Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Trailing Spouse

DH travels A LOT for work-which in itself is a blessing and curse. I'm naturally a very independent person so I enjoy my freedom away from him, but I also get irritated when I don't feel that he's contributing as much as he should be. DH makes very good money, but the trade-off for that is the fact that he will be on the road most of May-November. He also works in the ag industry so planning tends to go out the window-you can't really plan rain or hailstorms or when the crop will be ready for harvest. That in itself is the most frustrating part since I'm a planner and I just can't go with the flow.

DH loves his job and that makes me happy. He really does like getting up every day and going to work and he does find joy in what he does. He has offered to find a job where he doesn't travel so much, but I know how desperately unhappy he would be if he did that so I let him travel (ha-let him-that makes me sound so bossy-oh wait I am).

The sucky part is sometimes his job takes him to super fun places-like Europe. If I'm not working I get to accompany him (like to France and Switzerland last year), but if I'm working I'm stuck at home. That's the trips that suck the most as he calls every day to tell me about his adventures in Denmark (or some other country) and all I get to share is my teaching adventures (that get less exciting each year as I get better at classroom management) or the tale of what the dog chewed on today (and now that she's properly medicated she does that even less). I will admit it's super depressing to sit at home solo and know that hubby is off having fun in another country (even though to be fair he does work 12-14 hour days and it's probably less fun than I imagine).

We live in a pretty rural area and I apparently suck at making friends so I get pretty isolated and spend a lot of time talking to my dog. You know your life is pretty sad when you spend a Saturday night having a dance party with your dog.

The most difficult part of being in a relationship (or marriage) with someone who travels is the loss of connection. It sometimes feels that DH doesn't really live at our house-it's just another stop in a long line of hotels. Frequently I've felt like folding the toilet paper into a triangle and putting a key card on the door just to make him feel more at home. We live two separate lives-his revolves around work and mine around domestic stuff-and honestly there isn't much in common. Over his 5 year tenure at the company we've watched many marriages and serious relationships implode due to the travel requirements. It's taken us a LONG time to get to the point where we are pretty comfortable with the status quo, but we've made a system that works for us.

Here are a few hard lessons we've learned:

1. Talk on the phone EVERY DAY: we don't manage this as well as we would like sometimes (due to issues with time zones and schedules), but we usually are able to talk and/or text. DH's job doesn't really give him a lot of time to text (he's working with big machines and needs to keep his attention on them so he doesn't decapitate himself or someone else), but we usually get a short talk in during the evenings. I live for those calls! It's a way that we share what's going on in our life.
2. Embrace Snapchat (and not for dirty pictures): Somehow Snapchat has worked better for us than anything else. We send each other funny things we see (either in real life or on the internet) or pictures with silly captions. Snapchat doesn't lend itself to a serious conversation, so we are able to share some funnies throughout the day. It's quick and easy so we actually communicate with it more than through text.
3. Make connections with others: This is something I struggled with for a LONG time. By nature I'm pretty shy and anti-social. I cherish alone time, but when you're alone for 6 weeks at a time it gets a little depressing. I'm not where I would like to be, but I'm getting better at making some friends and taking the initiative to invite them to lunch or dinner or to an activity. When I schedule a lunch with a friend for Saturday I will spend the whole week looking forward to it. It really is a great mood booster! I'm also working to find hobbies that aren't solitary (like taking my dog to obedience classes) so I can meet more people.
4. Understand there will be an adjustment period: It takes time to get used to having DH home! Don't get me wrong-It's exciting when he comes home, but it's also annoying. He is usually gone for 3-6 weeks at a time (with no weekends at home) so I get set in my ways. I'm not used to having someone else in bed or pawing through my cabinets. He's gotten into his routine and I've gotten into mine and sometimes they conflict. We used to fight a lot during the first week or so that he came home, but it's getting better because we both understand that it WILL get better. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and roll your eyes for a few days before it feels normal.
5: Be selfish: When DH comes home it feels SUPER selfish to take off for a solo shopping trip, lunch with friends or some other activity. However, we sometimes need a break from each other. He wants to see his friends and have boy's night and I want someone to watch the dog so I can get my nails done without feeling guilty for leaving her at home. I'm not telling you to spend all your time apart-but take the time to do the things you enjoy instead of being glued at the hip. You will have more to talk about at the dinner table instead of just staring at your cell phones.
6: Keep conversations positive: I was super guilty of using DH's daily phone calls to whine to him about all the things that had gone wrong, how the house was falling apart and how sad I was. Usually this turned into a fight because DH felt irritated. For me it was a way to get sympathy, but for him it just frustrated him. He was already upset that he couldn't be home and fix the problems. It made him feel guilty and just served to irritate both of us. Do we occasionally have to discuss problems at home (like the sinkhole that developed in our yard over the summer)? Of course! We keep the conversations focused on solutions and how I can fix the problem (with his guidance) and I try not to bring up unnecessary things.
7. Use home time as special time: It's super tempting to dump a list of honey-dos on DH the minute he walks in the door, but that's not what home time is for. When he's only home for a couple of days obviously home chores need to be done, but we try to prioritize what is critical and what can be put off for a few days. We can then use the time to do fun stuff together instead of arguing over the state of the lawn or the condition of the gutters. Sometimes you just have to give in and outsource some of the stuff (like hiring someone to mow the lawn)!
8. Travel when you can: DH and I both LOVE traveling and it's a great bonding experience. We're one of those couples that are amazing at traveling together (unlike the sad sacks in the airport fighting next to the Cinnabon). If you have the time to tag along on a work trip (and it's allowed by company policy) go for it! For me it was eye opening to see how much work DH actually does (his work trips really aren't fun at all). It also lets me get out of the house and we get to spend more time together (Even if it isn't much).
9. Don't let resentment creep in: This one is probably the hardest one! I do get resentful when DH is in Europe and I'm not or when I'm cleaning up dog vomit (I'm pretty sure my dog is bulimic) while he's at a swanky restaurant. It helps to remind myself of all the blessings that his job has afforded us: financial independence, his happiness, the ability for both of us to travel more than we would have if he didn't have the job etc. I also have to remind myself that he really is working-not on vacation-and he is working just as hard as I am (just in a different location).
10. Express your needs: I tend to bottle up things and just expect DH to read my mind and know what I need. When he's been on the road for so long he tends to overlook things that need to be done. It's a lot easier to politely ask him to unload the dishwasher rather than just stewing about it for the whole evening. We had many a fight about how many times I said "I miss you" on the phone before I finally flat out told him that I want to hear him say that he misses me. I know he does, but I just need to hear him say it.

These "rules" took us a long time to learn, but now it's so much easier when he travels. I miss him when he's gone, but I'm not nearly as unhappy as I used to be. Is there anything I've missed? How do you deal with a traveling spouse?

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