I had to say goodbye to my husband today. It happens frequently at our home, due to the nature of his job. In fact, he must travel for work for about three solid weeks each month. The 7-10 days that he is home, though, he is home 24/7 with no obligation to be anywhere.
It makes for a pretty crazy lifestyle. We have a slogan that we say a lot: “Never a dull moment.” Because that is our life! Either he is home and we are busy enjoying having him here, or he is gone and I am busy being essentially a single parent.
There are pros and cons to this type of situation, as with anything else. The cons are fairly obvious: he's not home every night, he often misses birthdays or other milestones, etc. The pros are more subtle, but they do exist. He gets to see the world, for one. When he's home, we can have great family time for days on end. We can get a house project done pretty quickly, because he can work on it for several days in a row. I don't have to cook as much or do as much laundry when he is gone. Things like that.
I don't spend a lot of time thinking about how difficult it is. Obviously it can be hard to be the only responsible adult around for weeks on end. In this economy, though, we are grateful that he has a steady, fairly secure job. Mostly I just try to find ways to make it work, because it is what we have to do; and wallowing in self-pity isn't going to make it any better.
Don't get me wrong; I have had my meltdowns. But over the 10+ years that we've been doing this, I've learned a few things about how to make it easier, how to smooth over some of the rough spots. So the meltdowns happen less frequently than they used to… at least I think so. :-)
7 tips for when your spouse must travel for work:
1) It helps to be a low-maintenance wife. A guy who travels a lot already has a lot of pressures on his life; I don't need to create more. I can't have high expectations about him remembering special occasions or sending me love notes. I need to give him the freedom to focus on work while he is at work.
2) Expect a day or two of adjustment when he leaves. I am often sad after saying goodbye. When I remember that this is perfectly normal and will pass within a couple days, then it doesn't faze me too much. Sometimes I pamper myself during that time by
reading a nice long book not pushing myself for too much productivity, and that can help make the sadness pass with less emotional upset. :-)
3) Expect a day or two of adjustment when he comes home. While my husband is gone, I am the decision-maker; I control my days and my kids' days. When he gets back, it can be hard for me to remember that I don't have to (nor should I) make all the decisions any more. Sometimes it can take us a couple of days to iron out the kinks of this transition; but when we remember that it will happen, then we are more able to handle the readjustment with laughter rather than frustration.
4) Expect that a few hours or the night before he has to leave, he may be preoccupied with thinking about what he is heading out to do. That means that it's best if I don't try to have any major discussion with him during that time, or to request help with anything. If I haven't brought it up before this preoccupation hits, then I usually wait until he comes back home before I try again.
5) Avoid bringing up heavy conversation topics on the phone. I also try not to mention that I wish he were home or to make him feel bad for being gone. I warn the kids to keep things light when they talk to him, as well. The poor guy is doing what he needs to do to put food on our table; he doesn't need us to be whining at him about something over which he has no control. In short, I try to make it as emotionally easy as possible for him to be away.
6) Be respectful of the times when he is unavailable due to work. Sometimes I just cannot reach him. At all. Other times he is busy and cannot talk for long. This needs to be OK with me. Cell phones are a recent invention, after all. Many women lived without talking to their husbands for weeks and longer at a time, when the men went off to war, or to scout out a job opportunity or frontier location. Surely I can manage to get through the few hours or even days that I cannot talk to him.
7) Be flexible to adapt to his task list while he is home. Since we live out in the country, a big honey-do list has usually been written by the time he gets back home. It is important to him to get as much of it done as possible, so that things are easier for me without him. That means I shouldn't be demanding he take over my tasks while he is home or that he spend a lot of time socializing to make me happy.
It's not only me that has to do the adjusting. The Man was telling me that he often doesn't want to go to restaurants when he gets home, because he has been eating in them every day for so long. All he wants is some yummy, home-cooked meals; but he has to remember that it's important to take me out a time or two while he's here. I can definitely go with that. :-)
Another thing I think about is that I am the same way whenever I leave the house. Even if it's just for a few hours to be with my friends for ladies' night, or to go shopping, I don't like to be interrupted a lot or made to feel bad for going out. So why would I want to do that to my husband?
I'd rather keep him wanting to come back home.