Most people can wrap their heads around many aspects of our roving lifestyle, but there is one resounding question we always get: how the heck does one spend 24/7 with their partner/wife/husband and not go completely insane.
Before we left I actually had several friends tell me that they could not be paid to spend 24/7 with their loved one, that they would certainly go crazy if they did. That's not to say their relationship is bad or flawed or anything, it's just that privacy, alone time and personal space mean more to some than to others. Those things are generally not issues for Scott and me. This dream to live on a boat and sail the world was a shared one and we were pretty well-prepped to live in close quarters having spent many years racing and sailing. I think this fact - coupled with the fact that personal space isn't a big deal for either of us - is why we transitioned from living on land to living on a small boat so easily.
That said, we've had our 'moments'. Many of them in fact. We yell, hold grudges and have silent treatment standoffs that would impress even the most stubborn curmudgeon. We're both passionate people with strong minds and opinions and, let's face it, sometimes they clash. We're human. And we live on a boat. And are together 24/7. It's an intense situation to be in. Marriage on a boat is like a land-based marriage on steroids and can be counted as such. We might have only celebrated two anniversaries, but each year of cruising is akin to (at least) three-years of matrimony. Time-wise, we figure we've spent more hours together than couples who've been married three times as long.
Despite the fact that we get in fights from time to time, they are usually resolved quickly. We have a choice: we can turn our boat into a steaming cauldron of tension, or keep it the happy place it is. We chose the latter. The key is communication. Shocking, I know. Fights are caused by the usual stuff: misunderstandings, miscommunication, selfish behavior. Through communication, I have learned that when things get heated Scott needs time to cool off, and he has learned that I don't like to be stonewalled. So we compromise, we communicate our needs. He gets his twenty minutes of quiet time and we revisit our argument afterwards. Win/win. He needs quality time with me and I need a couple hours a day to write and read. We're learning each others "love language" and, slowly but surely, we're growing with each other as a couple. It takes work, but more often than not - ours is a peaceful union.
So what is the secret to a successful relationship on a boat? I don't know. Some couples thrive, while others break at every seam. I think Scott and I are making it work pretty well, and I don't want to leave you without a take-away, so I have these tips to offer up:
- Get out and enjoy things together. Whether it be photography, hiking, snorkeling or yoga - get out and DO stuff and do it together. It's amazing how many couples simply exist side by side (yes, even out here). Make an effort to enjoy life together.
- Have your own hobby/hobbies. It's so important to exist outside of a union and be an individual as well. Find your own passion and dive into it. Make sure your spouse knows when you need some alone time to do it. Reading, writing, paddle boarding, crocheting...all of these things can be done alone and quietly and offer a little respite from intense togetherness. I love to write and blog, Scott loves to kite board. We each allow the other to enjoy their respective hobbies and passions and we're better partners because of it.
- Keep your mind active. Believe it or not, some people think that this life can be pretty boring. I have never found that to be the case, but if you find yourself bored - you can rest assured that you are getting boring too. Read a book. Go snorkeling. Research the next island. Start birdwatching. Sketch a picture. These activities will not only give you food for thought, but something to talk about at the dinner table.
- Empower each other. Scott and I both began this journey as avid sailors but he is the better sailor of the pair (I am more the traveling sailor, he's the sailor who travels). He is constantly pushing me to learn more, to get out of my comfort zone and take the reigns. Scott is learning how to kitesurf and if the conditions are right, I don't hold him back and send him off with a kiss. Similarly, I'm learning how to cook; experimenting with new foods and trying new recipes and he's reaping the benefits. If your loved one is keen to try something new - encourage them. When we learn, we grow.
- Find ways to get OFF the boat. Getting off the boat is key. Having water toys has greatly enhanced our cruising enjoyment and given us plenty of opportunity to expand our horizons. Scott will take Isla for a little kayak or I can steal away on our SUP for forty minutes. Sometimes these mini breaks are all you need to clear your mind and feel less oppressed by life in tight quarters.
- Be a team. More often than not this life is the dream of the man, and the woman is a participant (sometimes willing, sometimes they are taken kicking and screaming). It's very important that both parties feel important and necessary. Many men are single-handing with their wives aboard. You must work hard to break this tendency. Of course each of you will have jobs that you do more frequently, but be sure to change it up and make sure both are comfortable in each other's areas. Work together. Having purpose and responsibility will greatly impact your enjoyment of this life.
- Make your boat your home. This is a big one for me as I am heavily impacted by my surroundings (some of you might not be, so you can skip this one). I've mentioned several times that comfort and enjoyment are closely linked when cruising. Our boat is our home and we treat it as such. We have nice bedding, nice throw pillows, a watermaker and ample storage for our books and personal items. The boat is clean, tidy and welcoming. For us, the fact that our boat feels more like a home and less like camping makes cruising more comfortable, and more fun.
- Understand each other's limits. While one of you might be fine taking a bucket shower with salt water and living off a couple quarts of water and a can of beans a day, if the other one can't live like that - you are setting yourself up for failure. Of course compromise is necessary; ten minute fresh water showers and gourmet meals might not be on the agenda - but if you had a small water maker that allowed for a fresh water rinse once a day and a great boat cookbook that makes the most of boat-cooking, that might make all the difference.
- Define your personal space. If you need personal space and time alone, tell your partner. "I'm going to read a book and I'd like one hour of no interruptions if that's okay" or "I'm writing a blog post and I'd like to just focus on that for the next hour or two and then I'm all yours". Define your parameters and do it respectfully. If you tell your partner what you need, your chances of getting it go WAY up.
- Take nights off from time to time. I ADORE my girlfriends back home and when I lived on shore, ladies' night was at least a weekly occurrence. It's true: men are from Mars and women are from Venus, so there's something very cathartic about spending time with your peers. When I met a couple fantastic girlfriends here in Georgetown, we were all craving a girl's night. So we had one. It was WONDERFUL! None of our husbands begrudged us this night, and we had a blast and went home better wives because of it.
- Know that your shore-side troubles will not go away. Yes, you might be cruising in paradise - but it's important to know that your relationship issues will sail right off into the sunset with you. Cruising will not fix a bad relationship. More often than not, your relationship will be put under more stress at sea than on land. Just like a baby won't mend a flailing relationship, cruising won't either.
This lifestyle has broken up relationships and strengthened as many or more. If you have flaws in the foundation of your partnership, you can rest assured that cruising will find them. It won't be pretty and you will not have fun. Period. If, however, you have a solid foundation and work out the growing pains of life aboard, you are on your way to an incredible and intense partnership. I think the most beautifully written piece of advice regarding relationships aboard comes from the revered Beth Leonard when she says:
The sea finds all weaknesses: in boats, in people and in relationships. You have to be sure you have the skills to sail the boat, to fix it, to navigate, to get along in foreign cultures. But you also have to be prepared to come face to face with yourself, to discover things about yourself that you do not like and to work to change those things. You have to be ready to confront any weaknesses in your relationship and to address those in a situation where you are together 24/7 in sometimes highly stressful situations where your lives depend on one another. Cruising will not fix a broken relationship – it is far more likely to rip it apart along the fault lines. But where a basis of true respect and caring exists, the experience of cruising together can create a real partnership and eventually transform that into the kind of soul-deep bond that most people dream of but only a handful ever achieve. In the toughest times, when you think that you can’t do it or that your relationship cannot survive it, commit and commit again, knowing it will be worth every moment of doubt, pain and discomfort. In the best times, which come far more often, don’t forget to dance on the foredeck under the stars, to make love in the cockpit caressed by the tradewind breezes and to say “It sure beats working,” at least twice a day!"
- Beth Leonard, from the Interview with a Cruiser ProjectWhat tips would you share with cruisers and wanna-be cruisers about keeping relationships healthy and finding personal space on board? Please share in the comments so we all can learn!