Living and traveling alone as a digital nomad can be very difficult, and the isolation that accompanies it can be the source of mental health challenges.
Embracing the digital nomad lifestyle with a partner can mitigate some of the challenges of travelling alone, as you have someone that you can trust, engage with, and be responsible to.
However, digital nomad couples will often find themselves in the situation where they have to work, play, eat, sleep, bathe, and do pretty much everything else together. They often find that they are in each other’s pockets 24 hours a day. A couple can lose the dynamic of separate workplaces, separate friends, and separate interests that gave the relationship colour and space.
While some couples with thrive in these circumstances, there are very few couples that won’t face some challenges when they jump into this kind of intense co-living situation.
One of the secrets to dealing with this is to recognize that the issues that you are facing are expected challenges that accompany your chosen lifestyle. This knowledge can help keep the issues that arise in perspective.
It is then a matter of having strategies in place to mitigate some of the challenges and deal with the issues as they arise in healthy and productive ways.
With this in mind, we are going to share five essential relationship tips for digital nomad couples.
1. Set Boundaries
No matter what your living situation, it is challenging to live in someone else’s pocket all the time. This is true whether you are on the road, quarantining, or just both work from home.
While you might not have secrets from one another, you probably have parts of your life that you prefer to keep private and boundaries that you don’t really want you partner to cross.
Maybe you aren’t comfortable with your partner seeing or washing your dirty underwear. Perhaps you don’t like it when they use your computer or cell phone. It could be that you don’t really like it when your partner can listen in when you catch up with certain friends or family members.
None of these things are unreasonable, you aren’t keeping secrets or blocking your partner out of certain parts of your life. They are simply natural privacy and intimacy boundaries that you need, and everyone draws those lines at different places.
Because everyone is different, you can’t expect your partner to automatically know where your boundaries are. In the same spirit, your reasonable approach of treating them how you would like to be treated won’t necessarily satisfy their needs.
So, you need to consider what your boundaries are and discus them with your partner so that you can both know how to keep each other comfortable. You also need to maintain an open line of communication on the subject of boundaries, as new living situations will probably reveal new boundaries that you did not necessarily anticipate.
Your partner will have their own boundaries, and as they tell you what they need, it is important to remember that they probably aren’t about you. It is important not to take reasonable requests personally or get offended.
2. Create Space
No matter how much you love and appreciate someone, sometimes you do need some space from them. Spending 24 hours a day together can be overloading.
If you are in that situation, you need to think of ways to create space and time apart, without excluding one another from some of the essential digital nomad experiences. Abandoning your partner to go and do fun things on your own is probably just going to create tension.
But think about things that you can do separately. Does one of you like yoga and the other like to run? Look for other exercise partners so that you can both use this as a regular time to refresh.
If there are certain things that your partner would prefer some space to do, like a phone call, meditation, or something else personal, can you go for a walk or spend the afternoon working in a café so that they can have your accommodation to themselves.
Finding space might even just involve retreating to separate parts of your accommodation and donning headphones to create a greater feeling of separateness.
If you need a little bit of space, think of ways that you can find and create the time and separation that you need.
And don’t get upset if your partner says that they need some time alone. It is not an indication that they do not like spending time with you. It is an expected need when you spend that much time with one other person.
3. Spend Quality Time
If you are digital nomading together, you might be spending a lot of time together, but it might not be quality time.
Sitting shoulder to shoulder working on separate projects isn’t quality time, especially if the only words you exchange are “is the internet slow for you?” (The answer is always yes). Similarly, sitting on a plane with one of you snoozing and the other watching a movie is not spending time together.
Even when you are doing fun travel things, the time you are spending together might not be quality. If you aren’t treating it as a shared experience, you can occupy the roles of two individual visitors, both having an amazing experience, but not necessarily a shared experience.
Even if you are spending pretty much 24 hours a day together, remember to schedule quality time. This generally means switching off your cell phone and other distracting devices and focussing on spending time together.
You are in a great position to do this as one of the best ways to fortify a relationship is to do fun things together and create strong memories. Travelling provides a lot of opportunity to do new and different things that create a lasting impact and bond.
4. Focus on the Positive
When things get challenging in a relationship, it can be easy to focus on the negative. Your partner always leaves a mess in the kitchen, they expect you to check timetables and book accommodation and don’t do any of the work, and they type loudly when you are trying to concentrate. It is incredibly easy to focus on these negative things and start to feel negatively towards you partner.
In order not to get bogged down in these problems, you need to learn to balance these negatives with positives.
They always make a mess in the kitchen, but they love cooking dinner for you from local ingredients while you finish up your final call of the day.
While you tend to always take the lead in making travel plans, they are relaxed about doing certain things that they aren’t that interested in because they know that they are important to you.
Sure, they type loud, but they always make sure you have a full coffee cup. Plus wearing headphones means enjoying some of your favourite tunes while you work.
When you notice a bad habit of your partner’s that gets under your skin, try to think of at least one positive to balance it out. More than one if you can! And, of course, you can still have a word with them to see if it is something that they might be able to address and change, but it will be a much more positive conversation if you have already dealt with your irritation.
Also remember that you aren’t perfect, and your partner might be having similar thoughts as you innocently go about your day. So, if they raise an issue with you, try to listen and be open minded.
5. Learn to Disagree Productively
No one agrees all the time. And when two people decide to construct their lives together, it is not always possible to agree to disagree, as you need to find a way to accommodate one another. This is why it is natural for couples to argue sometimes, regardless of their lifestyle choices.
All couples need to learn strategies to disagree productively and resolve issues amicably. But this can be even more important when you are a digital nomad couple, as you might not have the chance to get some space and blow off some steam if needed.
Accepting that disagreements will arise, it is important to learn how to disagree in a productive and healthy way.
While every couple dynamic is different, bearing these things in mind when you are in a state of disagreement should be useful.
- Stick to the topic at hand. We have al experienced a disagreement that has become a gateway for arguing about past hurts and other issues. If you want to resolve a specific issue, stick to the topic at hand. Avoid making the problem bigger than it is by confusing the issue with other problems.
- Choose your tone of voice and words carefully. Everyone has triggers, and you probably know what your partner’s are. When you are arguing, it can be tempting to push them, but again that just makes the argument worse, and the problem more difficult to resolve. Anger and shouting are also a trigger for most people, so try and remain in control of your tone of voice.
- Take responsibility and apologize for anything that you may have done. It can be difficult to apologize when you don’t think that you are principally at fault, especially if it feels like you are giving ground. It can also be hurtful to apologize and then not have the other person do it too. But when you are n disagreement, apologizing is an important olive branch that shows the other person that they are more important to you that it is to be right.
- Say I love you. For similar reasons, don’t forget to tell you partner that you love them and that you want to be with them while you are in a state of disagreement. It helps put issues in perspective.
- Try to choose a good time to argue. While this is not always possible to choose when an argument will emerge, if you are discussing a slow burning and ongoing issue, you can choose to take up the issue when you are both fresh and clear headed, rather than tired and potentially with a few drinks inside of you. You will both be more willing to compromise ad see the perspective of the other in the morning.
- Let the other person speak. When they say something that you disagree with you will probably want to jump in with a “but”. But getting your point across and being heard is essential to letting go, so listen to your partner speak before you jump in with your own thoughts. You might be surprised how quickly this can help diffuse the situation.
- Don’t invalidate feelings. While you might argue about the facts of the case, you should never delegitimize how your partner feels. If they tell you that something hurt and upset them, you can’t dismiss that feeling as invalid. You can tell them that you are sorry that they feel that way and that it was not your intension.
It can be fantastic to face the digital nomad challenge with you partner by your side as your partner in crime. Having someone to share it with can do a lot to enhance and improve your digital nomad life. But the arrangement also comes with some serious challenges.
Spending 24 hours a day together and sharing everything, while it might sound romantic, is challenging for most people. Most of us have boundaries that we like to maintain with our partners and need separate headspace occasionally. So, as you begin the digital nomad journey together you might find that issues and arguments emerge.
This is not a sign that the two of you aren’t meant to be together, and this is actually expected as you make this kind of lifestyle change.
If you enter this challenge with your eyes open and strategies for coping, the two of you will soon find your feet as a digital nomad pair.