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(Stock photo | Getty Images | Brand X Pictures/Stock photo | Getty Images | Brand X Pictures)
(Stock photo | Getty Images | Brand X Pictures/Stock photo | Getty Images | Brand X Pictures)

How not to break up on vacation Add to ...

Christine and her boyfriend of a year were huddled in the centre of their tent, terrified of the woodsman/murderer lurking just outside. For some inexplicable reason, he was hurling giant rocks into the lake. Kerplunk. Kerplunk. It had been going on for over an hour.

"I said to my boyfriend, 'We have to get out of this tent. We have to do something!' I had some bear spray and he had a tiny knife."

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Kerplunk.

"But I came to realize after a while that he wasn't going to do anything," my friend recounted last week.

Finally taking matters into her own hands, Christine rushed outside, bear spray in hand. Her boyfriend followed and they ran straight for their canoe, paddling away as fast as possible, making their daring escape from, well, as it turned out … a beaver flapping its tail on the water.

And that's the harrowing tale of how a camping trip Northern Ontario became, as Christine put it, a "relationship ender." She broke up with her boyfriend a month later. "He was much bigger and stronger than me," she explained. "I couldn't trust him to protect me."

As July rolls around, the romantic summer vacations we've planned have finally arrived. But while you might be headed to paradise, travelling as a couple really means journeying straight into the heart of darkness in love country.

Surviving may be as simple as rushing out of the tent first, but the unknown monsters of your relationship might also be more subtle than that. No matter how tiny your knife is, you must be brave.

For my friends Dan and Denise, one of their biggest relationship issues emerged during a kayaking trip in Laos and almost drowned them.

"We were approaching some giant reeds and we either had to go left around them or right around them," Dan told me. He was in the back of the kayak, so he thought he should act as the rudder and make the decision, but Denise was the one who could see more clearly so he thought she equally might decide. She also couldn't decide who should decide, both of them shouting at the other until it was too late.

"We missed our chance to make a decision," he said. "We hit the reeds, the kayak turned on its side and threw us both in the water, which was moving quite fast. Under water, I didn't know which way was up or how long I could hold my breath. I wondered, 'Is this how it ends?' "

Of course, drowning might not even be the worst of it. Dan remembers spending the first day on their two-month trip to Southeast Asia marching with their heavy packs for hours in the hot sun, famished and unable to settle on a place to stay.

"We're both bad at making decisions," he told me. "We don't want to regret the decision, but then we end up regretting the energy spent making the decision. Someone needs to say, 'Let's do this.' And then you can regret it later. The trip inspired a conversation about how we are going to get better at this."

Indeed, as Terrance discovered while bird watching with his new bride Claudia in Peru, compromise and communication have to be approached with the same fortitude as surviving abduction.

Their tour van had been hijacked on their honeymoon, so I called Terrance up to hear how the couple got through the ordeal.

As it turns out, the worse ordeal had been the vacation up until that point. In fact, in a weird way, Terrance was relieved as the five armed men pilfered their wallets and then drove them around looking for other tourists to hold up. During the six hours they were held in the van, he thought about two things: who he would stab first if he could reach his Swiss Army knife, and how being kidnapped would at least put things into perspective and end their bickering.

That was not to be the case. The police returned Claudia's stolen camera, but the couple got their problems back too. "What surprised me the most, and made me most frustrated, is that it didn't change our interaction in any way," he said. "When things like that happen in movies, it's a magic cure-all."

Five years and several more trips later, Terrance says that the two figured out their arguing was simply the result of their having different interests.

"She likes to see as much as possible in many cities. I like to hang out in one place as if I live there." Now, they spend a third of their trips on their own and entertain each other's wishes equally the rest of the time.

"I had this naive notion that a hijacking could fix things between us," he said. "But I realize now we had to learn how to talk to each other."

And with that last lesson, I'll leave you to your adventures. Happy travels, love birds.



Micah Toub is the author of Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age as the Son of Two Shrinks.

 

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