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6 Ways to Make Your Relationship Work While Traveling Solo

by Claire Litton Cohn Jun 16, 2016

1. Remember you’re not single.

There’s a difference between how you travel when you’re single — “I think I’ll just buy this last-minute deal ticket to Hong Kong because why not!” — and how you travel when you have a partner. Before you go, discuss your plans and make sure you aren’t going to their dream destination without them, or scheduling your trip at the same time as an important event they hoped you’d go to together. A woman I know had a newborn and her wife had taken three random solo trips without consulting her since the baby was born; not cool. You’re an adult, you know how to be in an adult relationship — take your partner’s needs into account, treat them the way you’d like to be treated — so just take that relationship and do it when one of you is temporarily in a different place. If you’re away because you’re traveling a lot for work, that’s different; a job that keeps you away 5 days out of 7 per week with no foreseeable end date in sight might be cause for some renegotiation. But otherwise, just…don’t be a jerk.

2. Work on yourself.

Doing things separately is a mark of strong people with interesting and varied personal lives; you will be a better partner if you maintain your own interests and activities, without relying on someone else to be your sun, stars, and Netflix binge buddy. You like your partner because of who specifically they are — not because they’re a carbon copy of you. They feel the same way. Both of you can cultivate and encourage different hobbies, interests, obsessions, and destinations for each other. Then you can come home and tell stories and look at pictures and be happy to know that you and your partner are both varied humans with a wide range of experiences. Also neither of you will be lonely when the other one is away if you cultivate friendships and experiences outside of each other.

3. Keep in touch as much as possible.

Trying to schedule regular Skype or FaceTime chats is a great idea, but you may not be able to manage the same time every day or week (depending on how long you’re away). You or your partner might be on unmatching time schedules — working late hours, waking up early, diametrically opposite sides of the earth — which makes trying to figure out a time to Skype even more difficult. I actually prefer regular check-ins throughout the day to one big scheduled chat, since you can keep up a stream-of-consciousness conversation based on the million tiny details of your day. IM or texting is great for this; you can send a quick message when you hear something funny or see an interesting monument. If my husband can text me from the trash fence at Burning Man, you can probably find signal in a hostel in Marrakech. If this just isn’t feasible (say, you’re not getting a local SIM card), be creative: send letters and postcards, email photos, or write a private blog that only your partner knows the password to.

4. Be clear on your rules and boundaries before you leave.

If you haven’t had a sit-down talk about what each of you are comfortable with, now is the time. You might need to decide if you’re comfortable with your partner going out to parties or special events without you… or having guests… or, heck, going on dates, if that’s how your relationship works. Obviously, things might change as you experience being apart and decide you don’t really need to video chat three times a day or that you really do like that last text message before bedtime. Remember: more communication is always better than less, especially when you’re temporarily long-distance.

5. Make your partner feel important and special.

Being away and doing fun stuff, it’s easy to forget that the person at home might feel boring and dull compared to the time they imagine you’re having (reality is usually a little less scintillating, even if you’re someplace really cool). Make sure your partner feels valued. Write them special notes or organize a book club for two. Are they having a hard day at work while you’re away? Order some groceries through a local delivery service and have them sent to your partner at home. Take a bunch of pictures of yourself being cute and make them into a .gif. Don’t just add them as a CC to your generic “having a wonderful time” email that you sent to your fifty closest friends. Bring them back a nice souvenir: my husband gave me a bag of viking ship candy when he went to Sweden for a few days. Tastes like Scandinavia!

6. Coming home might be different.

So…you’ve been away doing your own thing at your own pace, probably somewhere exciting, and you’re ready to come home and spew a bunch of fun stories all over your partner. Your partner has been comfortably making your home space into their own personal lair, and relishing that they can keep it as clean or as messy as they like without argument, and also nobody but them will eat that last bit of Cherry Garcia. Returning home might not be the perfect meeting of two minds with swelling orchestral soundtrack that you’ve been picturing; it might be full of arguments, passive-aggressive bitching, or your dog hiding from you under the bed. Home might not feel like home right away. And that’s okay…for the sake of your relationship, and yourself, allow for a slow easing back into your “normal” life. Your paths diverged briefly instead of burbling along in parallel, so getting back in sync can take some effort. Be kind to yourself, and your partner (and your dog).

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