Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT has been a therapist for over 30 years, specializing in work with couples, families and relationships. She has expertise with clients
My husband, John, also a family therapist, and I just returned from a week on the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy. How wonderful it was to have a break from the daily routine, have new experiences and enjoy the beauty and food of Italy and the warmth and friendliness of the residents of Italy‘s South.
In thinking about our trip, 3 days later, and as jet lag is slowly dissipating, we are reminded again about how often we learn that vacations help couples move from a tough spot to a better place, at least temporarily.
The reasons for this are many and varied. One of the main reasons is that a good trip can engender a boost in that important 5 to 1 ratio, 5 positives for every 1 negative.
John Gottman, Phd, the University of Washington researcher on qualities of healthy marriages, noted that couples in healthy relationships have that 5:1 ratio. When there are disagreements or tough times, couples with that ratio have so many positive things going on in their relationship and that they notice in each other that they are easily able to resolve differences and not get so far off track in their marriage.
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It is easy to find things to like while on a vacation. People can be more relaxed, less worried about everyday life, and generally in a better mood. Laughter, exercise and sex (as there usually is more sex) engender a release of oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Couples get more connected.
We also know that new experiences can cause positive changes in brain chemistry similar to, although not as powerful as, that brought about with new love or an affair. Couples who try new things and have different experiences report more positive feelings about their marriage and each other. Hard to get bored when you are talking about what has been new and different in your lives.
Set realistic expectations and begin with a good attitude.
It is important to begin with a good attitude and a positive belief about your partner and your marriage. For many couples who are in a stressful and unhappy marriage, being alone together only magnifies the distance and the unhappiness that they feel in their marriage.
Start off by setting realistic expectations and go with a positive attitude. Vacations do not solve serious marriage problems; however, they can help couples rediscover what they liked about each other and what helped them fall in love.
Optimism can be contagious. Half of a couple can make a difference in the whole. Looking for and focusing on the good while on the trip can help change your partner’s approach as well.
Keep the positive feelings and memories going after you return home.
Frame a picture or keep a memento close at hand. When feeling distant, revisit the memories and talk about what you liked about yourselves and each other.
Tom and Sandy met several other couples on their resort trip last year. The couples connected well with each other and exchanged email addresses. After their return, the couples have shared photos and stories of their trip as well as sharing stories of their lives today.
Tom and Sandy now make it a nightly ritual to sit down together and read email from their travel buddies. Both said that it really helps them to remember their trip and the good time that they had. They remarked that the trip was a turning point for them and for their marriage.
John and I returned to work today, refreshed and renewed and really looking forward to beginning a new week with wonderful Americans.
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