How a holiday ‘safe word’ could prevent you and your partner from bickering abroad

Most of the time, my husband and I rub along together quite happily. We don’t disagree on much and we rarely argue. Even during those hot, stifling days of lockdown, when we were stuck at home for months on end, we mostly just enjoyed each other’s company. We have been together more than 27 years and have been through enough together that, I think, most problems and challenges seem pretty run of the mill.

There is only one environment when this is not the case, and for some reason it’s when we go on holiday together. We usually go on holiday with other people. My mum and aunt often travel with us, and we’ve taken children we foster abroad with us too. And sometimes we’ve gone with friends, many of whom have kids of their own. And we have noticed that we row a lot less when we have other people on holiday with us. It’s as though our family and friends have somehow inadvertently turned into human buffers, their presence quickly diffusing any conversations that might turn into an argument.

But when we have been on holiday alone then, typically, we are bickering before we have even set foot on the plane. This year, for the first time in many years, we tempted fate and decided to holiday alone again, just the two of us. We were a little anxious about it, as we both really needed a relaxing break and didn’t want to fall into old habits. And so, we came up with the rather peculiar idea of having a holiday safe word. This word, when uttered out loud, would stop a conversation mid-sentence if necessary. If either of us felt we were headed towards a row, we had an agreed way to avoid it.

The word we chose was Casper. He was one of our cats, an old boy who always seemed to gravitate to anyone in the room who’d had a bad day. He would sit, purring and cuddling up against you, until you could not help but feel better. And for me and my husband, more than 10 years after he passed away, Casper’s name remains sacrosanct. Neither of us would be willing to disrespect his memory.

We tried it out a few times in the lounge at the airport, and it worked. My husband asked if my glass of wine was my third or fourth. “Casper,” I replied gleefully, and he didn’t ask again. He then asked me (for the umpteenth time) what time it was. “You have a phone too, for goodness’ sake,” I replied. “Casper,” he said. And so, I told him the time.

And throughout the holiday, our safe word was put to good use and really worked. There was a bit of cheating, I will admit. We realised that within the rules we had set, we could say something critical of the other, but finish the sentence with “Casper”, thus blocking any response. But this just became very funny, and eventually became something of a running joke on our holiday.

“Oh, are you wearing that shirt to the bar?” my husband asked me one night, disapprovingly, and then deftly punctuated the end of the sentence with a very quick “Casper”. “You’re not going back to the buffet again, are you?” I asked my husband at breakfast, followed by a very definite “Casper!”. It was great fun.

And so, if you are your other half struggle to enjoy each other on holiday, why not try the holiday safe word. Do remember that you both have to abide by the rules very strictly. You’re not allowed to say, “Oh don’t try the safe word with me”. If you are doing it, then stick to it. And chances are you may have a very relaxing vacation.