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They Don’t Give Divorces on Airplanes, or Your Relationship CAN Survive Holiday Travel

“Even the Griswolds never had to board an airplane at Christmas.
Holiday travel can be annoying enough for edgy hipster singles boarding flights to Hong Kong with nothing but headphones and an Ipad Mini.  But add a significant other, a kid or two, and all the accompanying baggage (both mental and physical), and it’s enough stress to make Santa stay home drinking cocoa.  Laced with brandy.”
-Katie Read, MFT

by Katie Read, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
So how to arrive at your destination without having to drive straight to a lawyer for divorce papers?  A few therapisty tips:
·         Know your triggers, and your partner’s.  My husband is very tall, so he will do anything for extra leg room.  I know from experience that this means we have to get to the airport a month and a half before our flight, and if he doesn’t score an exit row, he will out-Grinch Ebeneezer Scrooge until we finally de-plane.  And if the people in the exit rows are all 5’2” (which has happened)?  Ohhhh, the reindeer poop starts flying.  So I, being the fabulously doting and caring spouse I am, know this is a huge trigger for him, so I make a conscious effort not to complain when we leave for the airport 57 hours early, if it means he’ll get his seat.  That said, he is also willing to pay any amount of money for above-mentioned exit row, which is a trigger for me.  Three hundred extra bucks a seat for a short little jaunt down to LA?  My husband is signing over his bank account passwords, crying in relief, thanking them for robbing us blind…and I have steam coming out of my ears.  So, we have to compromise.  We have to decide on reasonable amounts of money, over which we’ll choose to suffer rather than take out another mortgage.  And I have to remember that paying some extra money is worth it for his comfort…but can I be real with you?  It’s even more worth it if I don’t have to hear the complaining the whole time.  
And on that note…

·         Decide not to complain.  Oh, grasshopper, trickier than it sounds, no?  But let’s look at this realistically.  You can pretty much assume that anything about holiday travel is worthy of complaint, other than the fact that it gets you where you need to go.  It’s tiring and cramped and stressful, the food is bad, every sick person on the plane sits next to you and sneezes—or farts: we’ve had that, too.  So make a decision with your partner, that even if everything is really bad, you just won’t complain.  All complaining does is deepen the level of badness you’re experiencing, and reinforce your misery.   I’m not saying to plaster a smile and organize Feliz Navidad! in a round.  Just decide together, in advance, that you won’t bother mentioning the broken headphones or the dirty tray table or the pilot blathering on about the Grand Canyon, only seen on the other side of the plane.  Your spirits fly (get it?) a little higher when you’re not pulling them down on your own.  
And speaking of things pulling on you, if you’re traveling with kids…

·         Split responsibilities in advance.  When traveling with children, your stress is quadruplificated.  No, that’s not a word, but there’s really no word to capture it, right?  Your stress will be millioned?  Billioned?  Until you’ve done it, it’s hard to understand just how high one’s shoulders can raise and lock around one’s ears during hours and hours of trying to keep your kids happy, and out of everyone else’s way.  This is made even worse when each parent is trying to do everything, so divide responsibilities in advance.  I’ll take these bags and this kiddo, you take those bags and that kiddo. I’ll handle meals to give you a break, then you play some games to give me a break.  Sure, you might change your plans on the fly (get it?), but having a basic division of labor will help you work as a team, and help prevent those panicky I thought you were watching her! moments.  
And lastly…

·         Let go.  Nothing you do will put you in charge of how your travel day goes down.  (I won’t say “get it” here. That would just be awful.)  We can only hope for the best, commit to tackling it as a team, and let go of the outcomes.  In the span of a lifetime, a few hours of travel stress will be quickly forgotten…mostly because once you get there, you’ll have all that extended-family stress to worry about.  So enjoy every moment, just in case your in-flight hours end up being the best of the season.  

      Despite this piece, you’ll be surprised to know that Katie Read, MFT, actually really loves Christmas, and isn’t a Scrooge at all.  She is currently accepting holiday gifts at www.katiereadtherapy.comand www.greatlaughinglove.com.  Stop by for cocoa!

Katie Read

Katie Read

Katie Read is a Marriage and Family Therapist and Executive Editor of Psyched Magazine. She is also a writer who blogs about autism parenting at www.childshould.com. Her writing has been featured at Autism Speaks, Motherwell Magazine, Mamalode, The Mighty, and others.

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  1. Anonymous on November 30, 2012 at 6:10 am

    love it, katie! you are such a talented writer and i want to read more!

  2. Katie Read, MFT on December 1, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks! You are my new favorite person named “anonymous”!

    • Anonymous on December 12, 2012 at 8:40 pm

      Katie, this is great, as humorous and punderful as inspiring and insightful. If I ever have a kid or two, I’ll read this again before getting on the plane! Tom Rhodes– 🙂

  3. Robert Solley on October 4, 2013 at 12:44 am

    LOL! Useful advice in a very palatable form. Have you ever read Dave Barry? You share with him a fine grasp of comic hyperbole. Look forward to reading more of your articles!