She Said, He Said: Clearing your vacation guilt as easy as talking to your partner
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My wife and I both live in the valley and enjoy the different energy and tempo that comes with the shoulder seasons. The only challenge is that I work in the hospitality industry and am given several weeks off in October and April, but my wife’s job keeps her busy year-round, and she only gets two weeks of vacation every year. When the off-season rolls around, I’m itching to get out of town and go exploring, but she’s stuck here with work. She is as supportive of me taking time to myself as she can be, but I feel guilty when I go off on another adventure while she feels left behind. How do I make this situation more workable?
Signed, Time On My Hands
Jeff and Lori: We often get letters from couples who say they spend a lot of time together and don’t get the opportunity to have their own experiences and adventures. We understand your situation can create emotional and logistical challenges, but the benefits to the relationship can be well worth the effort to overcome them.
Lori: The key to navigating this is for each of you to be very clear about your stories, needs and feelings. If a situation in a marriage feels emotionally murky, that’s a good indication that more self-exploration and conversations are needed. What’s at the core of your guilt? In other words, what story do you have about your wife or your opportunity that is creating this feeling? You state that she is supportive of you, so perhaps your guilt is actually internally driven but being projected onto her. Is it possible that on some level, you don’t believe that you deserve to have this freedom? Or perhaps there is some other internal conflict around wanting to be able to travel but having friction with finances, responsibilities or other values that you’re unsure about shirking.
Invite your wife to explore all of the layers of this situation for her as well. Saying she’s “as supportive as she can be” isn’t actually saying much. Aside from missing out on fun or relaxation with you, are there other ways in which she perceives that your offseason adventures might negatively impact her? The more you’re clear on what her needs, wants and vulnerabilities are, the more thoughtful you can be in creating ease for both of you. Have conversations about and be mindful about the experiences she may want to share together. Make a commitment to her that you’ll prioritize your resources to use during her vacation time for the shared experiences that matter most to her and fill in the rest of your free time accordingly.
Jeff: One of the biggest challenges in relationships is maintaining a healthy balance between individuality and dependence — a dynamic often referred to as interdependence. Couples who spend too much time together can begin to lose parts of themselves, melding to one another’s needs and preferences. Other couples who spend too much time apart can lose their sense of their relational identities. It is important to note that time together or apart can be either physical or emotional (or a combination of both). Just because you log many hours with your spouse, there still may be an emotional void. The opposite is also true, where couples who have less clock time together can still create and maintain a deep and sustainable bond by making that time really count.
Couples who aren’t in the position of having significantly different schedules (like us, working together almost every day) must often create planned and deliberate time to spend apart in order to maintain this balance, so perhaps you can appreciate the opportunity you and your wife have been given. If you are willing to set an intention for the time you have apart, to explore more of your internal world while you simultaneously discover new places, you will return with a renewed sense of self that will enhance your relationship and the time you spend together. The old adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” might be more accurate if the absence includes the elements of meaning and purpose.
Lori and Jeff: Even the strongest marriages can be tested when there’s a difference in opportunity between partners. Not talking in depth can leave just enough ambiguity for resentment to breed. However, by inviting reflection and conversation, you create an opportunity to build emotional intimacy, clear your guilt, and truly make the most of your vacations together and apart.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.