Andy said I only need one tip: “have a perfect husband.”
Lol! Very cute…
Andy and I have been together for a few years now and got married six months before heading on our European adventure. Also, we’ve traveled together for a few weeks here and there. Most of which were in my Mitsubishi Delica. We’re not strangers to spending a weekend in a van.
So I wasn’t too stressed about spending six months with him in a small space. Most of the time it was happy days, however there were times when it was more intense than I thought it would be. Six months in a van, is definitely different to a weekend here and there. In saying that, the things I learnt have definitely benefited our relationship. So, keeping in mind that I’m usually the grumpy one, here are the three big things I learnt on this trip:
Ask yourself; does it matter?
I’ve had three friends of mine, who are mothers, say they use this philosophy with their children. It’s no less relevant in adult relationships. There are always going to be those times where you’ve had a bad day, your fuse is short and you just snap. Or times when that lovely, wonderful, awe inspiring person in your life, has left their dirty shoes in the hallway… again!! Or they say something that isn’t well thought out, and while you know they mean well, it just comes across as offensive. And yes yes, if there are two ways to take something and one of those is offensive and the other is no, you mean the non-offensive one… The thing is, sometimes all of these situations collide.
When you live in a van and spend every waking moment with that person, these little moments can become much more intense. It’s a lot harder to walk away, spend the day doing something else and to let that fuse burn out. It’s also easy to project frustrated or negative feelings onto the person who is in closest proximity. Doing that, however, is not fantastic for a long lasting relationship.
So! I learnt to ask myself: “does it really matter?”
For example, if Andy wanted to climb for an extra hour and I wanted to finish up for the day. Most of the time, it really didn’t matter. Seriously, what’s an hour?!
Nine out of ten times it didn’t. Nine out of ten times I just needed to take a few breaths and work out what was really wrong. I found that generally it was something totally unrelated. A surprisingly large amount of the time I was hangry (packed snacks were super handy). It also meant that if I realised I was upset about something else, I was still in the good books and able to ask for a hug, or a listening ear. Or you know, for some more food.
In saying this, I also found it wasn’t always easy to be introspective. At times it was outright unpleasant to do this; to see things in my self that I didn’t necessarily like in myself. In those moments it can be easier to blame someone else. However, the times I blamed was also the times when things went to poo. I found that in the long run, it was way better to work out what’s really going on rather than unnecessarily hurt the amazing person I was living in a van with.
Like my friend Liv once said when teaching her daughter to tie shoelaces. They were running late, but rather than rushing her out the door she said this: “time spent now is time saved later.” In the long run, being five minutes late just didn’t matter.
2. Communicate… nice!
So I guess the next thing I learnt was… “But, what if it does matter?”
What if it’s that 1 out of 10 times?
If something really did matter to me, I talked about it. Then and there. Letting it sit and fester just made things bad when it finally exploded in a shit storm of insults and meanness. Again, this sounds simple, but knowing the difference between what mattered and what didn’t was sometimes hard.
For example, does it matter if Andy wanted to stay and climb two more climbs? If we’d only been out there for a couple of hours, it was a nice day and I was just feeling a lazy… probably not. But if it was the fifth day in a row we’d been climbing, I was exhausted and the sun was making it stupid hot, then yes it did matter to me.
So I discovered it was important to communicate this in a nice way. I fount I had to talk about how I was feeling. This did not mean talking about him being unthoughtful or selfish for wanting to climb more. In most relationships, it’s actually really rare that someone will do something to purposely hurt the other. In fact, if I assumed Andy was being unkind and it just made things nasty between us. Instead I found that me wanting to call it a day actually wasn’t about his behaviour, but about my needs. I think we’re conditioned in today’s society to think we aren’t allowed to ask for what we need. But it’s a powerful thing to know and be able to communicate:
“Andy I’m super tired, the sun is hot and I really just need a rest day. Do you mind if we call it…?”
That goes down waaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than: “God! you’re such a jerk! Can’t you see I’m tired? You’re so selfish!”
I learnt to ask myself how I would want him to say it to me.
So this is an obvious one. I found that if I followed the above steps this was also an easy thing to do. This was because Andy knew what was going on with me and was able to respond in kind. However, if I did this before I’d really worked out if it mattered I would find my self feeling put out if it did matter. Or if I didn’t communicate nicely, neither of us ended up feeling great about the compromise or outcome. Thing is, if it truly mattered and I communicated it nicely, Andy, being the wonderful and caring person I married, would always try to make reasonable compromises. Just like I do for him.
“Oh, your tired, I get that. Do you mind if I do just one more climb?”
And back to step one, would it matter? Probably not: “One more, of course not. Thanks for calling it early. I love you”… and all that other sappy stuff and stuff.
So yes, our relationship survived six months of living together in a 3m by 6m space. I actually think our relationship is better for it, I feel like I know him and who we are as a couple much better. Oh, and we’ve decided we definitely won’t be spending our retirement in a van. This was a compromise we could both agree on.