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Traveling Spouse: How Do You Catch Up in 48 Hours?

18 Oct

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Let me begin this blog by recognizing that not everyone has the benefit of having a spouse in the first place. Some people are single-parenting full-time. In no way am I minimizing or comparing myself to those particular challenges. I admire you greatly. I don’t feel that when I have to, I single-parent consistently well, so please know I admire those who do this day in and day out. But this is written for those who know the constant disruption of one half of the relationship always on the road and how do marriages survive that? It’s a thinking-out-loud kind of blog because I have some things to share but also because I’m open to what works for others. I find it helpful to know what others do to make the minutes count when they are together.

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Weekends are interesting. They bring a switch from me being the 24/7 home manager to sharing the burden: for two days. This is just seasonally, but when he travels every week for months on end, this is how we roll. Reentry is hard. We don’t like doing life without him, but we have to, so when Salad Boy (husband) comes back home, it feels like a lot of pressure for all of us to prioritize:

How should we spend the minutes?

Having been a military spouse and having lived in military environments several times, I know that it looks different when they are gone for months at a time on deployment. There is no regular ebb and flow of return, except maybe the occasional quick few hours on leave home, whenever possible.

Every Friday night, we face the decisions about the weekend. Like anyone else prioritizing time off, it’s a juggle: Do we do a family outing? Catch up on lawn work? Work on that loft bed project? Divide in half to get groceries and run kids to activities? Be still?

Be still?

That last one doesn’t seem to get enough credit in its importance. Everything else is loud and demanding when competing for our time. “Be still” is just an invitation. It’s quiet. It’s warm and inviting. But we have to come to it and say “yes.” How often I fail to say “yes” and tune out all other life noise around me for even an hour? Way too often.

Psalm 46:10, author unknown, but he is recording the words of God, ESV
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!” 

Psalm 37:7a, King David speaking
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.

Psalm 107:29, author unknown, but he is recording the words of God, ESV
He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Oh, God, if you made the storm be still, then please look at my storm and make me be still as well. I’m saying: “Yes!”

Then there’s also the juggle of Salad Boy and I carving out 10 minutes of talk time, competing with three kids wanting to share about their week and show him things they’ve been working on—and us collapsing in a heap after he took an early morning flight. More often than not, we’re both exhausted.

What do we talk about? What matters most? What can wait, for now, for another week, or perhaps never make it onto the discussion topic list?

I honestly find this part really challenging. Do we talk about one kid’s medical/therapy? Another’s struggles in a certain academic subject? The drama of teen/tweens coexisting in the same home? The epic fails of the weeks? The successes? The fact the washing machine decided to leak while he was gone? The people coming to the door to sell us solar energy? The teacher meeting I called? The fact the kids often blame the only parent here when I can’t pull off being two people? The fact the car is making funky noises? The phone company changed our voice mail, and now I can’t access messages? My own test results?

How much can we jam into quick conversations that will stick? Is it better to focus on three topics and not 24? How can you make up for not being even able to phone most of the time away (there are legitimate, work-related reasons for this)? What can you expect, reasonably, of someone floating back through the house just to do laundry, hug the family, and pack a bag again?

I’m not really sure I’ve figured it out yet. And it won’t be forever. But I certainly can’t do any of it on my own strength.

Exodus 15:2, Moses speaking, ESV
The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

1 Chronicles 16:11, Ezra narrating, David speaking, ESV
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!

Ephesians 6:10, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Philippians 4:13, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

And then what about that loss that’s felt when stress piles up? Anger? Resentment? Where do we take that so we don’t unfairly drop it all over the person who is providing the main income? Is it fair to keep it in a heavy treasure chest and then spill it out all over him for those 48 hours? Is there even time for that, even if it was the best approach, which it’s not?

This post is written not as a whine fest. It’s me thinking out loud and also writing for those who live this every day. It’s not the worst thing ever. It’s also not really a blessing either. It is what it is.

Even if your spouse is home more frequently, but regularly working late, or checked-out because of work weightiness, how do we do life and stay intact?

I haven’t been good at saying: “No robotics tonight. You’re watching your siblings so Dad and I can go on a date.”

I have been good at proclaiming: “This is a kid-free zone this morning as Dad and I catch up.”

I haven’t done well at having clear time carved out for family outings—or even a plan.

I have done well at turning down invitations to do other things so, if and when our family of five catches a few minutes, it’s just with each other. It’s open.

This post isn’t about having all the answers. It’s about sharing the journey: what has worked and what hasn’t. Salad Boy is very invested in the family and very helpful when he’s here. It’s why there is a huge void when he’s not.

We’re both fiercely independent, which offers a deceiving “strong vibe” that isn’t always there—because we’re human.

And it’s normal for the kids to miss him, to resent the one-parent gig (although I know some people, with no choice, pull that off beautifully), and to take it out on the parent who is home. I get it. I really do.

So, I’m thinking of keeping a journal of a few words/phrases that trigger what happened throughout the week. He can choose from it his top 5, and I can choose from it my top 5. I don’t have time to write it out. Just a few thoughts. It’s a way of making sure he doesn’t miss what is happening here and I feel listened to, understood, as if he was part of the week.

I absolutely believe communication is everything, even if other things on the checklist don’t “get done.” There has to be connecting. Eyes have to look into eyes, and ears have to hear, and sometimes, mouths have to repeat back some of the key points of what was shared. For me, personally, I need to know each weekend he is touching into what I’m carrying around or feeling for our family members. I need to see his hands lift some weight off. And he needs a safe haven where we don’t rage at him when he’s finally here.

The journal is just one strategy. What works for you?

*This blog post has been shared at Wedded Wednesdays and Dance with Jesus.

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12 responses to “Traveling Spouse: How Do You Catch Up in 48 Hours?

  1. TheMomCafe.com

    March 14, 2015 at 12:50 am

    I just love how you unwrap your experience and your struggles and questions with this Bonnie. You are so honest and real, and you paint a picture that I can totally relate to, from my marriage’s early years when Derek traveled for work. The re-entrance is SO hard- it’s an adjustment, and what really ARE the priorities when you are finally together?

    I love the idea of a journal- perhaps you two can set up an agenda for each time he comes home with checkpoints so that you feel like things have been communicated, and addressed- and the family feels full and whole again.

    *Two hour date every weekend*
    *Family night one night of the weekend*
    *One morning for errands*
    *One afternoon for house repairs/maintenance*

    Something like that? (easier said than done, I know)

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Bonnie Lyn Smith

      March 14, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      Oh, I like those ideas a lot, TheMomCafe! Thank you! It’s so helpful to get advice from those who have walked through it! Thank you so much for such a thoughtful response!

      Like

       
  2. kcgroves

    March 14, 2015 at 4:27 am

    I struggle on a day to day basis as my husband works full-time out of the house and then comes home and works part-time so I don’t have much time when he is home to actually get much focus on a daily basis. Trying to cram it all in with not much time is difficult. I don’t have any suggestions for you, except keep it up! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Bonnie Lyn Smith

      March 14, 2015 at 3:27 pm

      Thanks, kcgroves. It’s comforting just to know you can relate! Sometimes we just have to carry the homefront alone through a few seasons. Not fun though.

      Like

       
  3. Janet

    March 14, 2015 at 6:44 am

    I’ve used the journal strategy when my husband has been in places where communication was impossible. It works well. Even if he doesn’t have time to read it, it helps me focus on what’s important, decide what I most want to share with him when he’s home. Sometimes it even helps me strategize and problem-solve before he comes home. That in and out lifestyle is a challenge, but it sounds like you’re handling it so well. Hang in there! And thank you for reminding me of the biggest need to “Be still!”

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Bonnie Lyn Smith

      March 14, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      Thank you, Janet, for coming by Espressos of Faith! I really appreciate your thoughts. The journal does seem like a good idea to at least process. 🙂 Thank you for your encouragement. Be Still is an awesome way to live when I remember it. 🙂

      Like

       
  4. bloggerlovestheking

    March 14, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    Love your thoughts and especially your idea of keeping that journal. We all go through stages and I’m retired and now thinking what that is going to be like when he retires. Visiting from BloggerlovestheKing. Saw you on Christian Women Bloggers Unite.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Bonnie Lyn Smith

      March 17, 2015 at 7:09 pm

      Thank you, Bloggerlovestheking! I can appreciate your season of life…retirement is a new chapter, but I pray you find it filled with much joy, purpose, and togetherness!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. messymarriage

    June 3, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    I know of several friends who are struggling with a spouse who is away or on the road for the majority of their time. I am going to be sharing this with them, Bonnie. And I LOVE your idea about the journal of triggers. That way you are putting those issues down and away from you and also giving your hubby the “choice” to discuss what he wants when he returns. That’s often a part of the problem that most couples face. The man sometimes feels as if the wife is taking the lead, when he wants to have a choice in what is faced or tackled. You are offering your husband that sense of “control” in that situation. I’d love to hear if this works for you and your hubby! I’m a life-coach and this is something I’d like to learn from you—my “guinea pigs!”—how it goes! And I do hope you know I’m joking when I say you’re my guinea pigs! You are way too cute to be compared to a furry rodent! Lol! Thanks for linking up and commenting back at my place! Nice to meet ya!

    Liked by 1 person

     
  6. Bonnie Lyn Smith

    June 3, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Hi, MessyMarriage…I was so delighted to discover your site today as well! I will be visiting there again! I’m happy to be your “furry rodent” of experience. LOL 🙂 I wrote this post a while ago but found it relevant again, so I’m happy to report that what I was able to do was keep a post-it note of topics and we made it through 75 percent of them. Not bad considering how much time is spent away. I wish I could reflect more on who took the lead, but with some of our concerns being the ongoing health issues of one of our children, that one always seemed to slide to the top and any character issues that needed addressing in our tween and teen. Stuff like house repairs or questions about less trivial things ended up at the bottom. I’ll try to reflect again on this when his travel ramps up again, as it is starting to. Blessings, and thanks so much for coming by!

    Like

     
  7. Susan B Mead

    June 5, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Bonnie Lyn, that used to be ME. The one leaving every week. Leaving Holt to hold down the fort, father (& mother!) 2 sons and feed them too.

    We did it for years, but we did not do it well…

    I love the journal idea!

    I would do an equal number of challenges/chores as I did grateful, if I were to redo this. We simply looked at the challenges and failed to count our blessings along the way. No mulligans in life like there are in golf, unfortunately!

    Here’s to a life FULL of love. Hugs. Susan

    Liked by 1 person

     
  8. Bonnie Lyn Smith

    June 7, 2015 at 11:47 pm

    Susan….I love that you share your own story here….interesting that you had the other perspective of this. I don’t think we’ve always done it well either. I like the grateful idea a lot. The challenges do overwhelm when you’re in the thick of it. Communication is so key, and sometimes only in snippets. Hugs right back at you! Thanks for coming by and sharing your wisdom and encouragement. Blessings!

    Like

     

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