As we are getting close to Valentine’s Day, my thoughts are naturally turning to romance — that includes the thrill of adventure and the feeling of sharing those experiences with someone special.

I believe there are parallels between adventure and romantic pursuits; in fact, many women have met their life partners while engaged in adventurous outings around the world. I fell in love in the Canadian High Arctic leading a kids’ expedition in minus 10 degrees!

I am often asked by women what is the secret to a happy marriage and how to make it work when you both travel and have busy lives.

While I certainly can’t speak for everyone, I do believe I have a unique view on how to apply my “tools of the trade” advice.  I have spent twenty years traveling around the world leading and organizing teams of people — I have worked with men, women, and children of all ages and I have learned valuable lessons that have seen me through a myriad of life’s toughest and scariest situations. When we find ourselves in the outdoors and in remote regions of the world, we are forced to face our vulnerabilities and our fears, which ultimately makes us stronger and more sensitive to the people around us. It also connects us to the beauty and vastness of our great planet.

I will admit that the most frightening thing to happen to me, by far, has been marriage. There is nothing that prepares you for the unchartered waters of a life partner and all that goes with it.

All the same, I have a partial list of life lessons which I’ve learned through my time in the field and in a relationship. I would like to share them with the hope that some may resonate with you and be helpful to your relationships as they have been to mine.

Confidencecdttexumas

Taking part on an expedition teaches you a great deal about yourself and your inner strength. This is vital to being happy in any relationship. Women need to have confidence in order to achieve their goals and find happiness within themselves. Harnessing that inner strength allows for women to make better life choices and enter into relationships that are healthier and less dependent on others.

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Training and education are required for any extreme challenge, and in spite of all that you learn and train for, nothing prepares you for the real thing. If you are in extreme elements, you need to be self sufficient and you need the ability to think for yourself. A relationship and marriage are best entered into by two independent people who are willing to work as a team. On expeditions, second guessing yourself is not an option, you need to move forward and stand by your decisions.

Compromise

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Credit: Nick Teasdale

I can’t recall an expedition in which compromise was not an integral part of its success. This is perhaps the most difficult to achieve in a partnership because emotion and ego can wreak havoc on our better judgement.

In the field you sometimes have to make very quick decisions which may not be part of the original plan. There are always variables that you just can’t plan for. Compromise must be reached in order to move forward, and the same is true in relationships. Remember to weigh out the pro’s and con’s before insisting on getting your way.

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No man or woman is an island. A relationship  takes work and it takes both people involved to find their path working as a team. True to expeditionary form, a team is made up of weak and strong on many different levels. It does not always work if the group is homogenous to the point that individuals are good at only one thing.

There needs to be a balance in order to achieve a back and forth and to allow for members of a team to distribute the weight of a trip so that not everyone is fatigued at once. You think and plan for the long haul.

A relationship is never 50/50. Some days it’s 60/40 and even 80/20 but working as a team and allowing for the good and bad days puts you on the road to success.

Patience

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Credit: Lilian Haider

The old saying “Patience is a Virtue” holds true on expeditions to very remote locations where you are forced to wait out the weather and just sit tight. I strongly suggest this be at the forefront of your psyche when faced with those “I want to run away” moments.

I can honestly say that with all my time in extremely remote and uncomfortable places I don’t let certain things upset me, and this is a good thing for any relationship. My patience has been tried in the harshest conditions and as such, nothing in my relationship is ever truly that bad!

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Credit: Lilian Haider

At the end of the day when your partner is driving you crazy or you are bickering over who does the washing up, stop, take a breath and think about how uncomfortable you have been in the field, how stressed your team mates have made you or how much you missed being home with the ones you love. This will keep it real — and the reality is that your partner can’t possibly make you feel worse than you have felt at some point on the road.

The truth is that relationships are tough and you should have a very good sense of yourself and how you handle life’s ups and downs. My advice before getting married or settling into a serious relationship is to go out on an expedition, take a leadership course, take a NOLS trip, and learn how to manage what life throws at you when you have nowhere to hide from the elements. It will help in learning that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff — sweat the big stuff and do the best you can.

Life should be an adventure, and it’s exciting to share it with someone you love. Happy Valentine’s Day.