If ANYBODY asked me what I thought was the key to a successful marriage, I’d probably say something dull and predictable, like “love”, “shared values”, or “both addicted to Game of Thrones”.
When a discount voucher website recently surveyed the length and breadth of these isles looking for the secret to domestic bliss, I think they were hoping for someone to say “a mutual appreciation of discount vouchers”, but nobody did. Wales said “sex” (well, of course they did), Northern Ireland said “similar life goals”, London said “regular date nights”, the sensible south-west of England said “financial stability” and Scotland … well, Scotland said something that genuinely surprised me. Scotland said “regular holidays or breaks together”.
It’s currently holiday time for many of us, but I must admit, I haven’t noticed any great strengthening of my marital ties. If my beloved says something annoying, it really doesn’t matter if he’s on the beach or in the back kitchen; I’m still going to roll my eyes. Simply being on holiday isn’t going to make me ruffle his hair and coo: “Aww, you’re so cute!” Only being blind drunk would do that.
But maybe I’m missing something here. After all, going away together has long been accepted as an excellent test of a relationship. It’s not something you rush into, because if you are with the wrong person, even the most beautiful place can turn into a complete nightmare. As someone who has climbed out of the window of an expensive Paris hotel, rather than spend another moment on holiday with the wrong person, I can assure you that this is true.
However, if you’re with the right person, every aspect of holidaying together can be the best of times.
First of all, you need to be on the same wavelength to be able to decide on a destination. If you can’t even agree on where to go, then you’re probably already doomed as a couple. Determined hikers don’t usually end up in relationships with sun-worshipping beach bums, but if they do, and they’re prepared to even contemplate sitting for hours on a baking stretch of sand in order to be with the one they love, then that in itself is proof that the relationship has a fighting chance.
Then, once you’ve agreed on whether it’s going to be a five-star hotel, or a tent and a Primus stove, there is all the delicious anticipation, the feverish preparation and finally the enjoyment of the break. And don’t forget all the fun of reminiscing when it’s over. At every stage of planning, it’s all about togetherness.
At first, I thought it sounded so trite and superficial: Scots think holidays are the key to saving your relationship. Starting to hate your other half? Off you go to Auchertmuchty for the weekend and everything will be all right! But in fact there’s more truth here than might meet the eye.
When we enter the holiday zone, we’re freed from the monotony of our everyday lives, so it’s no wonder that we become more relaxed and happier than when we’re struggling along in the rat race. Getting away from our normal surroundings and taking time out helps us get a better perspective on who we are and what is important to us. It can be a moment for reflection as well as fun. I can definitely see how carving out this sort of together time could help couples to maintain their emotional connections and how it could revitalise – and maybe even save – some flagging relationships.
The greatest thing about getting away with the right person is that the bonds between you can’t fail to be strengthened, even if things go wrong. If you have a wonderful time, that’s great, but if you don’t, the experience is never wasted. If your love can survive arriving in Torremolinos and finding your hotel is only half-built, or spending a week in the departures lounge at Lagos airport, or trying to find somewhere romantic to eat in Fort William on a bank holiday, then it will endure just about anything.
Given that Londoners think that regular date nights make stronger couples, it stands to reason that regular holidays must be an even more powerful aphrodisiac. They’re mega, super-strength, multi-pack date nights. You get more quality time together, you’re building more mutual memories and you’re more likely to get far, far away from the tedious, workaday things that make you shout at each other. For example, I have never turned to my husband with shining eyes and whispered: “Darling, do you remember that evening when we filled in the tax forms together?”
Of course it’s possible to have a good marriage without going anywhere – and anyway, if you have kids any holidays you might be able to afford immediately stop being about you and start being all about them. After you’ve reproduced, sunset – once the most romantic moment of the day – becomes the moment you think: “Oh thank God, we can put them to bed now.”
What is important is that you make time for each other as a couple, and take a break from your domestic routine. That can be something as simple as going out for the day together when the kids are at school. It takes some arranging, but it can be done.
It doesn’t have to be anything flashy or expensive, but it must be something that gives you both a feeling of being liberated, outrageous and devil-may-care; Bonnie and Clyde, out on the loose together. You know, like spending the whole day in Ikea and having the meatballs for lunch.
But although the Scots believe that escaping together is the way to keep love alive, ironically, our very near neighbours in north-west England think that “regular time apart” is what saves a marriage.
I’m definitely with the romantics north of the Border. When things get tough, the way to sort them out isn’t to take a break from each other; it’s to take a break with each other.