Thunk No.02 Advice for Couples who Travel (Part 2)

This is the second in a series of articles intended for couples whose relationships are working well; for those couples who like each other and can comfortably express their care to one another; for those couples who are willing to be open with each other without fear that their openness or vulnerability will be used against them.

Imagine that the two of you are going on a trip together – just the two of you. You’ll have plenty of time together and you want to use it to deepen your relationship. Not in a heavy, probing-your-deepest-fears-and-insecurities way, but in a playful, explorative and friendly way; in a way that doesn’t seem possible amid the routines and demands of your at-home, day-to-day life. If that’s you, then, along with your luggage, pack these tools and get ready to explore, learn, and have fun.

The Grand Tour Tool

A while ago I interviewed men about their roles as fathers, for my dissertation research. I began the interviews with a “Grand Tour” question that asked them to describe a “typical day” as a father. The men would walk me through the things they would do as fathers on a typical day – make breakfast, help their kids get dressed, drive them to school, go to work, play with their kids, help them with homework, and talk with their wives about parenting issues. Their answers would provide a grand tour, a big picture, or an overview of their experiences as fathers. And later in the interview we would return to the experiences they had described on this tour, and explore them more closely.

Your trip with your partner, with all the stimulation provided by the places and people you encounter, is a great opportunity to explore “territory” in one another’s life – to take a “tour” of parts of each other’s life that you might not know so well. Grand tour questions are a great way to begin such explorations. Consider the following options.

The hometown grand tour. Imagine you’ve just spent the afternoon in the Zócalo in Oaxaca – a tree-lined plaza and central gathering place, surrounded by restaurants, markets, and a grand cathedral, filled with musicians and street vendors; it’s the place for rallies, celebrations, and whiling away time with friends and family.

You might ask your partner if they had a town square or central gathering place where they grew up. Did they have a place where the locals hung out on warm evenings, or a place where people would gather to celebrate or to protest? Ask them to take you on a descriptive tour of the plaza or square, of the buildings, of the types of people they would see there, and of the different events they experienced.
Your travels could lead you to think of other places to explore with grand tour questions: of your partner’s school, neighborhood, church or place of worship, their downtown or main street, or other distinctive features of their hometown.

And you might ask for a grand tour of the home in which they grew up: “Describe your house to me; walk me through its rooms.” (Perhaps you can ask this as you’re inching your way through Versailles, “What kinds of rooms did you have in your house? Were any of them like this?”)

The grand tour of family or friends. As you encounter a variety of people on your trip, you may find yourself wondering about the people who played a role in your partner’s life. Even if you know some of those people now, you may not know much about the role they played years ago.

So, you might say to your partner, “Tell me about the closest friends you had during high school. Who were they? How did you get to know each other? What kinds of things did you do together?”

After the grand tour, you can follow-up with some mini-tour questions, like “What did you like about spending time with him or her?” “How did they influence the way you see yourself?” And you could ask similar questions about grandparents, siblings, cousins, teachers, coaches, or mentors; or about friends from teams, clubs or other groups they were involved in.

The grand tour of holidays, rituals or celebrations. Even if you and your partner grew up in similar cultures and places, the ways your families celebrated birthdays may have been quite different. And if your religions or ethnicities or cultures were different, then the ways you marked key life events – the food, the clothing, the significance of the event, the kinds of people in attendance – may have been strikingly different.

Suppose you enter a restaurant while on your trip and you see a large group of people celebrating. You could ask your partner to tell you “about the way your family would celebrate birthdays … or Christmas … or New Year’s … or turning 15 or 16 or 18 or 21.” Or, “What were the sacred days for your family, based on your culture or religion? What kinds of things did your family do on those days?” Or, “Were there celebrations in your town (or school), that had real significance to you? What happened on those days?”

One of the best things about grand tour questions, is that they open the door to lots of mini-tours to follow: the details, the meanings, the emotions, the way our partner’s life was influenced by these places and events; mini-tours that build your understanding of one another and strengthen your connection.