The “romantic getaway” is billed in popular culture and advertising as a staple of any successful relationship. But can taking trips with your significant other actually improve the quality of your partnership? After all, traveling can be pretty stressful—and it only gets worse when there’s more than one person involved.
There is research that suggests it can. One study by James F. Petrick and Angela M. Durko of Texas A&M University found that the more satisfied you are with your trips, the more satisfied you are with your relationship. And the more satisfied you are with your relationship, the more committed you are to that person.
The team asked 355 coupled adults ages 25 and older and with household incomes of at least $25,000 per year about their relationships and the vacations they took with their partners. They found that the participants who reported enjoying their vacations more were also more satisfied with their relationships.
“We assume for the most part that it’s the vacation experience that enhances the relationship experience and makes it better,” Petrick said. “But it can also be said the other way around: ‘If I’m happier with my relationship my vacation is going to be happier as well.'”
This can depend on the couple.
For some couples, their relationship is lost for a while, they go on vacation and it gets back on track,” he said. “Another couple, their relationship is off-center and the vacation enhances that. A lot of couples avoid those problems and they confront them during a vacation experience.”
To harness the healing potential of vacation in the face of a rising divorce rate, the Malaysian government in 2009 started a “Second Honeymoon Program,” sending troubled married couples on free beach resort vacations with the goal of keeping the marriage in tact. According to a government official in April 2016, 99 percent of 1,094 couples who had taken the trip had stayed together.
Petrick said the afterglow that couples experience following a satisfying vacation can last from two to six weeks. And the longer you’re gone and the farther away you travel, the more effective the vacation is at improving your relationship—but a weekend getaway works, too.
“What we do know is the effects of vacation are not permanent, which is great for the industry,” he said.
Petrick said the United States is the only developed country where paid time off for workers isn’t mandatory, leaving the country with a glut of unused vacation days (and, he thinks, a bunch of stressed out people). So how can you make sure you have a successful vacation when you do get to take one?
“There are a ton of predictors of relationship satisfaction,” Petrick said. “For someone to be satisfied is typically based on expectations. For me to be happy in my relationship almost has more to do what I expect from my relationship” than anything else.
The same can be said for vacation satisfaction, he said. If a vacation you take meets your expectations, regardless of what they are, you’re more likely to be satisfied with it.
The key for a successful trip with your partner is “getting both partners involved in the planning process so they’re both more invested in the vacation” and both partners clearly sharing their expectations for the vacation during planning, Petrick said.
We do know that vacation satisfaction is a predictor of life satisfaction, so finding vacations that satisfy both partners (leaves you) feeling better about life as a whole,” he said.
On top of vacation being good for your romantic relationship and stress levels, Petrick said there’s evidence that family vacations improve relationships between parents and children and between siblings. Trips also make us feel healthier and make us “smarter and more cognitive, spiritually and culturally,” he said.
“In the U.S. we’re really poor at doing that revitalization,” Petrick said. “Trips have an amazing benefit for all of us and we don’t do them often enough.”
In a perfect world, you’d be taking a trip every two months to reap all the benefits of travel, he said. So, maybe you can’t afford not to approach your boss for those days off you’ve been noodling. Bon voyage, lovebirds!
Need some inspiration? Check out this list of the most relaxing places to visit in the U.S.