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Marriage on the Road #2: I’m Happy When You’re Happy

Marriage on the Road #2: I’m Happy When You’re Happy

Will and I got into a big fight in Mendoza, Argentina just as we arrived. It’s not unusual for Will and I to fight after a long, frustrating travel experience (in this case, 5 hours waiting in line at the Chile/Argentina border), but this was different – it needed more than sleep. It needed a solution.

Chile Argentina Border travel
30 minutes into our 5 hour wait to get into Argentina

Will was mad at me. Six weeks abroad, I had fallen into the habit of voicing everything that was bothersome and not voicing anything that was going well. “Why are we in THIS immigration line?” “It would have been better if we got those bus seats.” “Why are these other people so annoying?” “Next time let’s do it this way…” No doubt, I was in a little bit of a funk. I felt like we were traveling too fast. I didn’t have any down time. I was relying on Will’s Spanish too much. The shampoo we brought was leaving some sort of gunk in my hair that made my scalp hurt. We were seeing and doing amazing things, and I was having an incredible time…but I was a little grumpy too.

One thing I took for granted as a single person was that my emotions didn’t usually affect anyone else. If I was in a bad mood, as long as I wasn’t harassing other people, my bad mood only affected me. Now, married and on the road, when I say anything that suggests I’m not happy, my husband stresses about it. And there is no reprieve, such as going to work or the gym or on some errands. We are together all the time, so he has no way to ignore me.

After some talking, arguing, and defensiveness on both sides, I learned that Will needed to know what I was enjoying about the trip. Even when I’m enjoying things, I don’t always say it. But I need to – and on a regular basis. In return, I needed him to listen to some of my legitimate concerns. It was possible to slow down our pace. I could have more down time. We are the only ones controlling our schedule. We committed to both of these things and then sealed the deal with beer and empanadas.

I hadn’t really felt this phenomenon in reverse until we got to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. We knew we were going to the falls in low season, which means much of it is dry. We knew this was good because Will wanted to go rafting, and the rafting is better in low water. But when we got to the actual falls, and saw how much more area they usually cover, Will was disappointed.

“Ugh! This is why I don’t have expectations for anything,” Will lamented. I did a double take at the enormous waterfall we were standing in front of. Was this lame? There was no way this was lame, and yet I was starting to feel sad because Will was sad.

I realized that this is what Will was feeling in South America whenever I expressed dissatisfaction. I tried to cheer him up – pointing out everything that was awesome about our experience at Victoria Falls. He eventually perked up, remembering all the reasons why it was good we came during dry season (like Devil’s Pool!) and seeing the awesomeness of the waterfall even at its driest.

Devil's Pool 1
Devils Pool and a double rainbow

With roles reversed, I gained new appreciation for the impact each of us has on each other. When you are together all the time, with very little interaction with other people, your moods become intertwined. Sometimes this requires actively seeking out the positive for the sake of your spouse. Sometimes this requires listening and responding to legitimate concerns that can make or break an experience for the other person. It’s easy to get annoyed with the fact that your mood and choices can devastate another person’s experience – we all want the freedom of our feelings. But if you can let that go, and commit to caring how you affect the other person, the higher stakes will force you out of your funk and help you enjoy your experiences to the fullest.

 

You can find the first installment of Marriage on the Road here.

A Marriage on the Road (Part 1)

A Marriage on the Road (Part 1)

Back in June, as we were moving out of our house, Will left the back of the moving truck open and got on the interstate. We were lucky not to lose much, but what we did lose was a filing cabinet full of all our important documents – birth certificates, marriage certificate, tax returns, etc.

Will did something very smart in this moment. I was in a separate car, unaware of these events, and he chose not to contact me until he had dealt with the situation. Luckily, Will found the filing cabinet in the middle of a (busy) on ramp having not yet caused injury to anyone. The cabinet fell on its drawers, trapping the documents inside. When my husband called me to tell me what happened, and why he’d be delayed to the storage unit, I was shocked, but relieved.

This could have been the first blow out fight of our trip. Let’s be honest, I could have freaked out when I heard about the moving truck incident. I did get mildly worked up when I first heard the story (who wouldn’t.) But while Will was still talking, I had this very clear moment – what kind of wife did I want to be? How did I want to start this trip? Whether or not this results in additional tension is completely up to me – and I could choose whether to be frustrated or generous about it. On this, the first day of our trip, I would get to set the tone for how we would handle obstacles together. I stopped at a gas station and got Will some food and water for when we met up at the storage unit. He had been moving boxes all day and was tired, hungry, and dehydrated. He needed a little love.

On the Same Page6

On the same page

Some friends and family have asked us about the trip and our marriage. The questions and comments fall into two categories: “what a wonderful way to start your marriage!” and “do you think you’ll be speaking to each other when you get back?” I don’t know what the secrets are to nomadic marital bliss, but based on the past three weeks, I’d bet that generosity is one of them.

Will is also very generous with me. I get what Will refers to as “grumpy” sometimes during our travels. “Grumpy” can be defined as a complete loss of patience for anything and anyone. We have already almost missed an early morning flight, suffered altitude sickness, and have started editing each other’s blog posts – all of which have caused some grumpiness. When we almost missed our early morning flight to Salt Lake City – anticipating the effects – Will got me a caffeinated drink even though I said I didn’t want it, and gently encouraged me to drink it throughout the flight. He was right. I really needed that caffeine. Will is never harsh with me when I lose my patience. He knows it’s usually hunger, dehydration, or lack of caffeine that is the cause. He just puts his arm around me, kisses me on the head, and tells me what we’re going to do when I’m not grumpy anymore. He makes a decision not to turn those moments into more tension, but meets them with generosity.

On the Same Page 2

Not on the same page

There will be more significant trials in the future. We may get sick at the same time, or miss our transportation, or disagree about the direction we need to go. We are also blogging together, which adds another layer of joint decision making. The next year will be a constant exercise in getting on the same page.

All that aside, travel will transform us in wonderful ways – and the great gift of travelling as a couple is sharing that transformation with each other. I wouldn’t want to do this trip without Will. I look forward to the many memories we’ll be able to share for a lifetime – even if there are a few epic fights scattered in there. In fact, we will be stronger for them.

I’m convinced generosity will help us grow closer through this experience and prevent travel problems from becoming relationship problems. I’m also convinced it’s not the only ingredient for success. We will keep you posted as the recipe for this nomadic marriage unfolds…and our ears are open to lessons others have learned about relationships on the road.