It happens to the best of us. Even though we head out on vacation with the best of intentions, to finally unwind and let the troubles of the real world disappear, after a few days of bliss we find ourselves fighting. Often it’s over the most trivial nonsense, the sort of thing that would never bother you in your normal day to day. And later, you don’t even know why you fought in the first place. So what’s behind this strange phenomenon? Why do we fight on vacation, and what can we do to nip it in the bud?
Why do we fight on vacation?
According to Kalley Hartman, the clinical director at Ocean Recovery and a licensed marriage and family therapist, one of the primary reasons has to do with inflated expectations.
“We may have a vision of spending time together in perfect harmony and enjoying all sorts of activities,” Hartman said. “But the reality can be quite different. It’s important to keep our expectations realistic and understand that disagreements can still arise even when we are away from our daily routines.”
Poor communication is also a big contributor. A lack of communication, or having to find new ways to communicate because you’re in a different environment together, can cause tension that flares up into full blown arguments.
Part of that tension is also often due to spending more time together with your travel partner(s) than you’re used to.
“Being in close, forced proximity to one another can be a challenge,” Hartman said. “Especially if you’re used to having your own space at home. This can lead to feelings of frustration and irritability, which can trigger fights.”
7 reasons we fight on vacation
According to Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist specializing in couples counseling and relationship coaching, a handful of key issues are the most common culprits.
“One reason couples fight on vacation is because their unresolved resentments finally have time to be expressed and addressed,” Fisher said. Unresolved issues festering before vacation are more likely to surface when you’re around someone nearly 24/7.
2. Poor planning
This can happen when either partner feels left out of, or solely responsible for, all of the planning. Poor planning, especially when it leads to a time crunch or other stresses, can also be a huge source of angst. For example, say the person in charge of planning transportation booked the plane tickets, but neglected to plan how they’d get from the airport to the resort. It would be incredibly stressful and start the vacation off on a sour note.
3. Unbalanced power dynamic
“A third reason couples fight on vacation is lack of sharing power on decisions,” Fisher said. “For example, one partner unilaterally decides for the couple how they will spend the day, without asking for their partner’s input, or opinion of the activity they’ve chosen.” This can be especially devastating if a pre-existing perceived imbalance exists in the relationship dynamic.
4. Disrupted routine
Being in a brand new place can be disorienting, and any disruption of your routine can lead to irritability, stress, and fighting. This is especially true if you’re in a wildly different time zone or are dealing with tons of jet lag. There’s nothing like a lack of sleep to make people snippy.
5. Conflicting expectations
Differing expectations can also lead to conflict. “One partner may expect intimacy everyday on vacation, and the other partner may not be thinking of it at all," Fisher said. “It’s vital to discuss your expectations before the vacation and each morning during it.”
It’s not uncommon for partners to have different relaxation styles. But these differences are often unknown or overlooked within our normal routines. Normally, it’s fine to curl up with a book while your partner blows off steam at the gym. But it could come to a head when you’re on vacation and suddenly feel pressure to spend the whole day together.
6. Incongruent travel styles
Related to differing expectations, sometimes people’s travel styles just don’t mesh. If one partner wants structured activities and to follow an itinerary, while the other just wants to freestyle and explore, the way those two modes clash can be problematic. Even if you find a compromise, one party (if not both) is bound to feel like they missed out.
The root of all evil can be a problem starter in the best relationships, and the extra focus vacation spending puts on it can lead to some nasty scraps. This is especially true when one partner is happy to relax and spend freely while another feels pressure to tighten the purse strings.
How to avoid fighting on vacation
The good news is that with a little thoughtfulness and preparation, most of these fights can be avoided. And even if a fight occurs, it’s not too late to salvage the relationship.
“It’s important to keep our expectations realistic and understand that disagreements can still arise even when we are away from our daily routines,” Hartman explained. “Try to be flexible and plan activities that you both enjoy, rather than putting pressure on yourself to do something just because it is what you think the other person wants.”
One important way to try and avoid fights is to make vacation a truly cooperative experience, and let your partner(s) know they have a say in how things go.
Talk it out
As in every facet of a relationship, open dialogue is a must. “Communication is key for any healthy relationship, but it can be especially important when it comes to avoiding fights while on vacation,” Hartman said. “It’s important to discuss what activities or attractions you both want to see, as well as any issues that may have been causing problems at home. Keeping the lines of communication open can help you both feel heard and understood, which can reduce the likelihood of fights occurring while on vacation.”
This is important both during the planning stage and during the actual vacation itself.
Get some rest
Try to remember that a big part of vacationing is to get some rest and relaxation. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll also be less likely to squabble. Hartman suggested carving out some time specifically to just recharge.
Before you set out on your adventure, figure out together how much you want to plan specific activities and how much you want to go with the flow. Don’t be afraid to split up for a while if there’s a difference. That way, you both get what you want and reduce some of the friction that can spring up when you’re constantly around each other. You can even set a specific budget to avoid worrying about money, or talk specifics about how you want to get from place to place and how early to arrive at the airport/train station/rental counter.
Vacation is supposed to be a delightful adventure, a time to recharge and enjoy each other’s company, but it can easily be wasted if you end up at each other’s throats. Luckily, you can do several simple things to try and make your escape to paradise as smooth and drama-free as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it common for couples to fight on vacation?
Fighting on vacation is very common, but it doesn’t have to be. You can do several things to reduce the likelihood of a blowout during your dream vacation.
Why are family vacations so stressful?
Planning, travel and spending lots of time in close proximity to your family members can build stress. They also tend to be expensive, and money is a major stressor for many people.
Do couples fight during their honeymoon?
As romanticized as honeymoons are, fighting during them is more common than we like to admit. It’s a lot of time spent exclusively together and, for some couples, the first time they’ve ever vacationed together, which can be a powder keg for a relatively young relationship.