My boyfriend Kavi and I had only been together for about a year-and-a-half before we left Toronto to travel for a year. We also hadn't lived together beyond spending a few nights a week at each other's apartments. We work really hard on our relationship, and it's important to point out that this trip wasn't some magical adventure that would mean a forever honeymoon for us.
If Kavi and I were a shaky union, no amount of long-term travelling would make us a stronger couple. We were building a partnership from day one. Deaths in the family, Kavi's parents uprooting their lives and heading to California for work, the stresses of our dull corporate jobs, and emotional experiences we've both carried through from our past have shaped the way we interact with each other.
A lot of people asked if I was worried about traveling with Kavi. Through the eight-month planning process it was the furthest thing from my mind. We have a good connection, good communication, and we're patient with each other. If we kept all this up then I couldn't see anything changing.
Communication -- despite the cliché -- is what strengthens our relationship. We're always checking in with each other to see how the other person is feeling. If I notice Kavi is more quiet than usual, I'll ask how he's feeling and he'll do the same with me. How we communicate is important, and we've learned to ask questions that inquire without pushing each other too much. Nobody likes to be interrogated; rather, good, consistent communication has taught us a lot about each other -- what we like, what we dislike, our dreams and our fears. We started talking on our first date and haven't stopped chatting since.
When I reflect on why we both communicate so well, I've noticed that there is a constant commitment to work on the following qualities:
Keeping a routine
Kavi is a routine-based person. He makes time to enjoy the activities his body and mind need to keep him centered (primarily reading, running, and cooking).
When I lived in Toronto, I had my routines too, but I wasn't good at sticking with them. I was sporadically going to a strength-training gym; this usually meant rushing from work and taking a bus and subway. The days that I got there, I'd completely zone out for one hour on my own from a stressful day of work. But, it wasn't enough relaxation.
I was committed to relationships with friends and family, more than I committed a block of time for myself every week. Running from one social commitment to another often had me complaining out loud, I just want some time for myself. I never made time to unwind and relax and I needed it.
For many years my challenge was that I'd only do the activities that calmed me when I was at a real breaking point. I'd go to a yoga class. I'd have a hot bath with Epsom salts. There was no consistency. And so at the two-month mark of our travel I started to get home sick -- mostly missing my mom and brother who I'm very close with.
I was trying to adapt from leaving a busy schedule of seeing family and friends to days of only being with Kavi. We often spent a couple days of the week and then weekends together, but those days and nights were interspersed with other interactions.
This change in pace took an extreme one evening when we were at a restaurant in Bangkok. I was in a mood and once we sat down, the words just spewed out of my mouth with a persistent and annoyed tone, "We spend every day, every hour, every minute together." Imagine being on the other side of the table hearing this from your partner. Kavi was understandably both frustrated and sad. I cried at the table. I sat in silence. I went to the bathroom embarrassed by my tone, my expressions and for crying like a fool in a restaurant.
It was my boiled up frustration with not having a change in pace for the past two months. Kavi seemed to be getting on fine, so I didn't say anything for a while.
That night we shared a few beers and sat and talked about how we were both dealing with missing people, keeping in touch, creating time for ourselves and how we dealt with the past. From that moment forward, I've never felt like we're spending too much time together despite being together every day and all day.
This is where I realized that to build time for myself, I didn't really need to be away from Kavi, I just needed to carve out time in the day. This meant aligning my interests with my time. Things I enjoyed like picking up a magazine, a new book, taking a yoga class, or just relaxing.
Now, we sometimes sit in the same room and read and I feel like I'm on my own. Some days I'll write upstairs and he'll write downstairs. Or, he'll run the park and I'll walk.
Kavi and I are similar in many ways, and we're also different in some ways. I like to think things over. Kavi prefers to jump right in. But despite this difference, there is an enormous amount of patience that goes into any scenario we face. And how we choose to communicate with each other in those moments is where this virtue shines. Sometimes this means saying, "I need a few minutes to think this over before we keep talking," so I can collect my thoughts. Sometimes it means moments of silence to collect patience.
We had just spent three days in the remote village of Nong Khiaw in northern Laos. A four-hour bus ride back to Luang Prabang, one of the countries largest cities, meant hopping into the flatbed of a large truck with bench seating on both sides. Just the road and open air. When this option was presented to us, I immediately said no. Kavi said this was our only option -- we had to catch another bus later that day for an overnight trip to the capital city, Vientiene. If we didn't take the truck, we'd be set back on our journey by another day. Kavi took his time to carefully weigh our options with me, and tried to be positive about our situation. "We'll all have window seats and air conditioning sitting in the back," he said jokingly. I reluctantly said yes, but I definitely had fear building up inside until we got on the truck and I saw that we'd be fine.
Understanding each other involves careful listening and showing the other person that we're listening. This doesn't always work out perfectly, and we'll tell each other if we're not being heard. Whether it's frustration at the train station, or feeling tired walking through a Bangkok market, we're always listening.
We recently walked for 10 minutes to the grocery store in complete silence following a disagreement. While we were willing to walk together, it took that time for one of us to speak up and start the conversation. Each of us took time to explain our side of the disagreement, which included interruptions and bouts of, "could you please let me talk for a minute," before ironing things out and moving on with the day.
We aren't a couple that argues a lot. But part of being a relationship with someone is learning how to understand each other. That's not easy. The things that make Kavi and me unique are what attracts us to each other, and also teaches us something new about each other. It's how we grow into being better partners, and our life on the road has allowed us to continue that process.
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