08/28/2012 03:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Break Out of the Beltway

As a couples therapist, I hear a lot about the intensity of life in DC. Many couples are balancing two demanding careers and the social obligations and politics that go with them. Given the political, social and travel demands associated with many Washington jobs, it is no wonder that when couples do finally plan some romantic time away, many opt to lie on a beach somewhere -- preferably a location accessible through a direct flight -- and chill. Many couples are getting ready to do just that for the last few days of summer. For sure, unstructured beach time is a wonderful way to de-stress, reconnect and recharge.

However, in terms of building intimacy through shared experiences, lounging on a beach is not necessarily the answer. Through my work with many Washington couples, I notice that planning a brief vacation doing something more meaningful (and less vegetative) can do a lot to enhance a relationship. As a client recently described:

My wife and I plan such luxurious trips to treat ourselves since our work is so demanding. But the volunteer trip we took with our church did more for our marriage than any five-star restaurant or high-end resort. We were helping others together and it was such a welcome change of pace from the rhythm of our daily routine. Sharing a joint purpose and taking the focus off of daily life brought us back to what it was like when we first met.

We all hear a lot about Washingtonians being out of touch with the realities of life outside the beltway. One straightforward way to get back in touch is through breaking out of the beltway and volunteering.

GlobeAware, Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross and countless other organizations offer wonderful destination volunteer opportunities. Many places of worship also arrange trips to volunteer. OR, since it is election season, consider volunteering on a political campaign.

Pick a candidate you both truly believe in. (Campaign volunteering as a couple is not recommended for the Carville-and Matalin-type relationship, but those are rare in Washington). Spending a weekend with your partner canvassing for a candidate you respect can help make a difference AND help your relationship. (Plus, canvassing is good exercise!) No, it is not necessarily relaxing, so take your relaxing holiday this weekend, and plan something more meaningful for a weekend (or week) in the fall.

It is not uncommon to feel hesitant about taking a trip to volunteer. The experience will obviously entail breaking out of your routine and going beyond your daily comfort zone. However, try to push through that hesitation and tell yourself that you and your relationship will grow from the experience!