Growing up, I remember my father being away for work quite often as my mother held down the fort juggling me and my younger siblings, her job and the house. T’was back in the stone age before emails, Facetime,Skype and mobile phones. It didn’t always seem easy, yet seeing my parents work together, like a well-oiled machine, really influenced my views on future relationships and coping skills in being apart for large or frequent periods of time. The adventure with my French husband kicked off with a 14 month long-distance stint before joining him overseas. We continued the expat life for another few years before settling in France, with our feet semi-solid on the ground (because, much like a chocoholic; “once an expat, always an expat”). Nevertheless, his job still has him travelling quite often as I stay behind and, just like my mother, hold down the fort with our two little younglings. I’m certainly not the only person in this situation, and us “fort-holders” tend to seek each other out to find support and comfort while our better halves are out of town. Below are a few tips gathered from various men and women who often deal with one being away for work.
1. Communication is key This is pretty much a given. Communication is vital in all relationships, but it doubles in importance when that same relationship must battle the distance. In today’s tech savvy society, we’re extremely spoiled with all the applications and programs available to us to connect with our loved ones. That doesn’t mean communication over the net is as easy as it seems. Although you miss someone every day, you don’t always have a lot to talk about when you get your 15 minutes on the phone together. Often it can feel a bit forced as you try to sift through the day in your mind and share the highlights. Don’t put too much pressure on having the perfect phone call or deep and meaningful e-mail. Simply touching base can be enough to let each other know you’re thinking of one another.
2. Prioritise each other
Enjoy the small talk and joking around, but also leave room for the bigger issues. Let your partner know where you’re at, even if it’s not the most fun news of the day. I know some of us hold back as we don’t want to worry our partner while they are away (or vice versa, worry the ones at home). Call each other on the times you agreed and touch base during the day. This can minimise the ‘out of sight out of mind’ pitfall. Send a sweet video of the kids or a romantic picture to let your better half know they’re on your mind. (Side note: Be cautious with the romantic portraits though, you wouldn’t want to accidentally send a sultry image to their boss or have your sexy face pop up on their computer during a presentation).
3. Learn how to Argue Constructively
Like any relationship, clashes and disagreements happen from time to time. It feels almost artificial to follow what the books say and start an argument calmly with phrases like “I feel that…” and “How can we approach this together”. Take away the face-to-face aspect of the argument and there can be even more room for miscommunication and conflicts. There is nothing wrong with allowing yourselves to have a heated dispute at first, where you throw random arguments at each other and even bring up stupid things from the past (like when they said they would be home soon and strolled in three hours later without a text… oh the drama). Release that frustration, albeit somewhat incoherently. Once all issues have been spread out onto the table, that’s when we can calmly focus on the bigger picture and work through the important ones together (some of them might simply go away once you’ve said them out loud). It goes both ways After a rough day, you might feel that you’re doing a lot staying behind and taking care of your job, the family, and everything else. Your irrational self might tell you your partner is ‘sleeping in’ at the hotel and having a nice dinner, but that is not always the case. While it can be exciting to visit new locations and network, the demands of being away for an extended period can be both physically and mentally exhausting. A few days away might feel like a nice break, but all the comfy hotel beds in the world don’t make up for missing out on the everyday things at home. Working away, while the significant other stays behind, can be stressful and taxing for both parties. It’s not a competition and being part of a team requires a little give and take from everyone.
4. Make the best of it
At first it didn’t bother me too much that my partner was away a lot. Before we had children, I took advantage of the ‘me-time’, and indulged in ‘my-husband-would-rather-have-
Whenever I do feel a bit down in the dumps because, yet again, my husband gets called away for a few weeks, I try to put things in perspective. I have friends in the military who can be away from their partner and kids for 18 months at a time… looking at it that way, our measly 2-3 weeks feel modest. This does not mean that your situation is irrelevant nor that it feels any better being apart. However, reflecting on others’ situation could bring a certain comfort in knowing you’re not the only one doing this and people are rocking the long distance relationships every day! It does take a village to raise a child, so don’t be afraid to accept outside help where offered and build yourself a little support network.
A qualified Psychologist who started with trauma survivors and later turned to private practice. As well as a health and wellness professional, I’m also a mother of two, wife of one, veteran expatriate and self proclaimed ‘foodie’ (which is just another way of saying my favorite hobby is eating). I’m a blogger who started to write about everyday situations, share research and experience and offer helpful advice. www.lifesrecipebook.