romanceA family road trip often means one parent is keeping the peace in the back seat while the other one drives. But when the kids are content, use that opportunity to turn the family road trip into a romantic road trip.

“Couples don’t have much time to be in each other’s presence without distraction,” says family and marriage counselor Elizabeth Sloan. “A car trip is a wonderful time to connect, when you can’t do much else other than focus on each other and the road.”

Sloan, director of CaringCouples, a marriage and family counseling center in Maryland and Virginia, offers these ideas for reconnecting with as a couple during a road trip.

Ask Trivial Questions

Research shows that communicating about the day-to-day occurrences in life work to keep a marriage strong and healthy. “A relationship is built on trivial questions, not the meaning of life,” Sloan says. So ask if your spouse is still planning to paint the kitchen melon or if that guy at work is still annoying. Not only are you showing interest, but most of the time these inquiries lead to more meaningful conversations that serve to remind you that you’re still friends.

Then Go Deeper

While simple questions can start the flow of conversation, asking deeper questions like, “Do you still want to take that class you’ve been thinking about? If not, why?” or “How do you feel about going to your mom’s house for Christmas this year? How will we handle it?” can help you connect at a deeper level. 

road trip“You have to continually update the love map,” Sloan says. “It’s like a road map to who your partner is, what their life is about and who they are and becoming.” She says many couples make the mistake of assuming they know everything about their partner because they see them every day, but not talking about life changes can result in distance.

Listen to the Answers

This seems like simple advice, right? Wrong. Sloan says this is the No. 1 complaint she gets from her clients.

“I often hear about how a spouse doesn’t listen or talk anymore,” Sloan says. “That really sets in motion a whole negative cascade and you start to feel less like friends.” So, don’t interrupt, listen to your partner, keep an open mind, keep your eyes on your partner instead of your Smartphone and don’t think you have to agree to have good conversations. “Calm down, slow down and listen to your partner and you will build on your relationship,” Sloan says.

Keep Conflict Out of the Car 

“In general people should be able to talk about anything,” Sloan says. “But if you’re locked in a car don’t bring up contentious issues.” When couples start using their precious time together to talk about problems, that’s all they ever end up talking about.

In addition to avoiding contentious, difficult and painful topics, stay away from the to-do list or major money problems. “If you’re in a car and have time, the last thing you should be doing is making someone want to bolt for the door as soon as the car is stopped,” Sloan says. “There is a time and a place to work on problems, a car is not one of them.”

Pick a Card

Sloan suggests couples play their own travel games, which makes it easier to foster good communication, conversation and fun. Bring a deck of cards like Around the Table Games that have with thought provoking questions on the back.

“Sometimes it can be hard to know where to go in the conversation,” Sloan says. “You can’t pull a topic out of thin air if you don’t know what to say.” So take a cue from a deck of love map cards with conversation starters and questions, like: “What is your partner’s favorite holiday? What’s one thing you want to do before you die?”  The questions tell you something very important about your partner.

“You have to remain curious, friendly and open and renew interest in your partner,” Sloan says. “It makes a difference, and it’s the way to ensure that you will grow and change alongside your partner.”