- Couples are struggling to remain together after the pandemic because of heightened levels of stress and need for privacy.
- Couples that take separate vacations may get their individual needs met and come back to their relationships with appreciation
- The decision to vacation with your spouse, with friends, or alone, should reflect what you personally need to rejuvenate.
- When less stressed, we are more likely to have the energy to invest in our relationships.
Airplanes are full again and with summer coming, vacations are being booked at a frantic pace. That change left me wondering, should couples plan some travel time together, or would intimate relationships benefit from some time apart? The answer is more complicated given the pandemic has affected our sexuality and experiences of intimacy in many different ways.
Like many others, I expected the pandemic to produce a baby boom as folks suddenly had plenty of time at home and fewer opportunities to distract themselves. But stress got in the way. A recent review of 19 scientific papers on the impact of the pandemic on our sex lives reported a generally negative trend in the overall well-being of couples with many not having survived the pandemic well at all. Social isolation, limits on movement, forced cohabitation and a lack of access to our informal social networks (and the reprieve they offer from a tense relationship) have all had a negative influence on the sex lives of couples.
Couples that were already experiencing relationship strain before the pandemic, and those in professions like health care, have experienced especially hard times during the past two years, as have couples with children still at home who were sandwiched between the triple threat of work, childcare, and homeschooling. More of the stress burden landed on the shoulders of women, who reported even more dissatisfaction with sex than their heterosexual partners.
On the plus side, couples that reported being happy with their partners, those that experienced more boredom, more free time, and fewer recreational opportunities all found greater satisfaction through sex. Clearly, though, they are the minority. Instead, the majority of people experienced the pandemic as a source of anxiety and worry that put a distance between themselves and their partners, a situation made worse by one’s housing situation and lack of privacy.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
With these competing trends, what kind of vacation should couples plan to ensure a more resilient, sustainable relationship? The answer: “It depends.” Before deciding whether to travel with friends (or on your own) or with your spouse, make an honest assessment of your current relationship, and don’t be pressured into doing what others tell you to do.
- Is your relationship still strong?
- Is your stress level high, and does being with your spouse decrease or increase your stress?
- Has your sex life been good or lousy during the past six months?
- Does spending time with your spouse lift your mood or make you feel bored, listless, or unhappy?
Notice, I haven’t asked if you love your spouse. We can love someone who has grown too familiar. We can love someone and still need time away from them.
Depending on your answers, you may want to take time away from your spouse or cuddle with them at a resort far from home. The trick to knowing which vacation option is the best is to make a frank assessment of what you need individually and then consider what you think your relationship needs.
Time away or with friends shouldn’t threaten a relationship. It might even give a fragile relationship a more stable base to stand on, creating the space necessary to decrease conflict and make spouses appreciate each other much more when they’re back together. If you’ve found a crushing need for more privacy or time out from the stress caused by juggling your needs and the needs of everyone else in your family, then some time away may be just what is required to feel rejuvenated and ready to reconnect with your spouse.
However, if you really miss time with your spouse and have found the past two years a chaotic period of endless and exhausting demands then a vacation together may be the solution to reconnecting (especially if screens are turned off and the kids get parked at the grandparents). If you are more lonely than stressed, then by all means plan a couple’s getaway and rekindle the intimacy.
Different Spouses, Different Needs
There is one problem, of course. Too often there is a mismatch between spouses. What one spouse needs requires the other spouse to compromise. Here again, there is no good solution. The best we can do is be true to ourselves and communicate clearly to our partners what we need. If that is time away, then so be it. If that is time with them (and they want to vacation on their own) then maybe it means giving each other space first and then coming back together for a planned reunion. After such an unusually stressful two years, the worst thing we can do for our relationships is to continue to compromise and not take the kind of vacation we need personally.
Whether you jet off together, with friends, or alone, be sure it is the right solution to strengthen your individual capacity to recover. The better you feel, the better your relationship is likely to become. If after the vacation, the relationship is still emotional or conflicted, then that is a clue to start a very different conversation. There will be many relationships that don’t survive the hardships of the past two years. Yours needn’t be one of them.
Eleuteri, S., Alessi, F., Petruccelli, F., & Saldino, V. (2022). The global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on individuals’ and couples’ sexuality. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.798260