In our global career workplace, many couples have to spend more and more time apart. Some people’s jobs require one to spend large chunks of time on the road. This often happens in military families as well. Other couples are temporarily separated when one spouse has been transferred and the other has not yet found new employment.
In other cases one spouse may have to spend long periods of time away meeting the needs of extended family. Whatever the circumstances that create the separation, we have chosen to address two key concerns that are important for keeping a long-distance marriage healthy: communication and creative time together.
Most marriages suffer from lack of communication. But for couples who spend large quantities of time apart, it is especially easy for their lives to drift in different directions. To maintain a healthy marriage, couples need to remain in contact with each other. They need to be involved in each other’s independent activities much as they would be if they had dinner together every night.
For me, this was a concern when Chuck and I were living apart due to our jobs. Chuck did not seem as bothered by this as I was. For five months we saw each other only on weekends. We communicated mostly by phone and occasionally via e-mail. It seemed that nights we felt like talking did not coincide. But the time we had our phone conversation at the end of the day, if I was tired, he wanted to talk. If I had time to talk, he was tired and short with me.
We learned that we had to plan to make our usual conversations a priority. We had to call each other earlier in the evening. Originally our tendency was to place the call just before turning out the light, but we were too tired by then to share much of what went on in each other’s day. As we developed a better pattern, even though I’d never met any of the boys he worked with in the residential treatment center, I felt like I knew them almost as well as he did.
Maintaining Communication at Home
Now we are back living in the same house. But I travel and am occasionally on the road for a week at a time. The day-to-day communications still take an effort to maintain. We talk on the phone almost every night when I’m gone. I leave notes for Chuck in places I know he will discover throughout my trip: in the refrigerator, under his pillow, in a book he is reading, in his organizer, under a few pairs of socks. Sometimes he sends me e-mail. It brightens my day to open up my e-mail while I am on the road and see that I have a note from Chuck.
While these ideas may sound trivial, they go a long way in helping us feel connected. I would encourage couples to be sure they are communicating on at least this level before they move on to addressing the deeper issues that may exist.
Suggestions From Shirley —a Wife Who Felt Neglected
After reading about John and Joan’s situation [a married couple Marita writes about who are contending with his extensive traveling work schedule], Shirley wrote,
“That was the story of my life for forty-two years. During the last five years, it has really intensified. Nate retired from the Air Force and went with industry. He has been to China and Russia almost three times a month. Over the years I have had the full range of emotions. I was feeling neglected, wanting to divorce and find someone who really ‘cared more about me than his job.’ I was also creating arguments to try to get my point across, ignoring him, and developing my own interests. Plus, I was pretending I didn’t care, gaining sympathy from other people for my ‘sad state of affairs’ —and the list goes on.”
From her experience, Shirley suggests that Joan start by beginning to express her thanks for what John does do. He comes home faithfully, spends Saturday nights with her, and provides for her. John [who has a powerful, leadership temperament] has a need to be appreciated for all the work he does. He believes he is doing what he needs to do as a husband by providing well for Joan. Men see togetherness much differently than women do. Their being in the same room —or house —is often sufficient “together time” for men.
In talking about her marriage, Shirley says,
“My husband, Nate, did not need to spend any time with great ‘togetherness’ for him. Once I realized that being in the same room with him, even though we didn’t converse, fulfilled his ‘togetherness’ idea, I could relax with it.”
Meanwhile Joan needs to be sure that her heart is right. If she attempts to address her concerns with John and she is full of anger, her attempts will backfire. They may then drive him away. Perhaps this is why talking has not been effective. Gaylen Larson, Ph.D., warns Joan,
“You need to understand the principle that anger feeds anger. If you approach John in an angry manner, you will feed his anger, resulting in a negative outcome. Proverbs says a soft answer turns away anger, and that an angry answer feeds anger (Proverbs 15:1). What you want to do is to dispel the anger, not feed it.”
To love John extravagantly, Joan needs to be willing to make the first changes. She can begin to make some personal changes through her time with the Lord.
Addressing similar concerns, Shirley says:
“Although I was deeply involved in speaking and women’s ministry, the lack of togetherness began to take its toll. I could feel myself moving towards depression. So I began journaling my feelings. I recall getting up one morning at three and going downstairs to write my thoughts to God. I was very honest with Him. God already knows my heart. I asked Him to help me understand and accept Nate for who and what he is. He’s a good provider, a man of high integrity, a man who I know loves me (in his own way). I asked God to help me support him in the area of his needs.
“The Lord helped me find a good Christian friend who would listen in confidence to my complaints, but would not allow me to tear Nate down or wallow in my self-pity. She listened, empathized with me, and then challenged me with ways to help understand and accept his work to love extravagantly, though she did not use that term.
I pray for Nate, and I encourage Joan to do the same for John. I suggest that Joan read The Power of a Praying® Wife written by Stormie Omartian. Another wonderful book is Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself written by Florence Littauer. Understanding the Personalities and his ‘work’ mode versus her ‘friend/social’ mode would be extremely helpful to Joan and John as it was for Nate and me.”
Making Important Adjustments
While I doubt that John is expecting a romance-novel greeting, Joan can make some adjustments to be sure he feels welcome, giving him a sense of excitement and enthusiasm about coming home. On the nights that he gets home early enough, she might prepare his favorite meal and serve it in front of the fireplace. When his arrival hour is late, she could try my routine —spending time pampering herself with a bubble bath (or whatever works for her) and getting in the right frame of mind. As Shirley suggests, make his homecomings special:
“I believe that if Joan begins to accept John just as he is, lets him know that she appreciates his being such a good provider and acknowledges to him that ‘traveling all the time must be hard on him,’ and then asks what she can do to make his homecomings special, she will begin to see a difference in their relationship.”
By following Shirley’s advice, Joan will be creating an environment that is conducive to discussing her other concerns: their limited time together and how many of her needs go unmet. Then she can ask John what his thoughts are and what he sees might take place to remedy the situation.
By this point, we hope John will be willing to discuss Joan’s concerns and make some changes. He must recognize his role as a husband is more than just bringing home a paycheck and playing spouse for a night.
CREATIVE TIME TOGETHER
[Another problem is] Joan and John have fallen into a trap many couples face, traveling spouse or not. Their relationship has a routine and lacks excitement, variety, and a creative use of time together. This is especially important due to the limited time available. While John is working very hard and providing for Joan, the first change he must make is to draw some boundaries. He needs to make Joan a priority on the weekend —since they both have this time off.
Since John’s weekday’s, and part of the weekend, don’t involve Joan, he needs to make some sacrifices for his marriage. From his own experience with his wife and travel schedule, Gene recommends,
“John must place a priority on spending time with Joan. He needs to focus more on her rather than playing golf every Sunday. John should try to consolidate as much work as possible during the week, leaving only a minimum for Saturday.”
If John makes this adjustment of spending more time with Joan, they can probably reach an agreement. This agreement would allow John to golf with his buddies once or twice a month, and spend time with Joan the other Sundays.
Even if John doesn’t change his priorities and carve out more time to spend with Joan, the time they do have needs to be more creative and stimulating for both of them.
When John and Joan plan their special activities together, they need to take into consideration what they like to do together and individually. Perhaps Joan could learn to golf. This way John can still golf, but they could together. Or she could drive the cart.
Intentionality in Energizing Marriage
To prevent falling into a rut, try one of the many books available that offer creative dates for couples. Two I suggest are by Dave and Claudia Arp: 10 Great Dates to Energize Your Marriage and 52 Fantastic Dates for You and Your Mate. Joan and John might want to get one of these books and spend an evening selecting a few dates that they both agree sound like fun.
Another issue of concern is that it appears Joan and John do not have any spiritual connection. Church attendance should be one of the activities that they do together as their Christian life offers the foundation for their marriage commitment. They might seek out a church with worship services offered on Saturday night as well as Sunday. Attending on Saturday would leave Sunday morning open for their personal quality time. While this may sound somewhat heretical to some, I think God would honor the decision to encourage a healthy marital relationship.
Many couples live apart long term. Others make it through a few months of a temporary situation. Whichever your case, I hope the insights offered here will help you love each other extravagantly —to give, not to get.
1. The couple needs to create a balance sheet on [the traveling spouse’s] job to determine if it is worth the strain on the marriage. In separate columns, they should list the costs and benefits of the current job. This will help them see in black and white whether or not he/she should stay in this job.
2. Each spouse should ask him or herself, “If things remain exactly the same, how long do I think I can hang in there?” Then share the responses. This is an indicator of how critical the situation is and how urgent the need for change. Different solutions to the issue require more time to complete than others. When time is short, bold action is required.
3. Depending on the answers to the previous exercises, begin to look for avenues for change. For example, if both agree that a job change is not needed, what changes can be made in the weekend routine? List specific variations and select one for each upcoming weekend. Even if a job change is agreed upon, it may take months to implement. Therefore, a change in the weekend routine may still be needed.
4. Because of the minimal time this couple has together, they need to maximize the time that they do have. Schedule time weekly —about an hour —to do a couple’s communication exercise. [You can find some in the “Communication” section of this web site.] It will be especially valuable to this situation.
This article can be found in the book, Love Extravagantly: Making the Modern Marriage Work written by Marita Littauer and Chuck Noon. It is published by Bethany House. Marita Littauer and Chuck Noon (who are married) show you how it can be done in these and many more situations. They do this by practicing extravagant, go-the extra-mile love.
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Filed under: Assorted Marriage Issues