(Also posted in BonjourFrance.eu, Nov 2016)
Growing up, I remember my father being away for work quite often and we did not see a whole lot of him during the week. With that said, his weekends were for us and us alone (and maintaining the garden, but he’d put us to work in there together so you know… two birds… one stone). We didn’t have Skype and mobile phones back then, yet seeing my parents work together like a well-oiled machine really influenced my future relationships.
When I met my husband whilst living in Australia, one of the first things he told me about himself was that he was a French national (although the accent kind of gave it away pretty quickly) and that his work required him to relocate on a regular basis. Our relationship kicked off with a long distance stint before I followed him overseas 14 months later. We traveled in Europe and Asia for his job and settled back in France 2 years ago to plant our feet in the soil and settle down. Nevertheless, his job still has him travelling quite often as I stay behind with our two daughters and the dog.
I certainly am not the only person in this situation, far from it, and have connected with a number of men and women that have spouses working away from home. I thought to share with you some of the tools that we have used over the years and that have proven to be helpful at times.
- 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 a deep and meaningful e-mail, simply touching base can be enough to let each other know you’re thinking of one another.
- Prioritize 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 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 touching base during the day can also minimize 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).
- Learn how to Argue Constructively
Like any relationship, clashes and disagreement happen from time to time. It feels almost artificial to follow what the books say and start an argument calmly with “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 at a certain time and strolled in an hour later without a text… the drama :p. Release that frustration, albeit somewhat incoherently. Once all issues have been thrown on 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 the family, while you think 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 cause both physical and mental exhaustion. 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.
- 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 ‘girly-my-husband-would-rather-have-a-lobotomy-than-watch-these’ movies as well as meet up with friends. After the arrival of our daughters however, we became a bit more house bound and our priorities changed. Nevertheless, as soon as those monkeys are in their bed, I might grab a glass of red and put on the corniest series I can find (I have no shame in admitting I’m currently hooked on the show ‘Pretty Little Liars’… well maybe a little bit ashamed). It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling a certain void while your partner is away, but making the best of a less favorable situation avoids cutting into your couples-time once they are back. (e.g.: file paperwork, catching up with your own friends, or finally do that ‘extreme Spring clean’ you’ve been planning… even though it’s November).
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.
- You’re a rock star!
Maintaining a relationship from a distance (any relationship for that matter) is not always easy and needs us to be bold and to hang in there. It’s for those who are willing to spend a lot of time alone; in exchange for a little time with the ones they love. It’s for recognizing a good thing when they see it, even when they may not see it nearly enough”. I read that once somewhere (thank you random late-night Internet searches whilst hubs is overseas).
Long distance relationships (however short or long) are hard, but they are also incredible. If you can communicate with, love and respect each other from a distance, well then you can knock it out of the park when you’re together!
“Distance gives us a reason to love harder” (Anon).