How can we avoid
fighting on holidays?

It seems everyone has a story about arguing with their partner on holidays/while travelling. What is it about the experience that may breed conflict? Are there ways to avoid arguing on holidays or resolve these issues as quickly as possible?

Holidays can often be stressful in and of themselves, even though they are meant to be about chilling out and relaxing. This is possibly because of the following:

  1. There is often a build-up to the holiday (period of hard work, long time since the last holiday, anticipation of a break) which can act a bit like a pressure cooker, meaning it doesn’t take much for it to boil over.
  2. Getting away may also mean long queues, traffic jams, missed flights or delays adding to frustrations and low tolerance levels – funnily we become self-absorbed and highly defensive when we’re in a stressful environment. After all, it can be a jungle out there!
  3. Family members having different perceptions about how they view the holiday e.g. not getting a break because the kids need looking after/entertaining so where is the break for the adults? Holiday experiences can be gendered. That is, women (mothers/wives) will often complain that holidays are never a holiday for them, as they are doing what they normally do (cooking, cleaning, washing, and nurturing) except in another location!! While men can sit back and relax (or maybe not!??). Men can feel they deserve a holiday because of all the hard work they do, which maybe be right and yes male entitlement is a thing and can be ruinous for holidays!

So, why do couples fight on holidays? Is it the environment or are there unresolved issues, is it a mix of both? Matt Garrett, Manager of the Hunter centre at Relationships Australia NSW says, “It’s often more about the environment AND the issue. So mix together a sensitive issue that hasn’t been dealt with or is still left over with a short fuse, a heap of frustration, a pinch of hurrying along just to get on the road, and some overly demanding or whining children, friends, in laws and you have all the ingredients for a fight! Like most fights, the problem that is being argued about is rarely the actual problem; it’s usually more about the issues underneath.”

Often people have spent a lot of money to go away, or it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity they don’t want dampened by conflict. Are there ways to quickly resolve it or at least put it “on hold” for when you return home? As a couple it may be best to agree from the outset to do just that, put it on hold until you get back. Easy to say, less easy to do however. Having said that, often couples put on a proverbial happy face. Mind you, you do need to be a good actor! Having said that though, the issue still remains alive only just buried and waiting for an opportunity to raise its ugly head. So, far better to try and deal with it prior to heading off, even if you get the heat of the issue out on to the table and not fully sorted. You may find that the break- away can allow for some space to process the issues more calmly.

What things as a couple can you do pre-holiday to help avoid this kind of conflict, or at least have a plan on how to resolve it? Unfortunately conflict can rarely be fully avoided, it travels with you so don’t be fooled into thinking that being away from home means that you are leaving your problems behind. Nothing could be further from the truth. Therefore you are best to opt for the plan to resolve it (or at least manage it should it come up when you’re away). At least a plan to take ten breaths, separate for a few minutes until you calm down is a plan and better than no plan at all. At least you have a strategy, which sometimes can be enough to get you through.

If you do decide to save it for home life, you can make sure it gets resolved once your return by booking in an appointment with a couple’s counsellor from Relationships Australia NSW, that way you have already made a mental and physical commitment to addressing the issue. Leaving it to chance often allows difficult conversations (and the accompanying difficult emotions) to be avoided.

Holidays are meant to be enjoyable for everyone, so while you may have a set idea about what you want out of your holiday, do try and give some thought to what the other person or people want and make space for them to enjoy the holiday they way they would like. Even if this means you may be doing some work yourself. Plan for and agree on a strategy if emotions become heated. Again being able to create some space for people to cool off may just be enough to help you through the holiday without it all heading south. Bon Voyage!

If you would like to enquire about attending a couples counselling session please email enquiries@ransw.org.au or call 1300 364 277.

Matt Garrett

Manager of Hunter region, Relationships Australia NSW

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