My kids spent last weekend on a ranch in the foothills of the mountain range near our town. The ranch is the home of one of the elders from my church and his family. The kids love spending time there chasing cows, riding horses, feeding chickens, and doing all the other things they do on the ranch. With the children away for a couple days, my wife and I were free to take a weekend away mini-vacation. We spent the night at a bed and breakfast situated in a ghost town; we then spent the day christmas shopping; and finally spent a night at home alone together. We do these mini-vacations twice a year, and have found that they are a perfect opportunity to spend time together, focusing on each other. We love our kids, but they demand a great deal of attention. I don’t begrudge them that attention, and in fact, feel that it’s our duty as parents to love our children and meet their emotional and relational needs. The challenge that comes with meeting the hefty attention and emotional needs of children is in maintaining a healthy relationship with each other. It’s easy for the marriage to go on the back burner when you’ve got kids to attend to. I’ve written several articles on the importance of date nights. The mini-vacation is a step beyond date night. It’s taking a day or two away to be together, alone. I know couples who haven’t spent days alone together in years, since they were first married, because of the demands of parenting. My wife and I agreed that keeping our relationship vital was good for us and for the kids, so we are intentional about planning these overnight dates a couple times a year. The trick is that it’s not an instant success. Weekends away need to be approached with appropriate expectations and with a degree of careful planning to ensure their success. Here are a few things we have recognized and learned from our experiences:
- Make Careful arrangements for Your Children: As important as the time together is, your first responsibility is for the safety and care of your children. The plans you come up with for their care need to be carefully considered. They need to be comfortable with the arrangement. The person watching them needs to be responsible and knowledgable in caring for kids. There needs to be plans in place in the case of an emergency, and you need to plan for their care and comfort. Family is ideal for this sort of arrangement, particularly grandparents. Another possibility is utilizing a sitter. I know couples who take turns watching each others children to support date nights. Taking turns with another couple watching watching kids is another way to make the weekend away possible.
- Weekends away are no substitute for regular time spent: If you haven’t had alone time together in 6 moths, taking a weekend away is good, but it isn’t going to make up for all the time you haven’t spent together. Relationships take regular time spent together. Marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. Marriage health involves dating your spouse, spending time together, and working on your relationship. Weekends away are a sort of icing on the cake. They are are not the whole dessert cart.
- Don’t forget why you are doing the trip: The purpose of the mini-vacation is to spend time as a married couple, alone. It’s tempting to try to get stuff done without kids in the house or to fit in all sorts of vacation activities. Don’t get bogged down in planning a crazy outing or long trip. My wife and I have been tempted to use our days away to knock out christmas shopping or to plan a great luxury vacation. The point is to spend time together. The best husband-wife getaway we have gone on was to a hot spring resort in western Montana. We spent most of the weekend lounging around, talking, and reading. We enjoyed each other’s company in a relaxing way.
- Be Realistic: The weekend away isn’t a cure all. If you’re having communication problems, you can take the lower pressure environment as an opportunity to work on it. It probably won’t fix the problem for good. It may help, but you’ll likely still need to work at it. Another way that realism is important is in the area of romance. Wives, frustrated with their husband’s lack of romantic efforts, may not find that their husband is instantly transformed into Don Juan. Husbands who are looking for their wives to suddenly have a supercharged libido, may wind up frustrated. In both cases, unrealistic expectations can sour the weekend. Both of these problems are best dealt with through communicating with each other about the frustrations. The best plan is to be realistic and have realistic expectations about your time away.
- Enjoy each other: I write a lot about communication and focusing on the relationship, which may give the impression that the whole weekend away needs to be some sort of marriage encounter or therapeutic retreat. Time away is best utilized as an opportunity to enjoy each other, to have fun, to talk, to nap, and to be intimate without kids or the pressures that accompany marriage.