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Everyone benefits from an occasional break, but for couples and families, getting away from home can be essential. Modern day life is tough, but a holiday can ensure those challenges are faced together, says author Paula Hall. Most of us don't need to be told that holidays are fun. Whether it's a short trip or a long getaway, a break from routine is something that couples and families look forward to.
But did you know that as well as the physical and mental benefits, research shows that holidays also make us more satisfied with our relationships? Travelling to different locations and enjoying new experiences also improves our creativity and our self confidence. And if those holidays are spent with nature, then you can also look forward to recharging your brain and becoming more resilient to stress. Below, we'll explore how a forest based holiday can improve your relationships by providing the space couples and families need to reconnect with each other and strengthen their intimate bonds. You'll also find tips and advice on how to maximise your holiday benefits so they last long after you get home.
Apparently, loving nature is natural. Scientists say that humans evolved to thrive in their natural environment and therefore we're pre-programmed to enjoy green space and a connection to nature is essential for our physical and psychological health.
Relationships and families come in many shapes and sizes and all of them benefit from a bit of TLC to keep them happy and harmonious. Whether you're a child-free couple or parents of tots to teens, home life can, at times, be stressful. And if you're one of the estimated 1 in 3 people who are part of a second family, then like many, you may often find yourself struggling to keep everyone happy.
Sometimes it's easy to recognise when your relationships are under pressure and need a break, for example when you're arguing a lot or constantly getting on each other's nerves. But sometimes the signs are more subtle. Like when family members seem to be spending less time at home, perhaps because they feel no connection. Or it can be when the house is awkwardly quiet because you’ve run out of things to say. At times like these, a break away can get you refocused on each other and having fun again; appreciating each other again.
Other common signs that your relationships may need a holiday are when all you can find to talk about is work or the endless list of jobs to do around the house. Or the things you used to think were fun have completely lost their sparkle. If any of this is ringing a bell, then it's time that you, and your relationships, had a break.
A family cycling through the Forest of Dean
Someone once said that the best way to spell love is "T.I.M.E". Regrettably, time is something that many of us are hard pressed to find. Whether it's time to spend with a loved one, or children, or other family members, we live in a stressful and busy world where many of us are juggling full-time careers with looking after a family and running a home. On top of that, many of us now recognise the importance of looking after our mental and physical health, so we're also trying to squeeze in an exercise routine and relaxation into our overstretched lives. But how can we look after our relationship health?
Time is essential for relationships to both survive and thrive because without time together we forget how to laugh and to love. When we spend time with each other it demonstrates our priorities in life. It shows our loved ones that they matter and that being with them is important to us. But unfortunately we all only have 24 hours a day and 7 days a week so often the only way to make more time for our relationships is to have a complete break away; to get the diary out and block out some "us" time.
It's a well-worn cliché, but like most clichés, it's a cliché because it's true: "It's quality, not quantity that counts". And this is never truer than when we're talking about time with our partner and family. So, once you've booked that date in your diary it’s not enough to just sit around and hope that you reconnect with your loved ones, you need to be pro-active in choosing environments and activities that will encourage you to get close and forge stronger bonds. In terms of holidays, that means you need to choose a location that is stress-free, but stimulating. And if you’re going as a family, especially if there are a range of ages, that environment also needs to appeal to everyone. And of course, be within your budget.
A family relax by a stream running through the forest
The great benefit of a holiday in a forest is that there's something for everyone. If you want peace and tranquillity - there are acres of it. But if the kids want fun and adventure, there's plenty of that too. And if grandma and granddad want more ideas for the garden or to be able to name more members of our native bird life, the Forest Ranger can take them on a trail they'll remember long into their retirements. Research conducted a few years ago aimed to discover what people enjoyed most about holidays and it's no surprise to learn that parents want relaxation and kids love moments of activity and absorption. But what the research also found was that all generations enjoy moments of togetherness and the "wow" factor. And "wow" is what you get on a holiday spent in the forest.
There is something really special about being in nature; something magical that calms the depths of the soul like nothing else, but can also stimulate the senses with unparalleled beauty and exquisiteness. There's a wonderful word in the English language that's often forgotten: "wonderment". Wonderment is that feeling of awe and amazement that you see on a child's face when they see a ladybird. Or when we see a rainbow or catch a glimpse of a hawk in flight. And it's a feeling when shared with someone else that builds memories that can never be forgotten. Wonderment is not something that you'll sometimes find on a packed tourist beach or even in a 5* hotel, but if you come with open eyes, it is something you'll find in the wilds of a Forest Holiday.
- Children: Use up all that excess energy with a canoeing lesson* or absorb their attention with a Mini Forest Ranger adventure.
- Teenagers: Give them a challenge they won't forget like pony trekking*, zip wiring, or climbing.
- Couples: Soak in the hot tub, have an in-cabin spa treatment or a romantic meander down the river in a canoe for two.
- Seniors: Stretch those aching bones with a gentle bike ride, a spot of fishing, or just sit back and relax in front of the TV with an Evening In Treats pack.
- For all the family: Get everyone involved with an archery contest, spend a few hours at Go Ape, or try one of the many forest walks or Forest Ranger adventures available.
To get the most out of your holiday and ensure that your relationships return refreshed and invigorated will take a bit of planning. It's not enough simply to pack your toothbrush and good intentions; sometimes a bit of pro-active preparation is called for. Below are my top three tips to ensure your Forest Holiday is one to remember:
Think about timing: Some people don't have much say in when they take their breaks, but if you do, consider if there are certain times of the year or events that could particularly benefit from some relationship down time. For example, how about booking a confidence boosting break for the family just before starting or changing schools, or time to let off steam and celebrate after children's exams. Or escape those tedious Christmas tensions with a yuletide break or surprise a loved one with a romantic weekend for Valentine's Day.
Talk about expectations: One of the biggest causes of arguments between couples and families are assumptions. "I assumed we'd go for a walk every day", "I assumed you'd take the kids swimming and give me some alone time". Before you go, sit down and have a meeting. I know it sounds horribly organised but giving everyone chance to talk about their hopes and expectations will significantly increase your chances of achieving them.
Remember to pack the 3 P's: Playfulness, Patience, and Positivity. The more child-like we are the more fun we have. And play is what bonds couples and families together. When you team that up with patience and a positive attitude, nothing can go wrong.
A family enjoy time together in the forest
Once you've planned where and when you're going and you've agreed what you'll do when you get there, all you need to do is sit back and look forward it. With your essential 3 P's packed, happier, healthier relationships are just a holiday away!
*activities available at selected locations.
Paula Hall is a Relationship Psychotherapist and Author of "Improving Your Relationship for Dummies", Wiley.