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The Surprising Thing That Drives My Husband and Me Closer Together

Our conversations in the car fuel our relationship. We discover new places and new things about the life partner we’ve chosen.

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husband and wife in convertible driving into the sunset talking to each other
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It was on our “minimoon,” the weekend road trip we took down to the Florida Keys right after our courthouse wedding in Fort Lauderdale. A just-married CD I’d made with some of our favorite songs was our optimistic soundtrack as we sped in a red Ford Mustang convertible along the gray ribbon of highway toward Islamorada and our future.

And as strip malls gave way to soothing sea views and Harrison’s and my post-ceremony adrenaline levels returned to normal, it happened naturally. And by “it” I mean our first “carvo.” What’s a carvo? It’s the name we’ve made up that defines the serious, often emotional, conversations we’ve had about important issues while in the car together.

In that first heart-to-heart, we shared visions for our life together and started to make some of the domestic decisions we’d been tiptoeing around during our short engagement. Although Harrison lived in a better neighborhood, we’d finally agreed that he (and his cat) would move into my suburban, but much larger, place. As we passed through Key Largo, I promised to clear out the third bedroom I was using as my closet overflow so he could have a man cave. And by the time we pulled up to the hotel in Islamorada, we’d agreed that for the sake of marital harmony, he’d spring for a robot vacuum and a pricey high-tech, self-scooping litter box for his sweet, but constantly shedding, long-haired cat.

Now, after a dozen years of marriage and countless trips running errands or visiting relatives, our carvos have run the gamut of serious subjects. Religion (he’s agnostic, I believe in the divine in all of us); politics (we’ve finally agreed on our stance about the death penalty) and, of course, our relationship (no, we really don’t want children). But we also like to use that tandem time to dream out loud, to plan. And if you can call reading road signs to each other in funny voices carvos, well, we’ve had plenty of those, too.

But I still find it curious that tight physical spaces can offer us the emotional space to speak our truths. Is it because we’re not staring confrontationally at each other but instead, literally and figuratively, looking in the same direction? Or maybe because, in a small capsule hurtling down the highway, there’s literally no escape from our issues … or each other? (Unless, of course, you count the time, during an epic road-trip argument, I asked my husband to drop me off at the nearest airport.)

“Assuming the radio is off, the only sound in the car is the nearly silent whir of the air conditioner and the subtle hum of the tires on the highway. Both sounds are similar to what our sound machines would make when we want to be rocked to sleep by those little vibrations,” says Joy R. Berkheimer, a licensed marriage and family therapist and relationship coach in Boca Raton, Fla. “What’s still, steady and present is our partner, their voice, their energy and our connection. Intimacy is built in intimate spaces, both physical space and in spaces of time spent [together]. With no other distractions, the narrative in your head and your innate desire to connect with your loved one rises to the top.”

Of course, these discussions can also happen on a bus, plane or train — anywhere the two of you can at least feel (if not be) alone and able to focus on each other.

Harrison and I had one of our most meaningful talks on a cruise ship. Out on the deck after dinner, as stars twinkled in the Caribbean sky and warm breezes made the flags flutter overhead, we talked about the Orlando job offer I’d just received. Taking it would mean living 300 miles apart for at least a year — a risky move for any newlyweds. But this was a dream job that had landed in my lap like a lottery win. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to take it. But I worried that doing so would mean abandoning him and jeopardizing our nine-month-old marriage.

We’d been weighing the pros and cons for two weeks. Voices had been raised, the silent treatment given, feelings bruised. But it was during a heartfelt discussion that night that we made the decision. Harrison encouraged me to follow my dream. “I’m more afraid of what will happen to us if you don’t take this job than if you do,” he told me. “This is your moment; go for it. We’ll make it work.”

Our talks while in transit fuel our relationship. We discover new places but also new things about the life partner we’ve chosen. Which reminds me: we need to talk about making a will. Time to take a road trip.