It was six in the morning when I hopped into my plane seat with tense muscles and a big lump on my throat. My girlfriend and I were on our way back to Singapore from a 10-day road trip in Iceland, and I was furious at her.
We had a short but dreadful dispute before we boarded. It’s about something that had occurred a few times in the trip and It just had to happen again right before the trip ended. Previously, I would just shrug it off. But after it kept piling up, this time I thought, I had to address it. My plan was to broach the subject when the plane took off. But just as I finished drafting what to say in my mind, she held my hand, initiated the conversation and broke to tears.
Turned out, I was not the only one who feel angered. She too, felt hurt about how I behaved in the trip. Apparently I had only been seeing things from my shoes all along and was clueless about how the certain things I did had affected her in such a profound way.
At the beginning of the trip, my girlfriend had warned me about how she’s heard many times that travelling could make or break a relationship. I took it with a pinch of salt because we had spent so much time together I didn’t think going overseas together would be that big of a deal. If you and your partner lived together, went out almost everyday or thought you shared every secret with one another, you too, might think that traveling as a couple makes no difference to what you experience on the day to day. Having experienced it myself, I can assure you that it makes TONS of difference. This is how:
You focus on your partner 24/7. On the day to day, even when you claim that you are always with your partner, you are not always with your partner. You check your phone, do your work, read etc. You constantly get distracted from focusing on who you are with at the present time. When you travel however, specifically for an extended period of time and with minimal access to the internet, your get to pay full attention to your partner. Well, because your partner is the person you wake up to, talk to, eat, sleep, and do everything together with the entire trip. Eventually, you start noticing all the small things; what she does before sleep, things she constantly talks about or how her face changes when she’s upset. You will see new, tiny habits, traits and routines of your partner that you will either love or hate.
Your converse with and only with your partner. Simply because there’s no one else in that foreign land that you know and can have proper conversation with. When you are put in that situation, you get to explore all kinds of subjects you don’t usually talk about with your partner. As a result, you get a fresher perspective about your partners’s values, beliefs and dreams. I find myself opening up a lot more to my girlfriend during the trip. I poured out almost anything that crossed my mind because there’s no one else to share my thoughts or satisfy my curiosity with (such as Google). Most of the time ironically, we didn’t talk much. Eventually, you will run out of things to talk about and be trapped in hours of silence. And it’s a good thing. You will find out whether you can enjoy the silence with your partner’s presence while still feeling comfortable being around each other.
You see the unseen version of your partner. Being in a foreign land with many things that you are not familiar with, you’re bound to run into stressful situations: you get lost, you forget things, your car breaks down. In such circumstances, you start seeing patterns of your partner truly behaves. When you go on dates, you always want to make the best impression of yourself and keep your partner happy. Maybe you hold in things that annoy you or you’ve read some books and changed a few things about yourself to be the best version of you. But when you’re together with someone 24/7 for that many days, especially when the pressure is on, it’s hard to contain any feelings or to be perfect. You’re forced to be yourself. You will react and do things based on your true nature and it might not be pretty.
Essentially, you will discover the full-range, authentic version of your partner. And most importantly, you learn about you: the not-so-nice things you do, how you behave around your partner, and how much you care about that person. You learn a lot about compromising. After seeing everything, how much are you willing to accept, change or improve about yourself and your partner to make the relationship work?
It was in that moment, when we had our raw, honest conversation about what we liked, not liked, and how to become a better partner that we got closer than ever and truly bonded as a couple. We opened up about each other values, weaknesses, moments where we felt most loved, how things could have been handled differently and how to love each other better. In the end, we left the country becoming a more accepting, empathetic and stronger couple than before.
Our main takeaway from this trip is to to always be upfront about how we feel about each other, at the moment we feel the need to say it. Our tearful conversation could have been avoided had we addressed what bothered us as it happened rather than waiting for everything to accumulate and suffocate ourselves till the end. I like what my girlfriend suggested: to ask each other at the end of the day, “What can I improve about myself today?”. Being a human, or Asian, we like to avoid the tiniest chance of offending people, so we often ended up burying our feelings. It’s not healthy for relationships. It’s toxic. As you continue bottling up your emotions, you will act differently, disengage yourself from spending time with your partner and react negatively to the things your he/she says. You’ll make matters worse that they actually were at the first place.
Instead, ask each other what can you two improve on that day. By expressing your feelings, you stop justifying your partner actions, problems get solved and life becomes easier. Not only you are relieving yourself, you are also helping your partner become a better person. Most of the time, like me, your partner has no clue about what they did to irritate you. Hence by bringing this self-awareness to them, you are not only saving your relationships but also your partner’s relationship with whoever he/she might piss off in the future.
If you’re scared to travel with your other half after reading this post, don’t be. In fact, I hope you feel more encouraged take the test. Take this as the opportunity to truly learn about how you and your partner could co-exist together. After all, if your partner would eventually become someone you live, sleep and share your life with forever, it’s a good idea to see if you guys could even survive a couple days together.