“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” ~ Seneca
Summer is a terrific time to take a well-deserved vacation (click here to learn about what makes vacations great). Often those vacation plans include the opportunity to travel. Regardless of the specifics of your travel plans, you will often share the experience with a romantic partner. Spending time together is an important way for couples to maintain their relationships, but how couples spend their time may be particularly important. Specifically, engaging in activities that are novel, challenging, exciting, and interesting promotes self-expansion, or the sense that you are growing as a person (see more about self-expansion here).1 These types of activities are especially effective because they are reminiscent of the earlier experience of falling in love, which promotes an enhanced self-concept and increased self-esteem.2
Perhaps the best part about self-expanding activities is that doing them together leads couples to report less boredom, more excitement, and greater satisfaction with their relationships. Simply being in a relationship with your partner should lead to growth, but engaging in self-expanding activities as a couple can help provide even more self-expansion and growth. (If you are interested in taking a quick quiz to see how self-expanding your relationship is in general, click here.) Improving a relationship with little self-expansion is important. If the relationship doesn’t provide enough expansion, an individual may be motivated to find a more expanding partner, making that person more likely to cheat.3
The good news is that travelling encompasses the key features of self-expanding activities and since you make the travel plans, you get to decide how self-expanding your trip will be. For example, do you want to go to the same beach or lake that you visit every year, or do you want to try a new destination? If you want to try something new, perhaps you could spend your vacation building homes for Habitat for Humanity, or hiking through Europe. If you don’t go to those extremes, you can still experience expansion by taking a cruise or exploring a new city. Even if you prefer the comforts of a familiar destination, you can seek out new activities while you enjoy your favorite vacation spot. For example, try a new jogging or walking path, take up a new hobby like kayaking or playing tennis, or simply read a good book and share it with your partner. If it’s new to you, then it will do the relationship good.
In any case, if you want the full benefit of self-expansion, be sure that your activity is sufficiently exciting and not merely pleasant. Research finds that couples who do exciting activities (e.g., hiking or attending a concert) report greater relationship satisfaction than those who engage in pleasant activities (e.g., visiting with friends or eating out) or those who don’t add any activity.4 As you can see, travel can produce self-expansion, but if your summer does not include any exciting travel plans, you can still experience self-expansion at home. So get off the couch and go do something new and exciting!
1Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., & Lewandowski, G. (2002). Shared participation in self-expanding activities: Positive effects on experienced marital quality. In P. Noller & J. A. Feeney (Eds.), Understanding marriage: Developments in the study of couple interaction (pp. 177-194). New York: Cambridge University Press.
2Aron, A., Paris, M., & Aron, E. N. (1995). Falling in love: Prospective studies of self-concept change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 1102-1112.
3Lewandowski, G. W., Jr., & Ackerman, R. A. (2006). Something’s missing: Need fulfillment and self-expansion as predictors of susceptibility to infidelity. The Journal of Social Psychology, 146(4), 389-403.
4Reissman, C., Aron, A., & Bergen, M. R. (1993). Shared activities and marital satisfaction: Causal direction and self-expansion versus boredom. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10, 243-254.
*Note: This article is an adaptation of a piece written for Cover2Cover Magazine.
Dr. Gary Lewandowski - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lewandowski's research explores the role of the self in romantic relationships with a specific focus on self-expansion. He has authored dozens of publications for both academic and non-academic audiences and is a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.