Hand-in-hand they stroll round the deck, stopping to look lovingly into each other’s eyes or gaze out to sea. When they talk, they’re interested and animated. After sundown, they’re out again for a moonlight saunter, pausing to sip a cocktail, or go dancing, with eyes only for one other.
These are the cruise couples that fascinate us, because they seem so close, so comfortable and so romantic. We like to watch them, study them and occasionally gossip about them. And, of course, many of us envy them, secretly wishing we could have a sprinkling of the relationship magic they seem to enjoy.
‘The loved-up couples cruise is the picture many of us have when we imagine two people going on holiday together,’ says life coach and self-development author Talane Miedaner. ‘We see them on TV, in brochures and on board; we buy into the hype and we think that’s the way our cruise is supposed to be. But reality isn’t like that.’
What’s more, adds Talane, author of The Secret Laws of Attraction: The Effortless Way to Get the Relationship You Want, believing this illusion is a recipe for the holiday blues. ‘We expect a lot from big trips, and we can easily end up disappointed with a relationship if we compare it to others we see on holiday. The truth is, no one changes drastically just because they’re on a cruise, and the partner you know at home will be the same person at sea.’
In fact, constant proximity on holiday can cause minor frictions to ignite into blazing rows. “Every couple has their own ‘hot spots’,” says Talane. “For some it’s clutter or punctuality, for others it might be money.” So, how can we keep our relationship shipshape, while enjoying some of the closeness we covet? Here are our top seven tips for surviving your first couples cruise holiday.
Plan Your Trip Beforehand
Know beforehand what would make the trip perfect, advises Talane, then make it happen. “Research the places you’re visiting and decide what you want to see,” she says. “Talk over your differences. It’s unrealistic to spend every minute together, so agree to spend some time independently. But if there’s one thing you’d really love to do together – maybe it’s holding hands when you walk on deck, or going shopping for jewellery – say so, and both agree to do it.”
Don’t Be Needy
One of the biggest mistakes we make, says Talane, is expecting our partner to meet every one of our emotional needs single-handedly. There are hundreds of needs, but she argues that most of us have four main ones: to be loved, to be appreciated, to be heard, and to achieve. “When those needs are being met,” she says, “we relax, we laugh more, and we’re less likely to get cranky about little things, such as a partner forgetting to pack insect repellent.” To work out what your needs are, you could examine your most memorable life experiences, or times when you felt really satisfied and happy.
“Ask yourself what gestures, words or actions made you feel really good inside,” suggests Talane. There’s also a free Emotional Index quiz on Talane’s website. Once you have identified your needs, Talane suggests looking for ways of getting them met via family and friends before you go away, and not relying on your partner to do it all on holiday. “If you need recognition, run a marathon where you get cheered on by bystanders,” she says.
Remember Your Bedside Manner
If your partner is unlucky enough to be taken ill or suffer from seasickness, you must step up to the plate. “Illness on holiday makes people feel incredibly vulnerable, so give plenty of TLC,’ says personal coach Paul Scadding. “Make sure they have everything they require – water, medicine or an appointment – and sit with them if they want you there. If you’re the one who’s ill, don’t be shy of telling your partner exactly what you want and need.”
Beat Cabin Fever
On a cruise, the two of you could be sharing a small room for two weeks or more. “In a confined space, nerves may fray,” says Paul. ‘That’s when you start to notice behaviour that irritates you. But the ship is full of spaces to spend your day, so make the most of them and just use your stateroom for sleeping.” That doesn’t mean you need to go about on deck as though joined at the hip. “If your partner is getting on your nerves, chances are you’re also getting on theirs,’ says Paul. ‘So spend an hour reading a good book in the library, or even arrange a solo shore excursion.”
Keep Your Cool
But what happens if you end up having a disagreement or, even worse, a full-blown row? “You’ll both need a cooling-off period,” says Talane. “Ask your partner how long they need to be angry. They might say they need 15 minutes or an hour, so arrange to meet them after that time, back at the pool. It’s important to use a neutral tone – if you sound angry, people tune out.” It’s also worth asking yourself if this is really worth fighting about. If you decide it isn’t, just apologise. “If you’ve had an argument over the amount you spent at the shops, for example, you could diffuse the situation almost immediately by saying, ‘You’re absolutely right’.”
Handle Those Habits
If your partner has holiday habits that always wind you up, prepare some coping strategies before you go away. “Do they keep wandering off, so you’re always losing each other on excursions?” asks Talane. ‘If so, set a time and a place to meet – at the taverna, perhaps – then relax and enjoy the sights.” Sometimes, however, it’s as simple as keeping your temper. “If they have a habit of ordering a drink for themselves and not you, just grin and say, ‘Don’t I get one too?’ It’s so much more effective than yelling!”