Why do we end up fighting instead of relaxing?
Devastating impact of lockdowns. Before the pandemic, we had little time to spend with our partners and children. It was easy to get lost in the flurry of daily life, filled with family, school and work commitments. We lived from one weekend to another, and usually only made time for our loved ones during those two days. For many families a joint summer vacation was one of few periods of quality time. They simply couldn’t wait for the summer to arrive. Unfortunately, the lockdowns took its toll on the mental health of people, especially children.
“Child psychiatrists had never had to deal with such a massive onslaught of patients before. According to police statistics, the number of suicide attempts among children and adolescents increased by 77 percent from 2020 to 2021. Suicide is now the second most common cause of death among teenagers. During the pandemic, there was a rise in the number of patients with intellectual disability, and patients displaying aggressive and self-aggressive behaviors. They were unable to properly cope with isolation, chaos, and anxiety.”¹
The past two and a half years were challenging: working and learning remotely, combined with mounting feelings of stress, often had a negative impact on family relations. Sociological studies in many countries proved conclusively that lockdowns contributed to an increase in domestic violence.
According to a European Commission report2: “Lockdowns are associated with more reports of violence. Already last spring, during the first wave of the pandemic, a number of EU countries saw a significant increase in domestic violence. (...) According to statistics, violent events were more common among couples who had children, in a worse financial situation, and those where both partners had to stay at home due to restrictions. An increased prevalence was noted for individuals with previous experiences of intimate partner violence.”
People found it difficult to cope with their emotions, fears, and insecurities, and they often felt overwhelmed. Because of lockdowns, this year’s summer vacation may turn out to be even more conflict-generating. However, you can prevent this from happening.
Feelings of frustration and resentment that lead to arguing often accumulate well before taking off on vacation.
If neither you nor your partner are able to talk about their needs openly and assertively, it is highly likely for the ‘stronger’ partner to impose their wants or needs on the other. He or she will not only resent not being listened to, but may even, either consciously or unconsciously, take actions that bring the vacation spirit down. For example, he or she might ‘forget’ to pack an item that is important for the partner or complain about the hotel room, weather, and food, and ‘casually’ show photos of his or her friends’ fabulous holidays. Each suggestion will be rejected: “Not a good idea – it's too cold/too warm/too far away/too crowded...”. This is a way to sabotage the vacation by taking away all the pleasure it gives.
The two weeks before you leave on vacation are usually very stressful. You see the tasks pile up at work. You want to wrap up as many things as possible, so when you finally take off on your vacation, you are usually very tired and tense. In such an emotional state, every little thing can be a spark that sets off a blaze.
Another potentially thorny issue is packing your baggage. This happens especially when one partner always travels light, while the other carries heavy suitcases to make sure they have everything they might need. Without empathy and achieving a compromise, you’ll pack anger and resentment into your suitcases as well.
Ways to prevent conflicts
- To find out your partner’s true preferences regarding the summer vacation, ask open-ended questions, that is those that require a more specific answer than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Instead of asking: “Do you want to go on a package tour again?”, ask: “What did you like about our last package tour? What would you like to repeat and what would you like to avoid? Do you have any ideas on how we could make our vacation fun?”
- If you have different preferences about how to spend free time, make sure that each of you gets something extra enjoyable.
- Remember that going off on a vacation together doesn’t mean you have to be in each other’s company 24/7. Give yourself, your partner, and your children a little space of their own. Plan your activities so that you spend at least an hour a day apart. This is particularly important if you travel with children. Holiday resorts offer so many activities that everyone is spoiled for choice.
- Don’t get offended if your partner says he or she needs some ‘alone time’. It doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t love you anymore or hates traveling together! Quite simply, some people need spending some time alone to have a proper rest. If you feel the need to do so and have the opportunity, try to spend one or two days during the year away without your family. An added benefit is that you will enjoy the time you spend together more during your vacation.
- Work out a compromise already when planning your vacation. Explain what matters most to you and what things you’re prepared to give up. Ask your partner about the same. Speak openly about your needs.
- One method of being assertive, but non-confrontational, about our emotions and needs is the so-called I-message. Its magic lies in the fact that you don’t attribute bad intentions to your partner, but instead say directly how you feel about what he or she does. For example, instead of saying: “You couldn’t care less about my needs!”, say: “When you plan our vacation without talking to me about what I want or don’t want, it makes me feel like you don’t care about me, and I feel sad.”
- Spending money. This year in particular – given the soaring inflation rate and rising loan repayments – more and more people feel the strain of having to count every cent. As shown in the “Stress and Work” Report based on this year’s survey of a representative sample of Poles commissioned by the company Evolution: “46 percent of those surveyed said they felt more stressed than six months ago; 75 percent of the respondents reported they were concerned by the inflation rate, while 69 percent felt stressed by their mortgage.” Instead of telling your loved ones that they spend too much money on vacation, take some time before you leave to work out together what expenses you can afford and what you will have to give up this year. Stick to your arrangements instead of agonizing over every purchase.
- Personality traits. If your partner doesn’t like group trips, let go of the idea of vacationing with friends, even if your better half is comfortable with them during short get-togethers. Keep in mind that while extroverts recharge their batteries best when interacting extensively with other people, introverts find such interactions tiring in the long run, and usually prefer spending their vacation just with their partner or immediate family. For more tips on what to do to recharge your batteries during the summer vacation, browse through my article “How to spend your holiday to rest properly? 15 rules of effective rest”.
- Don’t make your partner do activities just because you find them fun. For example, If your partner is not into dancing or extreme sports, take part in dancing activities or book an extreme sport adventure on your own.
- Bury the hatchet. If you are already in conflict, declare a ‘ceasefire’ for the duration of your vacation. If you fail to constructively work through tough issues in your relationship before leaving, try not to bring up your concerns or points of contention when you’re away from home. Putting off for a week or two a discussion of sensitive issues such as ‘whose family are we spending Christmas with this year’ is unlikely to make the problem worse. So instead of taking unresolved conflicts with you, have a good rest and come back to the problem with a positive attitude after you return home. Having a relaxing vacation takes away a lot of negative emotions, so it’ll be ultimately easier to find constructive ways to resolve your differences.