Today's economy is having more of an impact on families than just their income levels. In many cases, one spouse now has to travel in order to get or keep a job. This can affect marriages and families in ways that have the potential to radically change relationships.
Throughout our marriage, there have been several times when one or the other of us has had to travel extensively. Being away from home brings a whole new set of challenges to a marriage. Household and parental responsibilities fall primarily on the shoulders of one partner. Insecurity, fear and doubt can creep into even the most stable of relationships. Fatigue and erratic schedules wreak havoc on attitudes and moods. And unspoken expectations can erupt into hostile conflicts.
If you or your spouse find yourselves traveling more often, you might find these tips helpful in maintaining the peace and harmony in your home and your marriage.
1. One of the most important things a family can do is to stay connected. You can accomplish this in a variety of ways and modern technology has made this easier than ever. Besides just talking on the phone, you can now email, have an on-line chat complete with webcam, use SKYPE, and keep in touch via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. These various tools can allow you to see one another while you talk, view the latest photos and even know what your teenager is thinking about at that very moment! It has never been easier to connect with people.
This can be an opportunity to get creative! Throughout our marriage, my husband has left me a note on the mirror each morning. These are little messages on post-a-notes that remind me he is thinking of me, values and appreciates me. So when one of us is traveling, he sends an email with "Note on the Mirror" as the subject line. That way, I never have to miss my morning affirmation.
The main point is to make the effort to keep the traveling spouse connected and a part of the family's life. Be sure to share the good along with the bad! Make the conversations as normal as possible, but guard against making them feel guilty for being gone. "I miss you and wish you were here" is understandable and even welcomed, but statements that start with, "If you weren't gone all the time…" should be avoided.
2. All marriages need to be built on a foundation of trust. But when one partner is often away from home; even the strongest bonds of trust are put to the test. They are having new experiences without you and meeting new people that you don't know. So it is imperative that you voice any worries or concerns. Bring them out into the open so that as a couple, you can discuss them and reassure one another. Reinforce your commitment to each other and your marriage vows and be trustworthy yourself. Both of you need to avoid compromising situations where your personal integrity could be called into question. Simple things like making sure that your cell phone is always charged so that if your spouse needs you, they can quickly reach you will go a long way towards fortifying trust.
And don't be overly suspicious! If you don't believe that you can trust your spouse, then the traveling is NOT your problem! Bottom-line: Whether you are the traveling partner or the one who stays at home — trust each other and don't breach it!
3. Traveling can also cause a change in responsibilities and even a shift in the balance of power. Guard against becoming resentful and blaming one another for these new duties and obligations. It is important to decide "who does what now" and to support one another with these changing roles. You can still discuss and make joint decisions on major issues, but day-to-day choices must be made by the spouse/parent that is "on site" and you can't undermine their efforts by second-guessing them. Just because they didn't handle things exactly the way that you would have doesn't make them wrong! Flexibility is the key here—there is more than one way to accomplish a task. So try to remember what is truly important here—your relationship, NOT how they trimmed the shrubs or where they had the oil changed in the car.
If you do have a serious preference (and a good reason), for doing something a certain way, then don't criticize how they did it. Instead, lovingly share why you prefer they do it another way in the future. Most of the time, it is too late to change what they have already done. Don't forget--this is your spouse doing the best they can, so be kind, helpful, and grateful, not critical and judgemental. This is no time to be nitpicky about unimportant details! You can't be overly controlling and expect your spouse to cheerfully pick up the slack when you are not there. You are supposed to be partners here! So get comfortable with the fact that roles are going to change!
4. Spend time in their environment. Go visit them! Use this chance to experience a new place together. Go by yourself and have a romantic get-away even if you never leave the hotel! And on another occasion, take the kids and have a mini family vacation. This not only makes it more fun for all of you, but it takes the mystery and mystique out of where they are spending their time. It gives you a chance to meet some of the people they may talk about and makes you feel more a part of their new "world". It's a great way to turn a negative situation into a positive experience for the whole family.
5. What happens when you are home? It may feel like you are a visitor in your own home. Schedules may be different than before, the family "rules" may have changed and you may not even feel needed anymore. Bear in mind that in the beginning there will be a transition period where you and your spouse determine what is most important and what works for both of you. Issues of parenting, budgets, and household chores need to be clearly discussed and agreed upon, taking both of your views, limitations, and time constraints into account.
And if you are the "stay-at-home" spouse, take care not to over-schedule. It is very tempting to have an extensive "honey-do" list waiting for your traveling spouse when they finally arrive home. Chores and duties that they generally handle can pile up in their absence and become overwhelming for them. Plus, just trying to accomplish all these tasks takes valuable time away from being together with the family. Give some serious thought to hiring a lawn service, a cleaning service, a handy-man, etc., so that these types of activities don't dominate the precious little time you may have together. Refrain from dumping all the "problems" on them either. Don't use the old, "Wait until your Father gets home."
Additionally, traveling can take a physical and emotional toll on our bodies, so your spouse may need some time to rest and decompress. They need to be able pursue their hobbies and interests and also to spend time with other family members and friends as well. It is important to achieve a balance with the demands on their time and to remember that this is supposed to be their "time off" as well.
And be sure to make time for intimacy as a couple. The two of you need to reinforce your relationship and commitment so that the stresses and changes brought about by the traveling don't undermine the foundation of your marriage.
It is important that you both enjoy the visit. Find a way to accomplish the "chores" involved with running a household and raising children, while still having fun together as a family and as individuals.
Couples who are able to successfully navigate through these various issues have the ability to strengthen their family ties and develop skills and talents that may have been hidden. But it requires flexibility, commitment, trust, support and understanding. The spouse that stays at home may have added responsibilities but the traveling spouse has additional stressors also. They are away from their home, their comfortable bed, their loved ones and their support system. They are spending countless hours in airports affected by uncertain airline schedules and weather issues. They are trying to navigate traffic in unfamiliar cities and adapting to working with (and for), new people. So be empathetic on both sides; it isn't easy for either of you!
However, you may find that traveling forces you to do a better job of communicating and can actually enhance your relationship by requiring you to rely on, trust and respect one another's abilities as well as reassessing your family's' priorities. Changes are never easy in life, but they often enrich and improve us in ways we never expected.
So embrace this period and use it to learn, grow and strengthen yourselves, your marriage and your family. You just may find that you love and appreciate one another more than you realized.
January 12, 2010
Deborah J. Thompson is a writer, artist and Stephen Minister. Her articles are published by Crosswalk.com and "The Fish" family of Christian radio station websites around the country. She shares "Reflections" on Life and Marriage on her website, www.inspiredreflections.info. And she is working on her first book, Your Life, Your Choice, which gives 5 simple steps to harness the power of your choices and bring more Love, Joy and Peace into your life. Join her on Facebook and Twitter/InspireReflect.