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106. How to create a healthy relationship as a travel couple with Lena and Bassam

This week I speak with Lena and Basam who are the travel couple behind the blog Happily Ever Adventures.

They decided to start their blog after a rough first year of marriage and

Made it their goal to inspire themselves and others to live a joy-filled life through satisfying relationships, travel, and everyday adventures.

Always ones to overshare, they never hesitate to show life’s real moments, along with all the beauty that exists in life.

Although they run a successful travel blog, they decided to continue to pursue the day jobs they love.

Lena is a behavior analyst and Bassam is an accountant who owns his own firm, specializing in online entrepreneurs.

Listen on to find out how to balance life and work as a travel couple.

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Show Notes:

Debbie:  

Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us. I am here with Lena and Bassam. Hey guys how are you?

Lena:  

Hi Debbie. Thanks for having us.

Bassam:    

Hi. Thanks for having us.

Debbie:  

Before we get to your incredible story, can you both tell us why you have an offbeat life?

Lena: 

That’s a really good question. We actually both have full time, nine to five jobs, but Bassam has his own accounting firm where he specializes in creative entrepreneurs. And I’m a behavior analyst. I work with kids and adults with autism. We’re both really passionate about our jobs, but we’re also really passionate about travel. So we have tried to figure out ways where we could as much as possible while also advancing in our careers. And then we also blog on the side. So it kind of feels like we’re doing a million things. And maybe we don’t have a work-life balance, but I feel like sometimes when you really love what you’re doing, then it feels balanced.

Debbie:  

There’s a lot of people, especially right now who are looking at your lives and think that you have to leave your nine to five to do what you and Bassam are doing. But you are both living proof that you can have a balance and be able to do a job that you love and also be a travel couple and do your blog as well. How are you both able to do this, especially when you’re doing it together?

Lena:   

Something that has been the most challenging for us is just balancing what we each want as individuals so that we’re both happy in the relationship. We have very different styles. So for example, I am someone who thrives off of unpredictability, that really excites me. So I don’t mind working remotely, not having a routine.

Whereas for Bassam…

Bassam:  

I like to have structure throughout my day and throughout my planning and this is where we both have to compromise and to find a balance for both of our styles.

travel couple

Lena:   

And so that means sometimes doing it Bassams way, sometimes doing it my way, that way we both can get what we’re needing. And then in doing that it’s been interesting because we’ve actually learned to appreciate each other’s styles. And I think that’s kind of the great thing about being in a partnership or a relationship with someone who is really different than you because you’re put into something that’s outside of your comfort zone and you get to experience it. And there’s nothing wrong about any person’s style. It just might not be your personal preference.

And so it’s great to kind of get outside of your comfort zone, try something new and see how that can work for you. I’m a very big advocate of never saying this doesn’t work for me, but always asking how can this work for me? Yeah.

Bassam: 

And she’s been rubbing off on me a lot, before I say something, I’ll have to remember that sentence to say, how can I make it work?

Debbie:    And it really shows how you communicate with each other. How are you able to do this effectively, especially when you are both traveling together and you have this blog, this business that you do and there’s so much going on in your lives?

Lena:  

So we’ve been married for four years now and it’ll be four years next month and we’ve been together for 17 years. Um, and when we were first married, we had a really hard time with communication. We had a lot of really challenging life events to happen. My mom passed away two weeks after our wedding, Bassam’s sister moved out of the country who he’s very close to and that was the only family that he had in the states. And then Bassam also had a very challenging job that he didn’t enjoy. So we didn’t handle those life stressors well and we took it out on each other.

And so that slowly affected our relationship and our happiness together. And when we realized that we made a really big commitment to prioritizing our relationship and our communication. And so it was a really long journey to kind of repair the breaks and communication that we had. But now we feel like we’re in such a better place and it’s always going to be a journey. You know, relationships are up and down, their fluid and dynamic. It’s not a straight line, but I think we saw what happens when you don’t prioritize your relationship. So seeing the effects of that, we realize we never want to do that again. And so that’s really helped us now, no matter how busy things get to make sure our relationship is the priority.

We just went through tax season and that was really hard because the sound was really busy. I barely saw him during it, so we just kind of had to figure out, okay, like how do we make now this new season work for us. So I went to his office and worked with him some nights. I worked on the blog while he did the taxes. So it’s just kind of getting creative and figuring out how can this work for you. I think something that was really helpful for us that somebody shared with us was when you’re in a relationship, you always have to consider the other person. So you still want to be your own individual, but it’s important for the other person to know that you’re considering them. So it goes a long way to ask the other person, do you mind if I get home later today? Or even just give them a heads up. I’m going to be getting home later today. That goes a long way.

Whereas in the past, Bassam would be getting home late from work, but he wouldn’t tell me and that would frustrate me. But now when he tells me it’s not a big deal anymore, I feel included. And it sounds like such a small shift, but it makes a big difference.

Debbie: 

And also I think the way men and women communicate is so different from each other, I mean you guys have been together for 17 years, so it’s a long time and a lot of people don’t understand that it doesn’t get easier as time passes by. Sometimes it actually becomes harder because there are so many things, so many changes that happen and you’re growing, you can either grow together or you’re growing apart and whatever transitions that are happening in your life can really change the dynamic that you guys had from the beginning to who you are right now as individuals and also as a couple.

Lena:

Definitely, because I mean we were really young when we first got together, so we didn’t have a lot of stressors. It was very young and free and just fun. And later on in our relationship, we wondered, why isn’t it as fun as it was before? And we realized that we’re not the same people anymore and that’s okay. We don’t need to force ourselves to be the old version of ourselves. It’s important to realize that everybody changes. And I think that’s why relationships are so hard. Cause you have two people who are working on themselves and constantly growing and changing and then you also want to grow and change together as a couple. So I think that’s a big reason that makes it so challenging.

Bassam: 

I also feel that once you know something about the other person, you expect that to stay the same all their life. But in reality, you know, people change, people evolve and you have to keep up with the other person. And I feel that’s such an important part of the relationship to always figure out what are the interests that are changing for my soulmate or my spouse and how I can keep that going and exciting.

Lena:  

And I think that’s definitely something that does make your relationship exciting. There are a lot of scientific studies to show that novelty is really important in our relationship because it increases dopamine production in your brain, which stimulates the feeling of when you’re first falling in love. And so a good way to do that is actually to learn new things about each other. And so that’s been really cool for us because we’ll learn something new about each other and it’ll feel so exciting. Like, Oh, I’ve known you for 17 years, but I still learned something new. How Fun.

Debbie:  

I was reading one of your posts on Instagram and it was really interesting because you talked about people who are swingers and even though you guys are not swingers, you talked about what would it be that the other person is missing or lacking in the relationship and that would allow them to go outside of their relationship and look for something else. What kind of conversation did you have and what did you find out about each other? Because that is a really good exercise to do with your spouse or your significant other because that’s another thing that you’ll learn from each other.

Lena:     

I’m glad you liked that because that definitely got a very controversial response from people. Some people were like, what is wrong with you? So basically I’m just a really curious person and I like to learn about a lot of different things. And part of my nature is I always need to be having different topics of conversation. So I had listened to a podcast episode from a couple who was in an open relationship and I listened to it with an open mind in that same concept of rather than saying, this doesn’t work for me, what can I take away from this?

And what I took away from it was there might be things in your relationship that you’re missing, but you’re not going to know unless you ask the other person. So we had gone out to dinner and I told Bassam about the podcast that I listened to and I was like, have you ever been curious about something like that? And he’s like, no. I would only want to be with you.

And I said same, I think we’re both a little too possessive, not possessive, but we couldn’t do that. But what would you need? What’s missing from your relationship with me that you would need? And then he asked me the same question back and it was interesting because it was actually easier to hear his answer than to tell him my answer. It feels so vulnerable to share some things like that, but that’s also what deepens your intimacy. It’s so amazing to be able to share the most vulnerable parts of yourself and then to not be judged and to still be accepted for who you are. And the things that we said weren’t crazy at all. Do you feel okay sharing?

Bassam:     

Sure, let’s do it.

Lena: 

So one of the things that I felt I’m missing is just more spontaneity. I really like for him to be spontaneous, but he needs to have advanced warning that we’re going to be spontaneous and then he’s all in. But I just need a little more like unpredictability. Cause that’s something that’s really important to me. And then for you?

Bassam:   

For me, it was more of our love language with the physical touch, I’m more of a physical touch person and Lena is not at all. She scored zero on the love language for that. So for me that makes me feel loved and that makes me feel welcomed. When she comes in and let’s say, gives me a hug without me expecting it. That’s the spontaneity part.

Lena: 

Yeah.

Bassam:  

So that was something that we discussed and she’s been doing a great job.

travel couple

Lena:  

And it was just interesting because all of them were all things that we could easily do for each other. None of them were things that we need to go outside the relationship for. But I was really surprised at some of the things he said. I was like, wow, I never realized that you wanted that. And two that I wasn’t doing that. And so it was really eye-opening and I think every couple should have this conversation because why be sitting there thinking that you’re missing things and you can never get them when really your partner just didn’t know.

Debbie: 

That is such a good thing to think about for everyone who has a relationship because we are so afraid to ask for what we want, in every way possible in our lives, whether it’s our career or relationships. And if you just ask the other person, you never know what you may get out of it. And also they may be able to ask you for something that they also need and want from you. And that’s a really great thing about your blog too, is you don’t just talk about being a travel couple, but you also talk about relationships and communicating. You guys should have your own podcast. You have really interesting topics, the way you speak to each other and the way you communicate with each other that a lot of people don’t think about when they’re in a relationship. And you have been together for a really long time. So you’ve been through a lot.

Lena: 

Yeah, we have been through a lot and I think especially just early on in our marriage, a lot of things happened and we didn’t have a very good year last year either. We were evacuated from the southern California fires, which we’re still not home. Bassam’s stepdad passed away. My aunt had a stroke. We just had a lot of things happen and I felt like we handled it so much better than we did our first year of marriage. So it was nice to see we had all those tests, our first year of marriage, we didn’t handle it well. And then we worked really hard on our relationship. We had another challenging year and this time we were able to come together rather than kind of tear us apart.

Bassam: 

And what we learned along the way is that relationships need maintenance, like anything else that you have in life and that you use. So we needed to work really hard to come this far and to be able to work together as a team, tackling any issues that we face versus doing it on our own. And I mean we come from different backgrounds. We grew up in different countries, so our mentality and thought process was so different all these years and we had to find a balance and a middle ground where we both understand each other and understand how we can work together- is that working separately or against each other?

Lena:   

And I think it’s really awesome what Bassam just said that relationships need maintenance because that’s actually a really big step forward for us. In the beginning of our relationship or in the beginning of our marriage when I would tell him, we need to do things like date nights or learn each other’s love languages. He would say “Why? Our relationship is fine”. And it took a long time for him to get to the point of realizing that relationships need maintenance and now he shares with other guys because we have a relationship challenge that we offer.

It’s a free offering on our blog and we always have a lot of, not to be stereotypical, but it’s usually women who are coming and saying, my husband doesn’t want to do this. I can’t sign up for it because my husband doesn’t want to do it. And Bassam’s able to share with them. He would explain, look, a relationship is like a car, just like you take your car to get the oil changed, you have to do those checkups for your relationship and that’s a big step forward for us personally.

Debbie:  

Bassam, when you’re speaking to men, especially when you’re just trying to get them to listen to this type of conversation with their significant other is that they don’t feel like real men when they have to talk to their spouses about date nights or making the relationship stronger by communicating more? Does it feel like it’s a gender type thing? Women are more into it and then men will say, real men, don’t do that?

Bassam:           

Some men might feel this way, but I feel the biggest hurdle for men right now is finding the time and putting the effort into the relationship. After a long day and you come home and you still have to work on your relationship, they just want to rest or maybe have time for themselves. Finding that time and to put into that relationship is the hardest part. That’s why they try to avoid it. This is from the feedback that I got from a lot of people that I spoke to. Lena:               

You don’t think though that there is, it is a sense of men don’t want to be vulnerable and share their emotions cause I think that was a big thing.

Bassam:           

Well, I mean it depends. Yes. Some of them don’t want to get deep into their feelings and some are okay about sharing it, but also that time is another hurdle. Finding the time and the effort to do that and work on the relationship.

Lena:               

Definitely. But I think we definitely had many years and months where we would have conversations and you would be very surface level and I would be like, no, but that’s not an emotion. What’s your underlying emotion? And it took you a long time to get comfortable with that kind of dialogue.

Bassam:           

Yeah. That I agree with. It took a while to be able to get really deep. But sometimes you don’t think about the deep answers. What’s the root cause of whatever it is, right. You just give the first answer that comes to your head. But again, it goes back to the effort of working on finding out why and then putting the time to get to where you want to get. I mean if we both are working on it, so it kind of helps versus let’s say if you only wanted to work on it yourself and I wasn’t willing on working on the relationship, then we wouldn’t be able to get anywhere.

Lena:               

I agree and I don’t agree because there was a very long time that you weren’t willing. And I had to work on our relationship myself and that’s what got you willing. And so actually that’s what I always tell the women who talked to us, I say, don’t wait for your husband. You do it yourself. And eventually, they will see the benefits because I don’t think you even noticed. I had to do it for a long time by myself.

Bassam:           

Oh yeah. But that took a lot, you know, some life events. In order for me to say, you know, I, I saw the relationship was getting harder and I wanted us to improve it and I said, I want to put in the effort. Now some people out there can just say, I don’t want to put the effort, this is too hard for me. I’m just going to probably keep going away from it as much as possible. And that’s what ends up in a lot of relationships breaking apart. So, I was willing to put in the effort. That’s why. Yeah, you saw that.

Lena:        

Yeah. And I think that’s hard too because the general message in our society lately does seem to be a little more disposable. If something is hard then you just let it go. If something is broken, you go get a new one. There’s not a lot of emphases put on work. I feel like, especially in relationships. I feel like I see a lot of messages out there like, oh my husband and I are arguing about this. Oh, he’s such a jerk. Forget him. And it’s like, no, you guys have to figure out a way to communicate together, this is your person.

Debbie:  

I think that’s really true nowadays, especially with all the apps for relationships, you feel like you can just find somebody right away. But most of that is not going to be meaningful if you’re just looking for something easy. Because with anything else, it’s, if you’re starting a business or you want it to be successful is the same thing with a relationship, if you want it to be in the long run, you have to really work on it.

Once people find their significant other, they tend to believe that that’s it. I’m done. It’s good. It’s always continuous work every single day, every single year. There are so many changes that happen in your life and it changes you as a person, as a couple, that you continuously have to relearn each other and what your needs are because it becomes different.

Bassam:    

So true. And I also feel like we had something in common from the beginning. And I know this is something that is important to every relationship. Having respect and trust without those two fundamental things,I don’t think a relationship can stand challenges throughout time. We’ve always had that. Throughout our relationship that no matter how bad we get in a fight, for example, we will never disrespect each other or say cuss words or anything, whatever the problem is. It’s not necessary that we need to insult each other, in order to get our point across.

Because once you start doing that, then things will go downhill from there. And trust is another big thing in the relationship. No matter what happens, we always know we have each other’s back and we will never hurt each other at all. So I feel like that was something that is very important to every relationship.

travel couple

Lena:     

Yeah. We discussed it and came up with what are our boundaries? So things like cursing during an argument, um, one at one point during like a very low period, we used the word divorce during an argument and then we realized that’s also should that be added to the Nogo list? Um, things like complaining about each other to our friends. So like I feel like there’s a difference in like getting advice from your friends versus like shit, talking your person and like that’s your person. Like you don’t want to ever like to make them look bad to other people.

And that’s a struggle. Sometimes on the blog, because I want to be really honest about things with people so that they know that they’re not the only ones. But I also don’t want to make them look bad in any way. And so I’m always trying to find that balance. So I think it’s important to talk to your significant other or your boyfriend or girlfriend and find out what are the areas for them that are a no go and have those rules. That way you both know what’s going to be detrimental to you.

Debbie:           

Do you both have specific rules that you apply while communicating with each other and do you have recommendations for other couples?

Lena:  

One strategy that we’ve been using for a year now and it’s been extremely helpful for us and we call it active listening. So one person goes at a time, the person who’s going first explains how they’re feeling and why. And the why is really, really important because what we’ve noticed is that you’re never fighting about the thing that you’re fighting about. There’s always an underlying reason.

So for example, if you’re arguing about you didn’t do the dishes, you never do the dishes, it’s really probably not about the dishes. It’s probably your feeling taken advantage of. You’re not feeling like your time is valued. There’s something deeper. So figure out your deeper answer and then explain it to the person. So when you do X, Y, and Z, it makes me feel X, Y, and Z. And then the other person says back what they heard, and this works in two ways. One, you can make sure that the person’s actually understanding your meaning and to the person who’s listening actually has to listen rather than be planning what they’re going to say next.

And we’ve found because Bassam and I are so different and communicate really differently when we would do this exercise, we found the other person wasn’t getting the point. They were taking it completely differently. And so that gave us the opportunity to continue to talk about it until we felt like we were on the same page. And then you flip, then it’s the other person’s turn and you do the same thing. So that’s been super effective for us. Bassam: I also like what we’ve learned, which is also critical.

If I say a comment and Lena might understand it in a certain way. And trying to defend herself, or becoming defensive. She would say, okay, I understood it this way and you know, this kind of offended me. Is that how you meant it? And then this way I can explain my side if I probably said something, that she misunderstood or I said it in the wrong way. So that had helped us, that had helped us tackle a lot of the issues and work on them by just explaining ourselves and being clear about our intentions.

Lena:     

You know how people always say like, let go of the little things? We actually don’t let go of the little things because the little disagreements are actually the ones that are easier to work through because you don’t feel so emotional about it. You don’t feel so invested in it. And we’ve found in working through small things like that, we’ve been able to learn each other’s communication styles better because we are able to learn when someone says, when that person says that that’s not how they mean it or when they do that, that’s it. They don’t mean it in the way that I’m taking it. And so that’s been really helpful for us and just learning each other.

Debbie:           

And I think that leads to a lot of arguments and miscommunications and people will hear something completely different than what you’re saying. So that leads to a lot of argument and heartaches. And if they do the exercise that you’re talking about, that will lead to a lot fewer heartaches in the long run when you’re communicating with that other person. This is beneficial for all types of relationship not just romantic.

Lena:               

And I think the thing to remember if it’s hard for you, that’s normal. It’s really hard because we’re not used to sharing our deep emotions. We’re used to talking surface level with people. And when you have to share your real emotion behind something and the real reason why it hurts you, that’s usually really vulnerable. It’s usually because of things in your past. It’s always a deeper meaning to you and that can be really scary to share. So I think it’s also important to have that foundation of trust. We have a foundation of we are in this no matter what. It doesn’t matter what you tell me, we’re going to figure this out. I’m not going to be like, okay, that’s too much. I’m out of here. And so I think that really helps in terms of being able to say some really scary things.

Debbie:           

Let’s fast forward to 30 years from now and you’re both looking back at your life. What legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered?

Lena:               

Well, we want to have three kids.

Bassam:  

She has an order too.

Lena:    

I do, I want girl, boy, girl.

So I would really like to leave just a happy family legacy. We’re so excited to travel with our kids and just do fun activities with them and teach them to be really kind to human beings who do good in the world. And I hope that 30 years from now or whenever I get to the end of my life, I can look back and say I lived everything to the fullest. I did everything I wanted to do. Even if there were some things I couldn’t do, I’m happy with the choices that I made. And I see that I now have three kids who are going to continue to live that legacy of being happy and doing what fulfills them and also doing good in the world.

Bassam:    

I feel like when it comes to family and kids and giving the love that is more than they deserve, or more than they want because that love will affect every human being in the future. Especially if you receive a lot of love when you’re young and when you’re growing up, you have a lot of love to give to your family and to people in your daily life. So I feel like that will have a huge impact on the future. So the more you put in something, it’s like harvesting and the more you plant the seed, then you will harvest later.

Debbie:  

And for people who are looking at both of you who are also in a similar boat where they have a nine to five but they have these other passions and they want to go into, what would be your advice to them?

Lena:   

I think it kind of depends on what kind of job you have. For me, I do tend to use all of my vacation days and then some. And so something that’s really important is never slacking at work. So I work really hard to make sure that if I’m going on vacation, everything is covered. So for example, next month we’re going away for three weeks, which is almost the whole month and my boss is not happy about that, but I covered all of my billables this month for next month and I have full coverage for everything.

So I think just making sure it never puts anyone else out is really helpful. So that no one can really be upset when you’re requesting time off. Another thing is just to like try to utilize little things. We tend to travel on red-eye flights. That way we can work that day and we tend to try to arrive in the morning. That way we can also work that day. The other thing if you can try to negotiate to work from wherever you are, I’m lucky in that half of my job can be worked remotely and so sometimes I’m able to negotiate to work from wherever I am.

The other thing you can ask is can I work extra? Can I work on the weekends to get like extra vacation days? So just be creative about ways that you’re coming up with things. But Bassam has his own business and so that was really hard for him. In terms of how am I going to take time off when this is my business. And so that has limited him a little because it is the first year of his startup, but he just has to work when we travel. So there’s no easy way around that. He works for himself and the work has to get done. So we’ll spend the night sometimes working or the last time we went on a road trip to France, we got an apartment and we spent one day in the apartment working.

Bassam: 

And it also helps with the time difference. Especially if you go to Europe, their nighttime there is daytime here. So it kind of helps us, if you need to talk to clients or talk to their boss. So, the timing works perfectly.

travel couple

Lena:               

There’s really no easy answer. I think it really boils down to what is a priority for you? And if it’s a priority for you, then you will be willing to go the extra mile and put in the extra work to make it happen. And if it’s not a priority for you, that’s okay too. I think sometimes people have to ask themselves that because I feel like a lot of what we see on social media is all of these things are possible. You can do anything you want and yes you can, but you really need to want it. So you have to ask yourself, is this something that I want enough to sacrifice something else? You always have to sacrifice something. So what is it that you’re willing to sacrifice and what is it you’re willing to sacrifice it for?

Debbie:        

Yeah, and you both make it look so beautiful. So it’s easy to see that and say, Lena and Bassam are living these amazing lives, but they don’t realize it takes so much work to get to where you both are this moment.

Lena:  

Definitely, right now is a really hard one cause again, tax season just ended and so Bassam is swamped with all his regular stuff that had to be put on hold during tax season, so we’re really not seeing each other right now except for like I said, if I go work with him or if we have errands that have to get done, we’ll turn those into dates.

We’ll just say, okay, this is our quality time and when we go into it with that intention, then it really does become quality time. But again it’s knowing that it’s okay when you have phases where it is busier or you are working more. You just don’t see those things on social media, unfortunately. But everybody has those phases to be able to do the other cool things that they’re doing.

Debbie:   

Yeah. And I love that you both share all of these different types of phases that are happening in your lives and your relationship as well. And you both give such great tips on how you’re able to make it work and the struggles that you’re both going through as well. So I’m so happy to be able to speak with you guys today. Now, are you working on anything currently that is really exciting for both of you?

Lena: 

For me, we just launched a couple of cool challenges that I’ve been having a lot of fun with. So we did a six-week relationship challenge where every week we tackle one aspect of a healthy relationship and this month we were also doing a joy challenge because joy and positivity and happiness is really important to me. My mom had ALS for six years and I watched her as everything got robbed away from her, the ability to eat, to speak, to walk, but she never lost her joy.

And that was so amazing for me to see that that’s the one thing that can never be taken away from me. So, I like to bring in my background in behavior analysis to also happiness. And so I’m running a happiness challenge where every week I give a strategy that you can try and that you can adapt during difficult times. So that’s been really fun to experiment with things like that.

Debbie:    

We need more of that in our lives. We definitely need more of those types of exercises because we sometimes just focus on the negative and we don’t realize how much we have in our lives already. If our listeners want to know more about you guys, where can they find you?

Lena:    

So you can find us on our blog and on our Instagram at happily ever adventures. There’s an S at the end happily ever adventures. We’re really active on both our blog and Instagram and we’d love to hear from you. So if you want to leave a comment on a post or  DMs, we always try to get back to everyone.

Debbie:  Thank you both. I really appreciate it.

Lena: 

Thanks for having us, Debbie. This was great.

Bassam:  Thank you, Debbie we enjoyed talking to you.  

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