Today marks four years of marriage for Dan and I. FOUR YEARS! The girl, the guy, the people, the couple we both were four years ago is almost unrecognizable to me now. Not that we didn’t have a solid relationship or weren’t good people back then, but traveling together for 8 months and achieving a goal almost 3 years in the making has been a complete game changer for us together and separately.
Us then. One of the best decisions I’ve made. Little did I know how things could get even better.
Reprioritizing our marriage and strengthening our bond was a huge goal for both Dan and I in doing this trip together. Being abroad gave us the perfect platform in which to do this! Funnily enough, I started writing this post back in December 2015 on a day off from hiking in El Chalten, Argentina. The topic somehow got away from me as there were always so many things I wanted to write about. After revisiting the topic 8 months later, I can’t believe how much more I have to say and how right I was so early into our trip. The highs/lows, trials/tribulations, experiences, lessons, and memories of traveling together has brought Dan and I closer.
The longest we’ve ever been together outside of the country was in Nepal when we volunteered for 2 months. Yes, of course this was an adjustment, a challenge, and we learned a lot about each other but it was very different than this experience. (However, this trip did solidify the fact that I wanted to be with Dan after learning that we could travel so well together). We were stationary, doing similar things each day working with the kids and were around pretty much the same staff members and other volunteers for the duration of our time there. There wasn’t as much travel planning, constantly meeting new people, budgeting, adjusting to new places and cultures together each week, sleeping in dorms, etc. This and a few other trips overseas gave us a good base to work with but this adventure was a whole new situation for us.
This has been one of the best things we have ever done for our marriage. Here’s why:
We have learned to work together and make a great team. Of course we have to be a good team in the US but being abroad brings on a whole new set of responsibilities and challenges to work with. Dan and I have really learned to play up on each other’s strengths and make up for each other’s weaknesses. For example, Dan is handy and I am not. He was able to light burners, easily figure out how the ancient keys work, load our backpacks onto buses, and more. These are things I probably could do but he is just much better at them. I on the other hand was organized so I tended to keep track of our budget and do much of the research. Then there were also things where we shared the responsibilities such as speaking to people in Spanish, making decisions, and grocery shopping.
We have learned when to give each other space. After spending pretty much 24/7 together, we’ve learned when we need to let each other breathe. There was a day when I was feeling very frustrated with our teeny tiny hostel room in Argentina and not having much room. While I was bending down to get something, I stood up and whacked my head on an open window. Dan walked in, took one look at me, and walked out for 10 minutes. He knew I was about to blow and needed some time. Additionally, Dan and I realized that we do need to spend time apart. It isn’t healthy to constantly spend 24/7 together so if it doesn’t happen naturally, we would make a point to go on a walk, coffee shop, or simply sit in different rooms. I even spent the better part of a day by myself while we were in El Chaltén. I felt recharged and excited to see Dan when I got back. It’s good for us to know when you are spending too much time together and when you need to make that time.
On the flip side, spending SO much time together gave Dan and I a chance to reconnect on many different levels. We joke about how there was a couple of years in Chicago where we just sort of acted like “bros” or friends living together which actually carried over into our trip. There was a long time where our top priority wasn’t one another or our marriage. Dan and I are both pretty independent and have separate interests so we would float around, make plans with other people, work too much, and not schedule time for the two of us. So now we make a point to be more affectionate, do small thoughtful things for one another, compliment each other more, and even have special “date nights” (even while we were traveling!)
We have gotten better at making decisions and communicating. I tend to be really indecisive which I know drives Dan crazy; even to the point where we walk into a room and I can’t decide where to sit. Picking a restaurant is even worse. Then Dan will make an executive decision even if I make a suggestion. Then I get annoyed with him for not taking my suggestion into consideration. It’s stupid. So, we hashed this out. He will decide the little things that I really don’t care about (like where we should sit) but we come to a conclusion together on the bigger things.
This scooter in Capri, Italy ended up being one of the best decisions we made as a team.
No more blaming one another. The blame game gets ugly especially when traveling because there is an opportunity for many things to go wrong. There are many situations that have or can arise where one of us has picked a horrible hostel, missed a bus, drank too much, talked the other one into volunteering at an animal rescue center (I fully take the blame for that one) and the other says “I told you so”. This comment and sentiment escalates any situation. I’ve realized that even if it was Dan’s fault, I didn’t suggest anything different so in actuality, it’s both of our faults. We now try to work together to move forwards or figure out a different plan of action.
We accomplished a goal together. Achieving such a big dream with someone that means the world to you, is even better than doing it on your own. Because you have someone who fully supports and shares it with you. Dan fully took on this adventure and wasn’t just living out my wildest fantasy, but made it his own. My partner in life will always know what it was like in Colombia, or how homesick I felt in Argentina, or how delicious that gelato was in Italy because he was there experiencing everything right beside me.
We became in sync with each other. I think this is the first time that I’ve ever written or spoken these words about anyone and truly meant them. By the time we got to Europe we were finishing each other’s sentences and saying exactly what the other person was thinking. I know this sounds mushy and like a bad romantic comedy but it was so refreshing! To have someone know you so well and be so much on the same page. This has been hard to continue being home since we haven’t been spending as much time together. However, it is important because I know it’s in there!
Lastly, we have had time to work on own our issues which makes us better for one another. They say you can’t really love someone else fully unless you fully love yourself. I have never loved Dan more than during this time while we were traveling and now afterwards for so many reasons. One of those being the fact that now, I know, accept, and understand myself better than I ever have before. I think I can say the same for Dan as well. Loving yourself, makes you more open and free to let others in.
I’m not saying that long-term travel should be everyone’s form of marriage therapy. I believe it could potentially destroy some couples or simply not work for others. Some people have no interest in long term travel and completely disrupting their lives like we did. For Dan and I though, it was a much needed time to reconnect and grow together. One of the best four year anniversary presents we could have ever given ourselves was the chance and effort we put in to work together, learn to give each other space, reconnect on every level, practice making new decisions, work on our communication, learn to not blame each other, accomplish a huge goal that we both wanted, feel in sync, and fix ourselves for the other person.
HAPPY FOUR YEARS DAN! I can’t express how fortunate I am to have you. I wouldn’t have wanted our lives to be any other way. Here’s to another four years of our amazing journey, adventure, and definitely more un-photogenic pictures together.