It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but not long after I began heading outside as a part of my at least 20 minutes daily Humans Outside challenge, I started to notice that doing so was helping not only my own physical and mental health, but was also improving the health of something else: my marriage.
That going outside was helping my husband Luke wasn’t a surprise. After all, we’d moved to Alaska in 2016 to give him greater outdoor access as we sought to heal from the challenges of military service and wounds of war.
But it never occurred to me that heading outside together would aid our marriage relationship. And yet that’s exactly what was happening. Not only did going out in nature check obvious boxes like giving us more time together, but it also did less obvious things like help us create commonalities.
There’s at least one person those side-benefits did not surprise: licensed mental health counselor outdoor fan Corie Weathers. Heading outside with your spouse, she says, is just another great way to build closeness with your partner, including what she calls “shared sacred spaces,” something she cares so much about that she wrote a book about it. And she joined us on the Humans Outside podcast to tell us all about it.
So how, exactly, does heading outside help your relationship? Here are four reasons.
How Spending Time Outside Can Help Your Marriage
1. Heading outside carves out check-in time. One of the ways Corie encourages her clients to improve their marriages is through a daily spouse check-in by doing something together. It looks like a simple conversation about your day and what’s going on in your life, but is really more like conversation with a purpose. Let’s face it: life can get so busy that simply sitting down to talk about how things are sometimes just doesn’t happen. A purposeful check-in carves out time for that.
But it can be easy to shuffle this check-in around something you’re doing together that creates a distraction, like watching TV. Sure, you might both enjoy this TV show, but are you even talking?
By taking it outside, Corie said, you can carve out a special, distraction-free, set-aside time to make your check-in even more meaningful.
“That’s not just two minutes of looking at your spouse and saying you checked in for the day. That walk carves out automatically that 10 minutes that can easily turn into 30 minutes. Because if the weather is nice, you can get outside and you don’t want to come inside after 10 minutes, you want to walk longer,” she said. “And so you’ve automatically turned into what would have been two hours not even connecting with each other, watching a show, to now two hours being engaged outside and conversation, all of your senses being engaged, and really creating an amazing memory for both of you.”
2. Heading outside allows for intentionality. Mindlessness is where you are when you look up from your phone and realize you just spent 30 minutes scrolling Facebook. When was the last
time you just mindlessly found yourself on a walk? That’s right, probably never. Getting outside takes at least a little intentionality.
Now, imagine what would happen if you gave that intentionality to your relationship? That’s what taking your time with your spouse outside can do, Corie told us.
“It’s so easy to just sit on the couch. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying shows together, and having that kind of shared experience together,” she said. “But I’m telling you that there’s something intentional … to being able to even just decide — I’m going to go for a walk around the block or down the street. It’s an intentional choice.”
3. Heading outside creates a “sacred space.” Before we dive into why heading outside creates a so-called sacred space with your spouse, first we need to know what the heck a sacred space is.
A sacred space is a memorable event experienced by all five of your senses that becomes a life-changing memory, Corie says.
“Whether it’s a traumatic memory or a positive memory, either way, it’s life-changing because your five senses took in so much all at once and then saved it like in this one little space in your mind. The next time you smell that same smell, it lights up that area of your brain again, it’s almost like it takes you back to that moment,” she says.
If you’ve had that moment away from your spouse or partner, then it’s an important, even perhaps transformative life experience that you do not share. Meanwhile, your partner or spouse is probably having their own life changing moments. Have enough of those individually, and they can contribute to feelings of growing distant from each other.
But heading outside, Corie says, brings opportunities to create some life changing moments together — the more multi-sensory, the better.
“This idea of having a shared sacred space gives you the power to take back in your relationship to go — you know what, we may have a lot of experiences that are separate, but we do have control of having shared moments together for more intentional memories,” she says. “So if you can go backpacking outside and do something that’s a multi-sensory experience … especially if you are intentionally prepared to be very present in the moment and listen to your five senses together, it will create a shared memory for your relationship.”
The idea of creating shared sacred spaces is at the core of what Corie wants to teach her clients, she said.
“My whole passion really, for couples, is to be able to encourage them that the more shared positive sacred spaces you create together, it will counterbalance the separate ones that you’ve had, whether they’re positive or negative, and you can have more influence and bring your relationship together. … With backpacking, camping, or just going for a walk outside down the street, going outside creates that easier way to engage your five senses quickly than just sitting in front of the TV and watching TV.”
4. Heading outside creates space for vulnerability. When a relationship is on the rocks or even sneaking up to being on the rocks, it’s easy to close off emotionally in an attempt to protect ourselves, feel strong and in control or put on a strong front. But you know what helps break down those walls? Creating a time of shared vulnerability. And nothing does that better than trying something new together.
The outdoors, Corie said, is perfect for that.
“I’ve heard of some people doing fun things like signing up for lessons to do something that you didn’t ever think to do before. So I know one couple that did trapeze lessons. I know that’s crazy, but their response was that your dinner conversation is so much different after doing something crazy like taking trapeze lessons,” she said. “Do something that is multi-sensory, then maybe do something that you haven’t done, that you’re not used to doing, that ‘s a little bit out of your comfort zone. You’d be surprised how much tension melts away in your relationship when you’re giggling together because you feel so awkward and you’re both doing something brand new.
… So sometimes it’s just about being intentional, trying something new, and kind of getting over that initial fear or embarrassment of trying that new thing.”
Bonus tip: If don’t know where or how to get started with taking your relationship outside, keep it simple.
Heading outside to make your relationship better doesn’t have to be fancy, and it doesn’t have to epic. It just has to be, Corie said.
“Get it on the calendar and make it fun to plan together,” she said. “If you don’t know where to start, [try] literally sitting outside next to a fire pit or just sitting on a porch,” Corie say. “That’s why I created a porch spot that’s really great, and where two people can sit. But for a lot of people, I say just go for a walk. Just get outside and go for a walk around the block every night after dinner. … Connect all you can.”