Traveling with someone is a wonderful way to strengthen your bond. It can be stressful and when you’re hangry, tired, and you’ve just missed your bus, tempers will rise. The added pressure of being in an unfamiliar place and situation means things that would usually wash over you become way more irritating than they normally would. Travel hiccups aside, spending all day with someone means you’ll get to know them extremely well — the good and the bad. And if something they repeatedly do irks you, or you fall into a pattern where one person makes the decisions while the other follows, it could spell storm clouds on the horizon. Here we discuss, how to resolve a conflict with your partner when you are planning a trip or traveling.
How to resolve a conflict with your partner
The first thing to bear in mind is this: Conflicts happen. When you’re traveling with your romantic partner or best friend, it’s tempting to think you’re the perfect match, and that an argument is the beginning of the end. It’s not. Relationships need conflict. It clears the air, resolves issues, and helps you better understand each other’s needs. And the sooner you learn to overcome these hurdles, the less daunting and unpleasant they’ll become.
By following these steps, you’ll find it easier to navigate those tricky situations and learn to appreciate each other’s differences. Here’s how to have difficult conversations with your travel partner when you hate conflict.
1. Understand why we need conflict.
Accepting conflict is an important part of getting your voice heard while traveling. But if the thought of speaking out makes you nervous then relax, you’re not alone: Most of us prefer to avoid difficult situations. We naturally have a built-in fight or flight response when faced with threats, and often, flight is much easier.
There are a range of excuses people use to avoid dealing with an issue. From self-preservation to perceptions of what the other person will think, we tend to do everything we can to avoid the most obvious solution: talking. But biting your tongue not only hurts you in the long run, it allows tensions to simmer and resentment to build — something that complicates the original problem, which has now become a chain of resentments instead of a single, easily fixable thing. Acknowledge when there’s a problem, and you’re halfway to sorting it out.
2. Don’t put it off.
While it’s definitely a good idea to sleep on an issue (not getting pizza for lunch might not seem like such a big deal after you’ve had a nap and a bite to eat), holding things in for days and spending sleepless nights imagining scenarios and outcomes will leave you exhausted, confused, and cranky — all while the other person is completely oblivious.
Try to understand why you’re putting it off. Is there a difficult conversation from your past that still haunts you to this day? Fear often comes from previous negative experiences, so try to understand where your worry is coming from and approach the conversation without any expectations.
3. Plan ahead.
It’s time to address the situation. But before you dive in, you need to lay the foundations for a constructive conversation. This means planning ahead rather than bringing it up in a bar after you’ve had a few drinks, which is a recipe for drama. Make sure you’re both well-rested, fed, and hydrated — and choose somewhere private to talk so you can discuss things without worrying about other people overhearing. It’s also a good idea to put phones and other distractions away so you can give each other your full, undivided attention.
4. Be direct.
Many people shy away from being direct because they’re worried they’ll come across as rude. But not getting to get to the point is frustrating for the other person and you risk failing to achieve your goals.
Before you begin your conversation, make sure you have an end goal in mind and try not to lose focus. Now is not the time to bring up every little issue, and doing this will dilute your message and leave your audience feeling attacked. Instead, think about what the real problem is (all those little things could lead back to one overarching topic), get straight to the point, and hold it in your mind throughout. And remember, being direct is an art form you can learn. To make sure you don’t come across as nagging, mean, or aggressive, keep your tone positive and your body language friendly (no crossed arms or tapping feet).
5. Keep the conversation on track.
If you have a tendency to wander off-track or you’re the kind of person who gets nervous and forgets what they meant to say in the heat of the moment, then write down your talking points. If you feel embarrassed about taking such a formal approach, just explain why you’re doing it to the other person — they should understand.
If the other person is bringing up other issues and getting off topic, lead the conversation back to the main issue. You can do this without sounding aggressive or dismissive; acknowledge that they have other things they’d like to discuss (note it down if necessary) and tell them you’d like to discuss these separately. There are endless ways a conversation can go, but if you listen and respond with empathy then the conversation is way more likely to be a productive one.
6. Pay attention to emotions.
There’s no right or wrong way to feel during a difficult conversation, but there is a right and wrong way to respond. Pay attention to both your own mood and how the other person is responding, and be aware that people express distress in different ways.
If you find yourself becoming flustered, tearful, or shouty, let the other person know your emotions are running high and take a timeout to calm down and refocus your thoughts. This could include a coffee, a walk around the block, or even a good night’s sleep. Similarly, if you spot signs of frustration, anger, or fear in your partner’s body language, then take the initiative and suggest you both take some time to regroup. Breathe; the hardest part is over, you’re almost there.
7. Take it slow and let them speak.
When we need to get something off our chest — especially when we’re nervous or upset — we have a tendency to rant. Try to pause between sentences, and ask the other person what they think at regular intervals. It not only keeps your message measured and coherent, it also makes it easier for the listener to digest and ask questions if they need to. Remember, this is a two-way conversation, not a monologue.
8. Keep things positive.
This is a two-way thing, and while you’re fighting for your own goal, bear in mind the other person has their own needs to consider too. Try not to assume their agenda; instead, consider every possibility so you have the best opportunity to form a solution that keeps you both happy. Avoid words or phrases that appear to dismiss your partner’s points. “No” is an obvious one, but phrases such as “yes but” can sound like you’re not acknowledging the issue being raised. Instead, respond to their comments with encouragement for elaboration, rather than conversation killers that lead you to a dead end. If you don’t agree with their opinion, firmly and empathetically express your view, then try to reach a compromising solution that accommodates both sides. Remember, it’s okay to disagree with each other. This isn’t about winning, it’s about finding a better way to travel together.
9. Pick your battles.
Compromise is an important part of traveling with someone else. It’s essential you speak out if you really do or don’t want to do something, but equally, it’s a good idea to be sensitive to the needs of your travel partner(s) and stay flexible — no one needs to fight to the death over what to have for lunch. And if you do feel this way, then pause for thought: are you being inflexible, or does your anger lead to a deeper issue — such as you feeling like you never get to call the shots?
The difficulty here is when you’re feeling tired or hungry, which makes even the most laid-back among us snappy. Remember to always have an awareness of your tone, and keep in mind what’s really important. Take a nap and grab a bite to eat if necessary. You may find that conflict doesn’t seem so important after all.
10. Look after yourself.
Voicing your needs is an important part of traveling with someone, and if that involves a difficult conversation or two, then so be it. But what if you end up having endless conversations or you feel like you’ve reached a brick wall? In this scenario, you may discover you’re just incompatible — or your travel partner might turn out to be a total jerk. In which case, rather than going through the pain of repeated conflicts or compromising your travel plans and experience, it may be easier to just head off solo. Again, this will likely involve at least one more difficult conversation, but if you follow these steps, you should be able to turn a tricky situation into a positive (or at least productive) one.
A version of this article was previously published on October 23, 2019, and was updated on April 4, 2022.