrated and unhappy, a return to singledom looks so inviting.
These feelings are pretty normal.
Rarely are we told about the difficulties of marriage and long-term relationships and how to work through them. It’s all romance and weddings, blissfully rocking babies to sleep (ha ha ha), and happily swinging in the rocking chairs during the retirement prime. (Except for me it would be a hammock, and trust me, I’d be in it because I won the hour-long argument for shotgun rights.)
Craig and I have been married 11 years today.
They have been bloody great years, but there have been moments when I thought we wouldn’t make it.
We’ve had financial difficulties and lifestyle constraints that have brought a lot of inner turmoil and suffering. You know the type that says run and start all over again. The statistics say that 1/3 of marriages faced with crises such as these would fall apart.
But we haven’t and I truly believe that the strength of our bond comes from our life of travel.
Travelling long-term with your partner can definitely break you, but here’s why I think often makes you instead.
Benefits of Long term travel on relationships
You learn how to put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies
I can’t stand how he sits on a toilet for 20 minutes and it drives him nuts how I always leave the butter out (Yes Mum, I know it drives you crazy too).
Think of the mile-long list you have of things that annoy you about your partner. When you travel 24/7 there is no escaping the irritants, you just have to learn to live with them. We’ve learned to work around these annoyances and adapt to them.
They still drive us nuts, but not enough to take us to the divorce courts. We’ve learned to make fun of them and love each other regardless. (but really 20 minutes?)
You get to know what lies at the heart of your partner
When you travel everything else in your life gets stripped away: possessions are stored in boxes, friendships are placed on hiatus, and expectations placed upon by others are gone.
For the first time in your life, you can be yourself.
Suddenly you get to know the real heart of your partner (and that can be where relationships turn south! At least it can save you years of heartache finding out later).
Once you know what lies at the core of your partner, it is difficult to not see that when you return home and go through trials and tribulations.
Everything becomes yours
There is no longer any separation of what is mine and yours, except for your clothes and I do have a habit of wearing his UNC sweaters and spilling food on it at the worst times!
You now own little and life becomes about experiencing moments together. You’ve spent months planning and saving and now your combined dream is being played out.
You don’t have girls and guys nights out. The friendships you form along the way are now your common friends.
You start to morph into this one person—which can be kinda scary. But don’t fear, you don’t have to lose your identity, more like take on a second one.
Two souls become one and that one can be the unifying strength you need to get through any major relationship hurdles in the years to come.
You have memories to fall back on
This is one of the biggest saving graces for our marriage. 11 years of travel has given us a solid memory bank to pull us through.
“Look at all we have done during our relationship. We can’t throw that away!”
In times of stress we can quickly recall that time we went horse riding in Bryce Canyon, or to bring more laughter in our life the time we rode ostriches in Africa, or when we just want to feel chilled, the Jack Johnson concert in the forest by the lake in Raleigh.
I couldn’t ever imagine the memories of incredible adventures in over 40 countries and setting up homes in 5 different countries, suddenly disappear. As we say on this blog it is all about the memories!
Travel more. Create better memories.
You learn how to work through challenges together
Think of most of the challenges that pop up in your life: work, family, friendships, unhappiness. A large percentage of it is individual problems where one has to help the other, it’s not often something both of you have to solve together.
When you are travelling the problems are yours to share. So again, you become that one person. That one mind has to be able to split to see the other’s needs, but bring it back to what is best for the one goal. How can the one mind use each other’s strength to come to the best solutions?
Your lover becomes your best friend
There are not many other distractions. It’s just you and him. You have to work to keep the lover part to your relationship going, but soon enough you have more than that—a best friend.
People find it weird that Craig and I do almost everything together and I tell him everything. Why? He’s my best friend. I actually enjoying hanging out with him.
When I have a problem, Craig is the first person I turn to to help me solve it. I trust he’ll support and encourage me and give it to me straight. I know this, as for most of our marriage I have only had him to rely on. There’s a lot of strength in that trust and support.
You’re forced to deal with it and find the solution
Marriage is an easy thing to get out of, 72 days after the wedding you can decide you’ve gotten to know this person too much and those irritating things are too much to bear forever!
There are no divorce courts you can run to when you are sitting in the tray in a pick-up truck on a dusty road in the middle of nowhere in Africa and the wheel falls off mid turn. There are no counselors to steer you past the crash collision course brought on by frustration, tiredness and budget travel fed-upness. You have to find a way to deal with it.
You vent, swear, pick up your backpack and storm off. And storm until the anger diminishes and you realize you don’t like trying to figure this out on your own.
So you both come together – volatile feelings in check – heck you might even have a bit of a giggle at your predicament.
You sheepishly scuff your feet in the dirt and try to work out what next. And then you erupt into fits of laughter when 10 minutes later that old rusted crumbling pick-up truck comes bumbling down the track, wheel back on and ready to pick you up and continue on your journey. (only to break down 30 minutes later, but by this time you are cuddling again)
You work together as a team
Strong teammates play to their strengths and support each other’s weaknesses. They inspire, encourage and motivate.
On our travels, we have participated in many adventurous activities. We relied on each other to make it through. Craig always using his strength to help carry me over the line, protect me, and encourage me to keep pushing through. It was that same we-are-in-this-together strength that got me through childbirth twice.
Mentally, when things got too much, whoever was in the clearer frame of mind could bring clarity to the moment and help the other to refocus.
A long-term relationship will only survive if you see yourself as moving towards a common goal as a team.
You’re visiting the world’s most romantic places
Travel presents you with ample opportunities to have the romantic moments every couple needs: camping under the stars on the Great Rift escarpment in Malawi, watching sunrises on the world’s tallest sand dunes, picnicking under the Eiffel tower, or bike riding through the Yangshuo countryside.
Variety is the spice of life—you know it!
You’re doing what you love
I think I can safely assume that by travelling the world together you are both doing what you love.
There will be compromises and you may have to ride the odd camel to help your partner check off their bucket list, but at least you are filled with happiness to know you are helping to fill their cup.
Joy is a powerful glue–the most magical of all emotions.
Think about those joyful experiences you have had with your family and friends. The laughter of them for years to come is what holds you together. When you travel there is an overabundance of joyful emotions – that is some sticking glue!
I also feel safe in saying people are generally better when they travel, because they are doing what they love. They are looking after their own interests, discovering new things, learning more about themselves, exploring beautiful parts of the earth and meeting new people.
The wowser moments just keep coming and sharing them with you is your partner. There’s nothing better than doing what you love beside the person who is also doing what they love and together you love each other.
How many loves were just in that sentence? Enough to get the picture.
Sure, there is the risk that travelling the world with your partner could be the recipe for disaster, but so could staying at home. The recipe for a solid relationship could be building a settled life together too. But, I believe travel can build a deep foundation that will hold you steady during those rocky times.
We all need a firm foundation and solid steel pylons to hold the walls of the house together.
Happy Anniversary Craig. 11 years of 24/7 with you has been tough wonderful. Sure don’t ever get sick of you!
Can you get off the toilet now? ( I need you to put the butter away).
Our travel story in podcast
- Episode 1: Solo Travel and Working Abroad before we met
- Episode 2: Our 5 year honeymoon living and traveling the world
- Episode 3: The Dark times and Birth of the girls and travel blog
- Episode 4: Embracing Family Travel and our 18 month Australian road trip
- Episode 5: Getting a green card and traveling the US (our dream realized)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how travel can strengthen a long-term relationship or marriage? Do you have other tips for keeping the love strong? When has it been tested for you and how did you pull through OR did travel break your relationship?