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Culture

Swedish resort offers 'emergency room' to quarreling vacationers

Summer is supposed to be the best time of year - good weather and time for a break. But summer vacations can also put relationships to the test. Now Sweden has a solution: an emergency room for bickering families.

A couple appears to argue as a woman stands behind a man who covers his ears

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Vacations often create high hopes, but they also manage to bring out the worst in some families each year. That's according to Stina Stahl, who helps run a so-called "vacation emergency room" at the Swedish resort town Lysekil on the country's western coast.

"I always take the ferry to work. And when the weather's bad you can almost feel the tension in the air - the irritation and the disappointment," Stahl said. "That's why I thought a vacation emergency room for tourists, or even for the locals, could be useful."

Any number of things can go wrong on a trip from constant rain to an ugly hotel room, or bad food and a dirty beach, but those aren't the factors that account for most holiday spats, said Stahl.

"The problem starts with the fact that we have such high expectations for vacations, and then that leads to disappointments," she explained.

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Those disappointments and the fallouts they cause may help explain why a third of all divorce requests submitted in Germany follow a vacation.

Challenging assumptions

At just 10 euros ($13) an hour, the emergency room at Lysekil is much less expensive than a divorce. Therapy over the phone is free, and family members are also welcome to come in individually.

Stahl's approach is to open the lines of communication between family members. Talking is the key, she said. "The first thing you have to ask yourself is, what do I want and what do you want? That's how we can understand each other."

Stahl also guides family members by asking them to examine their assumptions and traditions.

"You don't always have to be completely fair," she said. "For instance, you don't have to visit the parents on both sides of the family just because you've always done that. It's fine to do something alone. And sometimes you don't need a plan at all - just let things happen."

First aid for families

Johann and Annelie Skog are among the vacationers who made use of Lysekil's emergency room. The couple planned a holiday with their four kids on a sailboat.

The problems started when Johann was ready to hit the water. "My wife says no - she says the wind is too strong, and she'll get bored if we're on the water for too long," he said. On the other hand, Annelie had grown frustrated with having to clean up after each of the large family's members.

The Skogs' problems may not be huge, but they could lead to deeper conflicts, said Stahl, adding that gender issues also came into play there.

"The husband wants to go out and do some sailing that's a little bit risky, while the wife takes a step back and says, 'No, let's stay on shore.' If he reacts dismissively, then the tension is inevitable," she concluded.

When parents argue, chances are good that the children will also start squabbling among each other.

In the case of the Skog family, they learned that being hungry made them more agitated, but also that listening to each other was important.

"First of all, we're going to make sure we have enough to eat," said Johann. "Then we'll hold a family conference to talk about what we all want to do."

It was his wife who was going to prepare the meal. If it doesn't suit everyone's taste, they may have to pay another visit to Stina Stahl.

Author: Ann-Katrin Johannsmann (gsw)
Editor: Kate Bowen

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