If you’ve ever paddled in a tandem canoe with your significant other, you know why it’s called the “divorce boat.” Adventures of any kind in the outdoors can either make or break a relationship, so we sat down with three active couples to learn how they navigate the turbulent waters of married life.
There’s no better analogy for marriage than sailing the open sea. To quote the 1973 classic hit “Rock the Boat” by Hues Corporation, “Our love is like a ship on the ocean. We’ve been sailing with a cargo full of love and devotion.” But sometimes, the sea, like life, can be a capricious thing, and no matter the amount of love and devotion in the hold of that ship, a little adversity can be all it takes to rock the boat.
Early on in their relationship, Harrisonburg, Va., locals Anna and David Landis, were exposed to many a stormy sea. Just a few months after the two started dating, they packed their bags and moved to the Middle East, where they spent nearly a decade living as expats in Israel and Palestine.
“When you’re living abroad for that long, your friends cycle in and out, and it can be really refreshing and helpful to have a partner there with you, but that also makes it harder when you have a conflict,” says Anna Landis, “because then, you’re each other’s only steady companion.”
Still, living thousands of miles and seven time zones away from family didn’t keep the Landis’ from pushing their limits, both individually and as a couple. In 2009, they each hiked the Camino de Santiago separately, and later returned to hike it together in 2011 and the Camino del Norte route in 2012. They’ve since hiked the Annapurna Circuit, toured cross-country by bike, road tripped throughout Europe and Alaska, and self-published two guidebooks on the Jesus Trail and the Camino de Santiago under their publishing company Village to Village Press. Landis has done more than 20,000 miles of bike touring and has developed a number of long-distance hiking trails in the Middle East, including the Jesus Trail and the Jordan Trail.
While they each have fond memories of these adventures together, there was no doubt there were trying times. On that cross-country bike tour, for example, which the couple took just a week after being married and with David’s two sisters and their husbands in tow, Landis remembers feeling self-conscious about her pace.
“We were loaded down and averaging 80 miles a day for seven weeks and I was just exhausted,” she says. “This was my first huge tour, and a lot of the times, I would be straggling in after everyone else. I was always the slowest one. It’s already kinda stressful to do those big long days, but to feel like you’re letting people down, that was tough sometimes.”
Lydia Wing of Saluda, N.C., remembers that feeling of insecurity, which is why she didn’t paddle with her then-boyfriend Chris, an experienced kayaking instructor and Wave Sport sponsored freestyle competitor, when she was first learning to kayak. She paddled with her parents instead.
“The beginner progression can be challenging and frustrating and sometimes you feel embarrassed holding the group back,” she says. “I tended to funnel those frustrations into anger, so I started paddling with my parents a lot because my mom couldn’t break up with me if I got mad at her while we were kayaking.”
Once Lydia felt confident on the water, she and Chris started paddling harder whitewater together, but even then, the two encountered a different set of challenges, namely, how to continue giving Lydia the room to develop herself as a competent paddler.
“Whether it’s in the eddy above the rapid or picking up the pieces at the bottom, being able to sort through what you’re feeling and have your counterpart listen and not just tell you what you want to hear but empower you and validate how you’re feeling, that’s really important,” says Lydia. “We weren’t good at that for a long time and there were times on the river that were stressful and heated.”
“There is no hiding your emotions while kayaking,” says Chris. “All of your insecurities and fears surface, no matter what, and it comes out in different ways. Sometimes I’m too empathetic because I coach and teach so much. I have to be able to turn off that coach and be a husband as well, and that’s my biggest challenge.”
In 2012, Chris and Lydia started H2o Dreams, a kayak instruction school offering everything from beginner roll clinics to international paddling trips. All of a sudden, the couple wasn’t just living and playing together—they were now working together, too. Not long after the two embarked on this entrepreneurial enterprise, Lydia started having doubts.
“A lot of people will laugh when I say this but I really experienced a quarter-life crisis,” Lydia says. “I freaked out because I went to college and then I met this guy and this job working with him totally fell into my lap. I started to wonder what I would do if it weren’t for Chris, like who would I be and what would I be doing?”