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Conflict Resolution Files – Vacation after your vacation

Below is one of the articles in a series on conflict resolution geared towards couples. Each one is stand alone and can be read in any order but consider reading the others in the series for a well-rounded approach to conflict resolution.

Everybody loves the idea of a vacation. You step out of the steady stream of life to slow down (or speed up if you’re a thrill seeker) and just generally take a break from your daily responsibilities… right? Right?? But how many times have you heard someone say they need a vacation to recover from their vacation? If you’re someone who already vacations well, then congrats! You can skip this article and do something else. Otherwise, read on…

Couples in particular can run into conflicts when vacationing together for a variety of reasons. If you have children, then it’s even more complicated. But let’s tackle the adults first. Have you ever had a rude awakening when you made an assumption about what your partner would like and discovered, oops! That did NOT go over well? Vacation planning – or lack thereof – can put a strain on an otherwise much-needed break from daily life to reset from typical stressors. If expectations aren’t examined ahead of time, then a vacation feels less like a vacation and more like a waste of time. That’s tragic.

Who’s vacation is this anyway?

Whether you communicate this to your partner or just assume they know, you have an expectation of how your vacation should go. If you’re a planner, you want to know what’s coming down the pipe, examine all the options to ensure you’ve selected the most fun activities, or otherwise schedule things to know when and where you’re supposed to be. If you’re more spontaneous, you’d rather play it by ear and roll with whatever comes.

For some, vacation means you avail yourself of most if not all the options a place has to offer so you expect to be on the go. You want to have active experiences, see local sights, sample the local fare, maybe go shopping or anything else that gets you connected on a personal level to where you’re visiting. You lean towards exploration, engagement and socialization.

0950085001697730926.jpgFor others, vacation means relaxation. No expectations on time. You may or may not unplug, but for sure you lean towards sitting by the pool/spa/ocean, soaking up the rays, maybe reading a book but you don’t want to have to be anywhere. You’re content to exhale from the typical daily demands on your time and are fine with more mellow options. You may or may not wish to spend alone time with less external stimulation.

These are polar opposite approaches to vacationing. You may fall on either side, or somewhere in between. The important point is to state what you’d like for your vacation time, ask what your partner wants, and negotiate from there. When John and I first started vacationing together, we didn’t discuss our expectations and just assumed we’d have the same desires. Very quickly, we discovered that we wanted different things. One of us would end up going along with what the other wanted to avoid conflict. This became a breeding ground for resentment and ultimately feeling like the trip wasn’t much of a vacation. We also didn’t discuss how we’d feel if we chose to do some things separate from each other. I’m of the opinion that it’s okay if you don’t do everything with your partner. Too much concentrated time together can be detrimental.

Conversation, conversation, conversation!

Eventually we learned to have a conversation before a trip to identify what we each wanted from the experience. I was more the planner and wanted to schedule fun activities. I didn’t like showing up somewhere without knowledge of what was available. John was more laid back and didn’t want to feel vacation was like work. We learned to compromise where we’d have down days that left room for spontaneity while having some plans so it didn’t devolve into the proverbial cycle of “What we gonna do?” “I dunno, what you wanna do?” (ref: As our family grew and our daughter got old enough to voice her opinion, we included her in our vacation plans. Doing so meant we had to work together to find an approach that satisfied everyone. It didn’t mean we each got what we ideally wanted, but we could still enjoy the vacation knowing we each had unput.

Another important aspect of vacationing is cost. In the beginning, we would charge our trips and pay for them later. That created a strain on our finances after the fact. It also made the vacation less enjoyable for me as I handled our budget. Eventually we learned to save ahead of time for a trip and vacation debt-free. That definitely took some discipline, but it allowed us to make plans within our means. Sometimes that meant we didn’t go to far away places, but we took advantage of locations closer to home that were still fun to visit. I’m a big fan of pretending you’re a tourist in your own geographical area. We grew up in southern California which was a vacation destination for people from all over. Road trips became our go-to. That cut down on travel costs while affording us a way to explore what our state had to offer. Even if you don’t live someplace that typically draws tourists, you can get creative on where to go and how to access affordable and fun experiences.


Family Friendly Vacations

Of course, the larger the group, the more challenging vacationing can be. This is true whether all the participants are from the same family or not. I’ve known people who congregate for family reunions and there are unique challenges for those types of arrangements. Typically there is an event coordinator or committee for these gatherings that plan for a variety of group activities as well as individual family time.

When the kids were little, we joined another young family to visit Mexico. We found some of the same challenges existed when trying to make plans or set expectations with the other family as what we had within our own family unit. We were able to figure it out, but we definitely ran into some bumps in the road. When vacationing with children, consider the following to determine the best approach:

  • Does the destination have kid-friendly, age-appropriate activities?
  • What is your budget and can you stay within this budget?
  • If older kids are present, are they responsible enough to watch over the littles?
  • Are there options for adults-only time (including couple-time)?
  • Are there options for subgrouping? For example, some of the adults may go off on their own for an afternoon while others engage the kids then switch off.
  • What are your expectations/rules concerning hand-held devices?
  • What does meal planning look like?
  • How do you handle discipline on vacation if a child acts out?
  • Consider bringing board games, art supplies or something else to engage the entire group or subgroups.


Having discussions with your partner and other family members about vacation plans highlights the bigger concept of learning how to cooperate with others. When you consent to be partnered up with another person, you give up getting your way all the time. If you don’t have the mindset to collaborate, then it’s best not to couple at all. But working together and modeling what that looks like to the littles around you teaches the important life lesson of playing well together. And playing well together means you’ll have a much better chance of having a satisfying vacation!

Remember communication is the key to having a satisfying vacation with your significant other (and kids if applicable). Negotiating what each of you needs-wants from the vacation is another aspect of being in relationship. Even if you have to compromise your ideal, you can still enjoy what you experience if you stay flexible and willing to collaborate. Here’s to a vacation that brings you home refreshed and ready to engage in daily life with a fresh perspective and enthusiasm.

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