There are all kinds of sources for marriage advice out there: magazines, books, videos, seminars. And the marriage gurus dole out lots of advice. Granted, some of their tips are things that take nerve and willful determination to put into practice in your marriage. (I can't imagine my husband and me actually putting a "love jar" on our dining room table or discussing things while sitting knee-touching-knee in two straight-backed chairs!) But there's one marriage advice standby that I'm ready and willing to put into practice: the recommendation for couples to get away together. Thanks—I'd love to!
Getaway weekends or vacations are great for your marriage. When you hit the road—just the two of you and just for fun—you're building your marriage for today and for your future together.
You Belong Together
My husband, David, and I undertook our first road trip together before we were even engaged. I helped him drive his ancient, rusty Buick stuffed with most of his earthly possessions from Chicago to Oklahoma City, where he was starting graduate school. It was a depressing trip: my boyfriend was moving 800 miles away, and then two car-repair incidents turned what should've been a fourteen-hour trip into a twenty-two-hour one. When, at 4:00 a.m., we drove into the driveway of the family we planned to stay with, I felt like jumping out of that Buick and kissing the driveway. Later, David told me he thought it was a great test of our relationship. If we could spend a stressful twenty-two hours together without wanting to kill each other, our future looked pretty bright.
Getting away together reinforces your sense of belonging to one another. You get away from your families, your church friends, your work, and neighborhood contacts, and it's just the two of you ready to share adventures. You zip down the road (or rails or airways) in your own little world. Everything else is "out there."
Then, whatever happens on your trip together, happens to the two of you as a team.
David and I have had our walks on the wild side—and we've learned some interesting things about each other in the process. Once, when we had a flat along a lonely stretch of road at about 2:00 a.m., a verifiable psycho stopped to "help" us. My normally gentle husband whispered to me, "Pick up the shovel, and don't put it down until he's gone."
Your time away together gives your personalities free reign for a while. The two of you can make those travel hours your own in whatever ways you like best: sing along with your favorite music, listen to books on cassette, play serious or silly car games (we play Password and Auto Bingo and word games).
Remember Why You Got Married in the First Place
My friend Betty claims her getaway weekends with her husband, Jon, remind them of what they like about each other. She says being alone with Jon takes her "back to pre-kid days and even dating days." Since they live in Alabama, they make a short trip to Montgomery for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, where they stay in a historic bed-and-breakfast called "The Lattice Inn."
Remember when you were dating and you made all that time for each other, staying up late talking and organizing fun dates with each other? A getaway vacation gives you that same opportunity for talking and playing. It recreates that time when the focus was just on knowing each other better and liking what you discover.
My friend Lynn says that trips with her husband remind her of their many differences—differences she's glad about. "If I were married to me, I'd have a boring, boring life," she says. "I'd have everything planned and scheduled and marked off in the guidebook. With Mark, you never know what a day will bring. It's wonderful." After a few overscheduled trips (like a meticulously planned trip to colonial Williamsburg) completely backfired, Mark and Lynn decided to get away with "low expectations." Their favorite vacation ever was a few years ago when they traveled from their coastal California home to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. "We had no idea how far that was, having come up with the idea in our backyard without actually looking at a map. It sounded like a fun destination—and it was," says Lynn.
They don't like to plan too much ahead of time. "Inevitably we don't want to leave someplace we're scheduled to leave, or we want to go but we've committed for a certain amount of time and feel stuck," Lynn explains. "Of course, our method does have risks. On the first night of our Mount Rushmore trip, we drove and drove all day and made it all the way to Salt Lake City, but we couldn't find a hotel in our price range. We wound up 'sleeping' that night in a parking lot." Also, she warns, it's harder to hit popular vacation spots that get booked up early unless you plan ahead, but they try to avoid tourist hot spots, anyway. "Allowing a trip just to happen and see where the mood takes us makes for happy campers," says Lynn. "It's wonderful having so much uninterrupted time together."
Lynn makes a good point about uninterrupted time together. It's great for getting past the logistical interactions (what's for dinner, who needs the car when, which of you is going to walk the dog or feed the baby) down to how you're both feeling about things.
On our last road trip together, with no phone to interrupt or household tasks to distract us, David and I had time to get around to how he's really feeling about his job and how I'm really doing balancing freelance work with mothering. We talked about how we felt about our level of busy-ness with church activities. David went so far as to ask something very directly about my marital satisfaction and what—if anything—I thought needed to change. It's not that we never talk like this at home; we do occasionally pull a late-nighter to talk about things. It's just that we rarely have the kind of time that a trip allows us to dig into topics more deeply.
Your time away from work and church and family pressures is an ideal time to gauge whether you're tackling your day-to-day stresses as a team and where your marriage needs fine-tuning.
Dream a Little Dream
That uninterrupted time can lead to sharing your hopes for your future. Blue-sky dreaming about what might be is great for reinforcing your sense of commitment to each other. You're daring to see the years ahead with you in it together, helping each other realize your most cherished hopes.
Mona and Jeff are two of our closest friends. They actually met each other through their involvement with the youth group at their church, and they continued reaching out to young people even after they married. It was a group of teens who splurged and gave them a two-night stay at a romantic hotel—something that practical Jeff and Mona would probably never have spent time and money on. Great things came out of that getaway weekend for them. It was during their time away that Jeff first dreamed out loud about building a house that would suit all their family and ministry pursuits. He would act as the contractor himself and do as much of the work as possible to keep costs down, but they would be sure to include space for guests (since they often had teenagers, missionaries, and Mona's parents living with them), a great room for big get-togethers (especially for the young people), and extra heated garages where Jeff could work on cars (an ever-increasing service to friends). Today, they live in what we like to call "the house that Jeff built."
Even more wonderful, today Jeff and Mona are parents to a darling two-year-old named Kayla—a treasured import from China. It was on that getaway weekend that Mona and Jeff, who had long felt satisfied with parenting the teen foster children who lived with them, opened up the subject of adoption and first came up with the idea to seek out a Chinese daughter.
Part of being married is cherishing each other's dreams. Those dreams can only come to the surface and find their way into your joint plans if you make time together to share them.
Hit the Road
I like to call Tim and Tiffany, who live with their four children in Appleton, Wisconsin, "the Honeymooners." For their real honeymoon, they splurged on a trip to Mexico. When Tiffany would worry, "But it's so expensive!" Tim would tell her, "Hey! You only have a honeymoon once."
But on the final day of their trip, Tim said, "This has been the best week of my life. We should do this every year!"
It was a good idea. And although they haven't managed to get back to their honeymoon location every year, they've come close. "Our friends think we're crazy," Tiffany says. "Maybe they're using their savings for a nicer car or a bigger house. We go on vacations. We need it to keep that 'newlywedded-ness.'"
Tiffany and Tim can tell you how timely those getaways have been when things have been really stressful for them. They're putting their time and money where their commitment lies: with each other.
It doesn't have to cost much money. You might even find a free or cheap cabin to stay in, or you could try traveling—as we did for our tenth anniversary—to a destination less than an hour from home. It will cost you time, but the investment will pay off. So get out your Palm Pilots or the kitchen calendar and mark off a few days just for the two of you.
Annette LaPlaca, a freelance writer in the Chicago area, doesn't get away with David as often as she'd like. But this fall, they're going to borrow a friend's cabin in Door County, Wisconsin.
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