I was going to put something about long-distance relationships in the title, but I don’t think I’m qualified to write about that (military couples you have my GREATEST respect and empathy). Rich is a grad student, studying a parasite found mostly in South America and Southeast Asia, so he needs to go study it there sometimes. For the past three years he’s been gone 1-2 months a year and then is averaging about two conferences a year in addition. (Don’t cry for me Argentina- I’m lucky enough to stay with my parents, who are wonderful human beings, for those month(s) long absences).
I generally don’t do well at all without my better half. My worse half tends to come out and put on quite a show when he’s away. Even before we had kids, even before we got married, I’m just more irritable, less patient and generally fussy while Rich is gone. Now, for instance, Rich is currently in Brazil and I’m . . . . a real joy to be around . . .
But even though it’s hard and even though I’m grumpy, I think our marriage is undoubtedly better for our time apart. I’m not advocating separating just for the marital strength, but if you find yourself in one of those situations, here are some things that have helped us to stay connected while we’re apart.
1. Give a report on your emotional/mental state everyday
When we’re together and in the midst of the day-to-day humdrum of life, our marriage can very easily start looking more like a business partnership than a romantic relationship. Rich comes home, we need to get dinner on the table, dinner off the table, kids cleaned, kids down, kids down again, kids down some more, emails answered, house cleaned, Jimmy Fallon clips watched, etc, etc. It’s VERY easy to be together and never emotionally connect. But when we’re apart without all those distractions, it can be easier.
I think it can actually be a lot more natural to give an emotional/mental report everyday when your form of communication is written (email, chat, whatever) rather than face to face. Maybe this is because in our daily conversations our hopes, fears, and dreams don’t come up all that often, but when we’re apart, I just sort of flows. We need to connect and we need that connection to be deep and intimate. No time for fluff. It’s kind of nice that we can skip the daily merging of our schedules and to-do lists that need to be discussed when we’re together. When we’re apart we can go right to the bonding.
Anyway, while your spouse is away, take time everyday to honestly express your daily joys, what is worrying you, what is making you laugh. Don’t just do a daily report on goings on. Discussing things that happens is necessary, but make sure you leave time for your emotional and mental reports. This will be good for both you -to get it off your chest and to feel heard and connected- and for your spouse -to understand you and what you’re going through better.
2. Love letters
This was something Rich initiated. Have I mentioned I married up? Last year when he was gone for almost two months, he tried to write me a love letter everyday. Once I got four or five love letters stacked up in my inbox, my love tank was so full, I naturally wanted to reciprocate. We were both pretty disappointed in the lack of love letter prompts the internet provided us with, so we got pretty creative.
Spoiler alert- love letter prompts will be the subject of my next post.
3. Don’t compete for who is having a harder time
This was a hard one for me since Rich is the one living walking distances from amazing beaches without the daily stresses of child rearing/cooking/cleaning – it is easy for me to trivialize the fact that he really does struggle when he is away just as much as I do, just in different ways. He is lonely, he misses me and the kids a lot and he hates that he makes my life hard by being away. I certainly don’t make anything any easier on anyone by playing the victim.
4. Choose quality over quantity interactions
Last year when Rich was gone for almost two months, he happened to be in a place that had pretty good, reliable internet connection (a common bane of our separations is that he never knows how good the internet will be and it very often is unreliable, like now for instance . . .), but that turned out to be a blessing and a curse.
I left these interactions feeling unfulfilled and worn down. They ended up being just another stress on my already stressful time alone with the kids. It was just hard to do a million things at once while trying to also connect with my spouse. I needed Rich to know that this was the case and to not be offended when I asked to limit our Skype time.
Be understanding that your spouse is busy wherever they are and try not to take offense where offense isn’t intended if and when they can’t devote all the time you’d like them to talking with you.
So, my advice would be that when you Skype or FaceTime or whatever- make it count. Savor it. Devote yourselves to each other and minimize distractions. And if you need to go do something else, then disconnect and reconnect when you have more time to focus on each other.
In short, take advantage of your time away to really emotionally connect, flirt with each other again, reminisce about the past, get your love tanks good and full. This will help serve as a buffer for the times when it’s hard to be apart and also when you’re together again and it’s hard to be together again 😉