By: Lucy Cavendish
Repost from:  The Australian
The other day my partner and I went off for a weekend away. It’s not the first one we’ve been on but we hadn’t got away for a while so we decided to book a hotel in the countryside and go. We really planned for it: what we’d do, where we’d eat. We wanted a big bath, a great bottle of wine, good food and interesting places to see. But, really, we just wanted to spend time indulging in each other.
Then I did something I had never done while in previous long-term relationships: I packed to have fun. I took candles, massage oil, lingerie, silk robe, perfume, the works. I loved doing that packing. It reminded me why we were going away — to escape the responsibilities of our lives and really concentrate on us for a change.
We have six kids between us. We both work. We are both busy. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we need time together. But after years of broken relationships I have realised something important: couples need to have fun. They need to create it, embrace it. They need a dirty weekend.
Indeed, relationship experts will tell you that a weekend away with your other half is not only about a bit of indulgence, it is a necessity. It can be the cement that keeps a relationship together.
“Time together is really important,” says psychologist Judi James. “It has to be about turning off the iPad and the gadgets and truly concentrating on each other … no relationship can really survive long term without having proper one-to-one time together, however scary that sounds.”
Frankly, for many couples I know that does sound scary — precisely because we’re no longer used to proper one-to-one time. I have many friends who make excuses every time I suggest they go away and leave the kids with their parents. “Too busy” or “can’t fit it in” are generally the replies. I suspect it is the fear of actually having to be together for an entire weekend that makes them panic.
One of the best ways to achieve real focus and interest in each other is, of course, sex. “Sex is an important component of long-term relationships,” says agony aunt Irma Kurtz. “When you are physically intimate with someone, especially if it has been after a long time of rushed fumbles or even abstinence, the sex can rejuvenate the relationship.” She says it’s especially important for couples with children to find time to be alone together. “You need to remember and remind each other of who you were before the kids arrived, who you are now, and who you will be when they are gone. This can be easier said than done, but it is important.”
She’s right about it being easier said than done. When I was with the father of three of my four children, the dirty weekend scenario had me running for the hills. Any time he organised a weekend together, something happened. I got a terrible stomach ache at a spa hotel; another time one of the children got ill and we had to come home. We went to Italy for a week, but I insisted on getting up super early every day to do yoga.
Why was this? In an article in Psychology Today, psychotherapist Lori H. Gordon argues that many couples fear the exposure and what they might face if they do break that pattern of being “too busy” for each other. In hindsight, on those attempted weekends away with my former partner, I know I was hiding from the problems in our relationship.
Relationships are hard, says Gordon. So many of us fall into the trap of focusing on objects that are intrinsically more lovable or less complicated to love, such as children or even our careers. Being “too busy” to go on a dirty weekend is likely to point to wider issues in a couple’s relationship.
Going away together is also about creating the right space to facilitate intimacy. When my boyfriend and I take off together, I feel a sense of freedom I can never feel at home. I don’t feel any compulsion to do the laundry, sort out the shoe cupboard or weed the garden. It’s wonderful to be in a hotel together. I am no longer a working mother of four. I can be whoever I want to be, which feels like utter, delicious, exciting indulgence.
“A weekend away helps release the freer side of the emotions, or that’s the idea,” says couples counsellor David Waters. “Play and fantasy are very important elements that need keeping alive in a couple, especially if life revolves around work, family, chores.” He points out that our fantasies exist for a reason and sometimes it’s good to indulge them. Couples, he says, need to learn to be playful.
Popping off to a boutique hotel for some “play” may be what we all need. But for many long-term couples the idea can be terrifying. When you fall out of the habit of intimacy with your partner, sexual desire can evaporate.
My friend Sarah tells me of a weekend her husband organised. “He’d found a hotel in Paris and it looked really romantic, but on the aeroplane he handed me a gift box from an adult store and I was so terrified of what was in it, I couldn’t open it.” It turned out to be no more than some massage oil. But, she says, “I was visualising handcuffs and blindfolds and goodness knows what else.” The upshot was, she couldn’t relax and spent the whole weekend organising trips to the opera and up the Eiffel Tower to avoid opening Pandora’s box.
“I was really struggling,” she says. Have they been away since? “No,” she admits somewhat sheepishly. “I think it puts too much pressure on a couple.”
When I ran a quick poll around my younger 30-something friends, many of whom had just had babies, they too found themselves terrified of revisiting themselves as playful beings. My friend Gina used to love going away with her partner, Mark. This was before they had their baby, Ben, now aged one. “I didn’t realise how much having a child can wreck the energy you put into relationships,” Gina says. “I still feel the same about Mark, but my energy levels are so much lower and most of my attention goes on Ben. If we were to spend a week away now I would just want to sleep, and that’s not sexy, is it?”
Clinical psychologist Stephen A. Diamond says it is common to begin to fear physical and emotional intimacy when you are not used to it or are feeling tired or under-confident. “True intimacy requires a strong sense of self, good personal boundaries and healthy self- esteem,” he says.
So how can we ensure a dirty weekend doesn’t end up being counterproductive? How can we relax when we’re asking ourselves: “What will we talk about? Do we still fancy each other? Will we have to do It?”
Relationship expert Tracey Cox suggests keeping the emphasis of the weekend on spending time together rather than on feeling you have to have as much sex as possible. “I think it’s more important that couples bond and remember what it was they were attracted to in the first place, rather than the physical side of things,” says Cox. But she says couples who tune in to even a “flicker” of desire can soon get back into the mood. “Be attuned to it and act on the ‘flicker’ as soon as possible. The longer you wait between first impulse and doing something, the less likely is it you’ll act on it.”
For those of us in relatively new relationships, the dirty weekend away can be a godsend for different reasons, especially if we come with the baggage of families and exes. For me, it is not only a wonderful excuse to get away from the drudgery of my home life, it’s about cementing a bond with a man away from our kids.
My partner and I have found that dirty weekends don’t even have to be elaborate. Sometimes we simply check into a nice hotel in our nearby town. We meet in the bar as if we are meeting on a date. We flirt with each other and we do ridiculously romantic things. We eat and have a good bottle of wine, then we share a kingsize bed with proper brushed cotton sheets. It’s indulgent, and I feel pampered and beautiful … and very devil-may-care.
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