Be open and honest. Don’t fear the fight.
Couples fight. Seriously, every single couple. Look at Johnny Cash and June Carter and they’re pretty much the epitome of true love (change my mind). Show me a couple that never fights and I’ll bet my life savings they don’t fart in front of each other either (another thing you should get used to before vanlife).
Fighting is not only normal, but healthy, in the same way that’s it’s better to air out sweaty socks than ball time up and forget about them.
In 50 square feet, you don’t have room for forgetting sweaty socks, let alone any other emotional baggage and bad feelings. Don’t like something your significant other muttered just now? Say it! Don’t bottle it up. Silence breeds animosity and resentment. No one likes a passive aggressive roommate (trust me, I was one in college). If you’re honest and unafraid of starting a fight, everyone gets to forget about it sooner.
Forgive and let live.
After you have fought, let it go. Don’t hold grudges. The mess with your gas mileage. Okay not really, but they will mess with your metaphorical ability to run smoothly as a couple.
In later fights, resist the urge to drag to drag up stuff you settle in the past because then your partner will never truly believe you’re “over it” once a fight is over.
Learn to share.
“Sharing is caring” isn’t just for kindergarteners. Campervan couples can do well to learn from it, not only because it brings couples closer but is more space efficient. Nothing will get more tiresome than the space wasted by “his and hers” distinctions.
Personal care products are an easy one to share and save space. Combine things like shampoo, toothpaste, and deodorant (lucky for me, Chris has always prefer lady deodorant. It’s easier on your skin and clothes!).
If you’re lucky to be the same size as we are, you can even share clothes! Seriously we share pants all the time (and no, we haven’t yet decided which one of us should be offended by that). It requires us to have less clothes with more outfit options. Socks, sweaters, you name it, we wear share it. Don’t worry, we don’t trade underwear…. yet.
The most important thing to share, however, is the load. The load of living a lifestyle that demands your attention for even the most basic tasks. The load of daily chores. The load of stress that can accompany vanlife. We’ll talk more about how to split chores next, but for everyday genetic tasks like driving, make sure you’re both equally taking the wheel. Driving is tiring. Of course it’s more fun sitting in the passenger seat nodding off so make sure you both get the benefit.
Chris and I actually love drive time because we do a lot of talking while driving. Whoever is in the passenger seat keeps us together by being the “music man” which makes sure we’re still somewhat engaged with each other on long drive days.
Know your own (and the each other’s) strengths and weaknesses.
Not everyone is good at everything. That’s why it’s super important to play to each other’s strengths. Vanlife is about efficiency, and that includes how well you handle certain tasks and problems.
I am not very good at problem solving. It drives Chris nuts but he generally has to conceptually brainstorm how to overcome issues. However, I’m super detail oriented so once I know how to do something, I’m really good at executing it.
Similarly, Chris is OCPD about organization while I could care less if all my clothes get stashed in one bin. My clean freak senses start tingling when it comes to cleanliness. I’m nuts about keeping the floors and sink of the van clean, while Chris could let bits of food crust to the sink until they rot. In that way, we balance each other out. I keep things clean and he keeps them tidy.
I deal with all the finances and remote work; he deals with all the practical van projects and repairs. I drive slow and careful in areas of speed traps; he drives fast and confident in rough backroads that sketch me out. Sometimes these things conflict, but vanlife couples need balance.
Based on our strengths and weakness, we each have our roles when it comes to chores and we try to disperse who gets the less desirable tasks. For instance, every morning Chris pretty much always makes the coffee (easy) and I always clean the press (hard). But then when we dump, Chris usually does the toilet (hard), while I deal with fresh and grey water.
On that note, don’t be afraid to switch roles and responsibilities from time to time, if for no other reason than to give you respect for what the other does.
Plus offering to take a job you don’t usually do once in a while (especially if it’s a gross one like dumping a toilet) shows you care and notice what they do.
Be considerate and flexible. Learn to care about things you may not because the other does.
Just because organization isn’t my thing, doesn’t mean I don’t try to be more organized to lessen Chris’s load. Altering your habits consciously in mind of the other person is necessary for peaceful van dwelling. If you’re the messy one, maybe be a little bit cleanlier.
If Chris asks me to be conscious of something I do that bothers him, I’m damn sure going to try. Sometimes I still forget, just like he does when I ask him to wash the toothpaste foam completely down the drain. But most times, we honestly try and the effort alone counts.
Override your natural inclinations and habits where you can and at the same time, be forgiving to both yourself and your partner if they slip.
Appreciate each other… and say it!
They say the secret to a good relationship is saying, “I love you” a lot. But you know what actually means more? “I appreciate everything you do.” It feels so damn good to be recognized for hard work… and vanlife sure is hard work.
It’s those little gestures of appreciation that really mean a lot when you’re living in 70 square feet with someone.
Maintain independence but don’t be afraid of codependence.
Many vanlife couples will espouse the necessary of maintaining each person’s independence. And while some sense of independence is crucial, the degree to which you might need to maintain it will differ for every couple. Some might need to take a week apart every few months; others might be fine with a quick hour jog apart. For Chris and I, “alone time” looks like Chris playing video games and me sitting on the bed next to him writing or reading. Our independence looks a lot like us still spending time together.
Codependency gets a bad rap, and the word of generally hurled at people who’s relationship we either abhor or secretly envy. The truth is, codependency (definition), isn’t necessarily bad. It’s bad if you find your physically, mentally, or emotionally can’t do something without the other.
We tend to fit into the definition of codependency but we’re also more than capable of doing things alone…we just prefer not to! We enjoy each other’s company. We’re each other’s best friends. Don’t ever feel like you need to apologize for being happy spending time with your partner, even if people hurl the dreaded c-word at you.