If you want to genuinely understand your spouse, try working, living and traveling with him on a long-term basis.
We have friends back home who claim that spending a two-week holiday together with their spouses wouldn’t be a happy vacation at all. The stress from such situation is bound to surely challenge their marriage.
Well, leaving our home country, traveling, working, and living together location independently for over a year now is a much more heightened experience than we have ever imagined.
I’ve been a little quiet about this topic, with the exception of our recent post about our first year of travel: The Good, Bad, and Ugly, because it has taken a lot of time to process how our relationship has evolved — for the good and the bad.
In our past lives, when we were still living in Toronto, we used to see each other for only a few hours each day.
Here’s how our day would unfold back then:
In the morning, we chatted about who was going to hit the shower first before work. I biked to my office while Troy started his workday heading up to the den to work on his video editing projects. We saw each other at dinner time, usually around 7 pm. We talked about our day, and often, we sunk onto the couch to watch a Netflix series on Troy’s computer and unwind with a bottle of wine. We kissed each other goodnight and started the next day again in our separate careers.
“How was your day, honey?” I’d say. “Not bad. Hey, what do you want to do for dinner tonight?” Troy would ask. “Ah, I don’t know. Let’s just go out,” I’d suggest, fixated on an email I had just received from a client. These were regular bits of surface conversations that Troy and I used to exchange with one another.
Boy has our relationship changed.
Now, we see each other every waking hour.
It’s now 423 days into our new dream life. We see each other every day. We run a business together. We travel together and we often work in the same apartment or guesthouse, depending on where we live.
In fact, almost all of our waking hours are spent together since we shifted to a planned lifestyle of location-independence and started this new way of life together.
When we were planning this new lifestyle, we had no idea how this living arrangement would pan out. We just knew that we wanted a kind of life we could dictate for ourselves, wherein we could travel, work projects, and live wherever we wanted to.
I guess we figured the rest would fall into place.
Well, it didn’t.
I am sure spending this quantity of time with your spouse isn’t something you dream of. But with this lifestyle choice, we have had to figure out how to make it work.
Here is what we have learned about each other and how we attempt to cope:
1) We understand better how different we really are.
In the past, we used to praise ourselves how we never had any fights. But in reality, whenever we did, we just walked away, cooled down, agreed to disagree, and carried on with our days. That was it, a little pointless squabble that vanished into nothing. Now we have to work through resolutions more constructively because we have very little time apart to cool down.
What we learned about one another:
a) We see the world differently. In fact, we respectively recall very varied memories of conversations and situations that we’ve both spent together!
b) I need to talk things out and Troy needs to be alone to think things through. Now I know that I need to pick the right time when to talk about it. I’ve also learned not to bring up our daily priorities or issues before Troy has completed his morning routine (meditation, coffee, and a run).
Alternatively, those differences are also our greatest strengths, especially for our business. I can discuss business issues, plot marketing needs, and create scripts and business materials for our clients while Troy can talk through the creative process of photography and videos. We have now become a team working towards a common goal.
2) We focus on what IS working instead of what ISN’T.
Perhaps this is a sign of the extent of change we have achieved over the last few years. Documenting all that we have accomplished together in leading our dream life has made a huge difference. That positive focus has created a transformation in both of us, but it took some time to focus on the good things, instead of what’s wrong. Celebrating gratitude every day for the little things has shifted our approach positively towards life and working together.
3) We have to communicate differently to one another.
Working together and solving problems every day creates the need to talk to each other differently. Learning to understand each other’s skills and strengths is one thing. Delivering feedback in a right way is another. Don’t get me wrong. This is still very much in a development stage, so the approach we take is to challenge each other compassionately. For instance, if Troy offers feedback, I need him to provide me with suggestions and rationale. That is how I operated with my staff in the business world, and I need that in a work environment.
4) Your spouse replaces the friends you had before.
What we had to work on were the little conversations that should better be left to my girlfriends or his buddies. Take for example hair problems or wardrobe malfunctions or Troy’s Fantasy Football picks. Troy often relays his excitement with technology, while I roll my eyes questioning why we need to spend money on it. We’ve learned that our friends back home can still play a filter role wherever we are through Skype or Face time.
5) We see each other at our worst.
We now witness every emotion, from the stress of missing a bus, to every hunger pain, including the short fuse from lack of sleep. With that, we recognize we have different thresholds to certain problems. For instance, I am not a good person to negotiate with when I am hungry or tired, while Troy gets grumpy if he is interrupted without complete focus on a work project. (If he has his headphones on while working, that’s a big cue for me not to disturb him quite yet!)
6) We are forced to manage our resources and think about it regularly.
In this new life, we lost the division of what is mine is mine, and yours is yours. Everything we carry on our travels now is almost entirely what we own. We used to manage our money differently. We had separate credit cards and different bank accounts. We split our expenses in half. We didn’t have the same goals towards how we spent our money, now it is towards a common goal. We’ve learned a lot about managing money. We realize how dysfunctional that was. From that, we use our savings, income from our businesses as one unit. We are both committed to managing and negotiating how we spend OUR funds. Sure, we have fights about money, but we are working harmoniously toward a common goal — funding this new lifestyle.
7) When issues strike we mobilize and just figure it out together.
You can’t run away from a problem when you are horribly lost in the middle of the night in a foreign country and scared out of your mind for how you are going to find your way to your hotel. We were in that situation, and many other tense moments, yet we managed to function extremely well in a crisis, even if there were a few tears or yells.
So, after all these points, do I recommend this kind of lifestyle for your marriage?
Yes and No.
Yes: We know each other more intimately than we did when we started, and we function as a cohesive unit. What we know is our values are the same, our goals are the same. We just have a different approach to getting to them at times.
No: We need to deliberately spend more time apart (than we are now) and be with our own friends (often our friends are travelers and new acquaintances). We also need to pursue our respective interests and activities. That will keep us fresher and more focused when we spend time together.
This is an ongoing journey, but we wouldn’t change it for the world.
What are your experiences with living, working and traveling as a couple? We’d love to hear about yours.
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Author: Dorene Wharton