There’s nothing like a vacation to take the stress off of the craziness that is day-to-day life. Of course vacations aren’t always relaxing. Sometimes they’re full of activities and people will even say, “I had to come back to work to get some rest.” Some people like the jam-packed, do everything vacations and some people prefer lazy days with late breakfasts. Since everyone has a different expectation, vacations can, unfortunately, be a source of relationship stress.
“Rita” and “Larry” (not their real names) were a typical mid-relationship couple. They had good careers and two teenage children in high school. For their 20th wedding anniversary, Rita and Larry decided to leave the kids at home in the care of an auntie and go to Nashville. Rita made the airline reservations and Larry said he would handle getting the hotel.
When they arrived in Nashville, Rita was excited to see the lively bars where country stars can be found belting out tunes late into the night. The “hotel” however was about an hour northeast of town and was actually just a cabin on Old Hickory Lake.“Isn’t this great?” Larry asked when they pulled up. Rita was unimpressed. Their anniversary vacation became another source of friction in the relationship. They were still arguing about it when they arrived for relationship coaching three weeks after coming home.
“It was a very typical case of unspoken expectations,” Beverly Craddock with Hawaii Relationship Coaching explains. “Larry’s intention was good - he wanted a quiet, romantic week away from everything. Rita had great intentions too. She hoped to rekindle their relationship with their mutual enjoyment of country music and their pre-children party lifestyle.”
Neither Rita nor Larry could see the other’s perspective. The disagreement had become a disagreement over bigger issues that stewed beneath the surface of their relationship. “Most things in life come with underlying expectations,” Beverly explains. “When Rita’s expectations of adventure went unspoken, Larry met his own expectations with the remote cabin. Something as simple as a vacation became a trap because the couple each assumed that the other person wanted the same things.”
Subconsciously we all have a different way of experiencing fun and relaxation. Yet even long-time partners lose track of the other partner’s expectations. So much of what is expected goes unspoken.“An unspoken expectation rarely is fully met,” Beverly adds. “Couples have to constantly be focused on making sure that the other partner is clear on the expectations. It’s easier to have an argument before something happens than have a full blown disagreement when things have already gone bad. Unfortunately, couples will often seek to avoid conflict and merely hope that things will work out.”
Beverly says the expectation problem is generally a problem of communication. She advises couples to ask the simple question: “What does that look like for you?” Even something like a visit from one spouse’s family should be proceeded by this kind of discussion.“Find the land mines early,” Beverly recommends. “If you know that your spouse is expecting certain things, you can help avoid the big problems. It doesn’t guarantee perfect lives but it keeps both partners focused on the same goal.”
For Rita and Larry the lessons were invaluable - even beyond their own relationship. “We recently went on a college tour on the Mainland with our oldest son,” Rita later wrote in an email. “We asked our son about his expectations and knowing those allowed us to make sure that he got the right look at the two campuses we visited. … Larry and I are also doing better about compromising on most stuff.”
Beverly recommends that couples sit down at every opportunity and discuss expected outcomes. By making a habit of understanding one another, couples can work toward mutual goals. “Goals are conscious,” Beverly concludes. “They are thought out. Expectations are emotion laden and can get us into situations which lack flexibility. The goal of a good vacation allows for some give and take while the expectation of a good vacation generally results in someone’s expectation being unmet.”
As a relationship coach, Beverly spends time with couples helping them understand each other and themselves.
“Love’s easy,” she says. “It’s an emotion and everybody feels it. Relationships, well, those are harder and it’s important to have solid help available when trouble hits. Coaches aren’t therapists but most couples don’t need therapy, they just need someone who can help each partner rediscover the foundations of the relationship.”