With many of us travelling to the sun right now, expectations for couples can start to rise. Couples where one or both partners have demanding high pressure jobs can finally think about taking a break and spending time with each other as a couple, and with their children too. Expectations can be high that after a period of disconnection between partners, this is finally a chance to come back together. This is often harder than it might seem, however, as the distance between partners often comes with habits that are difficult to break. Work is often hard to leave behind, and social media is another distraction which can get in the way of a real world connection.
Some time ago I worked with a couple I’ll call Tom and Anna. They had become really quite disengaged with each other over many years since having children. Tom was often working away for days at a time, while Anna worked part time and looked after their two children. While she resented his absence at times, Anna also relished the distance from him as it allowed her to do things at home her way, without disagreements.
Each year Anna would book an extended holiday and the hope and expectation was that Tom would join her the family for the middle two weeks. However this was usually ‘squeezed’, ostensibly by work pressures, which meant he was only there for a week or so. When he did arrive, he felt the children were Anna’s priority, rather than him. She was harbouring resentment about his late arrival, and he felt she was as distracted my social media as she often seemed to be at home. The idea of ‘holiday sex’ put added pressure on both of them, both having an unspoken expectation that they ‘should’ be having sex on holiday, more frequently than the once a month at home.
In my work with this couple, we gradually traced the distancing between them back to their childhood experiences of parents not being there for them. The way they each coped with this disappointment was to become quite self sufficient to the point that they didn’t feel they really ‘needed’ others too much, and certainly didn’t want to put demands on them.
However aside from the deeper reasons for the distancing between couples like Anna and Tom, there are things that can help in the meantime, especially while on holiday. I suggest deleting social media apps – the accounts and data will still be there when you reinstall. Social media becomes a distraction which becomes almost unconscious to the user, and deleting for a week or two will allow you to open your eyes to your partner and family and face them rather than the screen.
Children can easily dominate a family holiday, but it’s really important to make time for the couple to be alone, whether it’s while the children are at kids’ clubs or with a babysitter. It’s always worth trying to have at least one date night on holiday.
Holiday sex can feel like something on a to-do list, so it’s better to take the pressure off in terms of too much expectation. However it is worth focusing on touch and kindness – even helping each other with sun lotion can start to feel sensual.
Holiday is a good opportunity to talk again, not about the here and now, but about your future, your dreams and aspirations. It’s best to try to have these conversations not in terms of concrete plans, but as hopes and wishes which may not be practical or realistic, but can open up other ideas.
Finally, if you find yourself returning from holiday disappointed that it wasn’t quite the relationship reset you hoped for, do consider coming for couple therapy. Often it’s the longer term difficulties that come to the fore on holiday, so returning home is a great time to start working on your relationship with a couple therapist.