A few weeks before our first wedding anniversary, my husband, Rich, called me at work to announce that he was surprising me with a weekend away to mark the milestone. He refused to disclose the destination but promised to provide me with a list of the clothes I needed to pack. Every night until our departure, I nagged him for information until finally he revealed that we were off to Hilton Head, S.C.
Spending a long weekend away — riding bicycles, lying on the beach, eating by candlelight, and learning to golf — was a chance to relax, have fun, and celebrate being in love.
It was so much fun that going away together to celebrate our May anniversary became an annual ritual (and excuse) to spend time together away from home.
Fast-forward 29 years and we’ve had annual precious getaways — from short (one night) to long (one week), in places near (Manhattan) and far (Morocco) — that have revitalized our bond, emotionally and physically.
We’ve had to overcome a variety of concerns over the years: Can we afford to take a trip now? Are we able to get time off from work? Who will stay with the kids? What if something happens to one of our aging parents?
Early in our marriage, it was our work schedules and finances that most often influenced the destination. But the “where to go” took on less importance after our first child, Nicole, arrived, five-and-a-half years after our wedding. Still determined to take our anniversary trip, we asked my parents to watch our almost 6-month-old and drove from our New York City home to a hotel in Connecticut where we spent the weekend playing tennis, getting massages, and sleeping a lot.
Anxious about being separated from Nicole, we checked in often with my parents by phone, but we knew this time was a sacred, and increasingly rare, chance to be alone. We laughed and talked about what was going on in our work lives — with no diapers, no bottles, no cries in the middle of the night.
Our family of three soon became four, making getting away trickier. We moved to the suburbs when Emily was born, and we employed a part-time babysitter who was kind enough to stay with the kids and my parents while we were gone. My mother and father were great for affection and playtime, but the sitter knew the routines and would drive Nicole to preschool and take Emily to the park.
By the time Simon came along four years later, my parents were no longer able to help out because of health issues. So we recruited a nearby cousin along with my mother-in-law, who was particularly keen on cooking for everyone at home as well as the rest of the neighborhood.
On date nights at home, Rich and I enjoy trying novel things — sampling a new food, riding our bikes along the Hudson River, or taking in an innovative theater performance.
That spirit continues during our annual trips. We have found adventure by hiking in Arizona, paddleboarding in Mexico, and kayaking in Croatia.
In Morocco, we once found ourselves chatting on a bus with a university student, who invited us to his home. Slightly out of our comfort zone but not wanting to seem rude, we accepted his offer to drink tea with his family and tour his university. Rich and I love to reminisce about that experience, and the ceramic camel our Moroccan friend gave us still sits in our living room as a reminder of that time.
“One of the ways to cultivate harmonious passion as a couple is to seek out new adventures together,” says Suzann Pileggi Pawelski, coauthor with her husband, James Pawelski, PhD, of Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. In their book, they cite research showing that engaging in fun and novel activities can increase mutual attraction and promote a healthy passion in intimate relationships.
Experiences of any kind are memories made together. Sometimes, when Rich and I become distracted with the fast pace of daily life, I’ll look at photos of one of our trips or think about a place we’ve been together and get excited about the adventures that lie ahead.
In our family, there are constant interruptions — the humans always checking their devices, the dogs barking. The incessant noise is what makes home life wonderful and, at times, irritating. It also makes the long meals and lazy mornings during our travels sweeter. That’s when we get to check in, ask questions, mindfully listen to the answers, and simply be with one another — even in relaxing silence.
Over the years there have been times when I wondered how Rich and I would carry on conversations during our impending days of solitude. But once we were away, I’d remember what sparked our initial love and discover new things about him, such as his feelings about a family event or his hopes to take on a new hobby.
“Being curious and asking questions is key,” explains Pileggi Pawelski. “People fall into ruts and think they know their partners, but we are always growing.”
Savoring the Time Together
For Peter and Barbara Himler, the connection begins well before the vacation starts. “We love planning our trips together, discovering how to get to different destinations and what we’ll do along the way,” says Peter. “Barbara plans the activities, and I research hotels and figure out how to use points for air travel.”
Sharing their ideas and their desires is a chance to savor the experience they’re embarking on. “A lot of us miss moments of connection, and at the end of the day, our lives are made up of small moments,” says Pileggi Pawelski. “Happy and satisfied couples appreciate the moments rather than wait for momentous occasions.”
Like the Himlers, I get excited planning our annual trips and anticipate them more as I dig into the research. Rich, on the other hand, doesn’t think about it until the day of departure. But once we’re away, he lets me know how grateful he feels that I’ve planned the trip.
The stresses of our day-to-day schedules sometimes prevent us from expressing our gratitude and rather have us focusing on each other’s flaws. Time away is an ideal opportunity to acknowledge your partner’s contributions and savor the moments you spend together.
Complementing Your Partner
Some of the travels we’ve taken depended on our interests, while others were contingent on our phase in life. For example, we both love to ski, making a trip to Park City, Utah, a great four-day destination. But when I was pregnant with Simon and not feeling very energetic, we chose a trip to London for some urban culture and museum hopping. I appreciate when Rich is a good sport about my art-inspired interests, and I reciprocate whenever possible, such as by spending an afternoon at a baseball game in San Francisco.
“It’s most important that people remember who they are as individuals — that it’s ‘you complement me’ versus ‘you complete me,’” says Pileggi Pawelski. She suggests picking activities that you can both enjoy and switching them up from time to time so it doesn’t get boring.
One of the most charming aspects of our time away, though, is that we don’t have to plan unless we want to. Long walks without destinations have led us to uncharted territory and interesting discoveries — including an indoor food market in New York City and a hidden memorial statue in Paris. We’ve stayed in bed and watched a movie because it was drizzling, or taken a nap because we were tired.
On a recent trip with her boyfriend, Elizabeth Salamon, a theater producer from Brooklyn, N.Y., found that flexibility invigorating. She and Chris were en route to their next hotel destination in northern Italy when they stopped at a small market to ask directions. The owners were so friendly and engaging that they spent nearly an hour chatting and looking at the Italian family’s photos of their trip to America. Then they decided to change plans, buy food at the market, and stop on their drive to have a picnic.
“We’re so scheduled when we’re back at home, but when we travel I love the feeling of letting the day unfold without predictability,” says Salamon. “I got to see a spontaneous side of my boyfriend that I wasn’t used to seeing.”
Expecting the Unexpected
Our annual journeys have not always been blissful. On a trip to Northern California, we fought constantly during a bike ride through a valley (and over many hills). The only bike available for rent was a tandem — so we were stuck on one bicycle with two seats.
While I yelled at Rich to slow down, he shouted at me to stop braking. That was a tough day, but we have since laughed about it many times, realizing that humor can be an effective remedy for meaningless arguments.
Fun has also turned problematic. Our sunny beach weekend in Cape May, N.J., was inundated with nonstop, torrential rain, so we spent most of it drinking wine on the front porch of our bed and breakfast. We met another couple there and together we drank, ate pizza, played games, and got so loud late into the night that the owner asked us to pack our stuff and check out. It wasn’t what we’d planned, but it made for another shared memory that keeps us connected all these years later. And that’s what these trips — and life — are all about.
This originally appeared as “Time to Reconnect” in the November 2018 print issue of Experience Life.