Going the Distance: Making Commuter Marriage Work

By: Gregory Popcak

frsuterated couple

Mark’s company was downsizing and he knew that his job wasn’t safe.   At the encouragement of his boss and after much discussion and prayer with his wife, Elizabeth, Mark took a new position in the company that was much more secure, but required him to be out of state most of the week, every week. Overnight, and after 15 years of almost never leaving each other’s side, Mark and Liz have a commuter marriage and only see each other on weekends.  Liz says, “I find myself getting angry. I know it’s crazy, but I just get so resentful about having to do everything by myself.   I want the weekends to be good times between Mark and the kids. I’m happy to see him but we end up fighting in spite of ourselves. This is one of the hardest things we’ve ever gone through.

Over 1.3 million married couples either live separately or spend significant time apart each week because work takes them from home.   Certainly this is the experience of many military families, but it is also true of many in the transportation industry, as well as sales, consulting, and other lines of work that take employees far from home.  The dynamic of a commuter marriage presents several challenges, especially when children are involved.   Having been away for several days, it can often be difficult for the traveling spouse to re-enter the routine that the at-home family has established.   It can be hard to figure out how best to distribute the time the traveling spouse is at home.   How do you make sure that the marriage, kids, and chores all get the time and energy they need?     How does the at-home spouse keep from burning out while their mate is away?  The following tips can help you keep your marriage on track even when work keeps you away from each other.

Stay Supportive

It’s easy for the at-home spouse to go to a blaming place in his or her head.   Remember, in most cases, your mate doesn’t want to be away from home any more than you want him or her to be gone.   Talk openly and non-judgmentally about your frustration with the separation, be honest about how difficult it is to be apart, and brainstorm ways to minimize the emotional and practical stress of being in two separate places most of the time.

Take Advantage of Technology

A generation ago, couples had a much more difficult time staying in touch. With email, cell phones, digital pictures, web cams, there is no reason a travelling spouse cannot be an almost constant presence in the life of his or her at home family.   Being virtually there isn’t the same thing as being there, but it is a lot better than not being there at all.

Become the Problem Solver

If you are the spouse at home, it’s time to put on your thinking cap and problem solve.   On our radio program, we recently got a call from a long haul trucker whose wife would regularly call him to complain about things that would break around the house while he was gone.   The night before he called us, his wife had called him to say that their septic system was on the blink.   She refused to call the repair company, insisting that it was his job to do so.   Of course, being 800 miles from home without a local phone book made that difficult. By all means, the traveling spouse should expect to be involved in big decisions and even household maintenance as much as possible, but the at-home spouse should expect to present the traveling spouse with options for solving the problem (or better yet, just handle it) rather than presenting complaints about which the traveling spouse can do little.

Seek Outside Help

Although you’re probably loathe to spend the money on a housekeeper or handyman or other support people, you may want to reconsider that reluctance or seek lower cost help (college students, homeschooling “mom’s helpers”).   No one can do it alone, and when a spouse is on the road, you need all the help you can get.   Don’t let your pride stop you from seeking as much help as you can either afford or avail yourself of.   Your sanity and your marriage depend upon the at-home spouse getting whatever help is necessary to keep things moving.

Cultivate and Communicate your Routine

It is hard for the travelling spouse to constantly enter and exit the family.   Think of a juggler who is juggling 4 balls and suddenly has a 5th thrown at him.   There is a different rhythm and pattern that needs to be established.  For commuter marriages to work well, there needs to be constant communication between the traveling spouse and the at-home spouse regarding the schedule that is being kept so that when the traveling spouse comes home, he or she can step right into the rhythm that was established in his or absence.   It may still take some adjustment, but it will be a lot easier than jumping into the family with conflicting plans and expectations.

Practice Random Acts of Kindness

Many couples in commuter marriages work hard to do little things for each other even while they’re away.   The at-home spouse may tuck notes, photos, or small tokens into the traveling partner’s suitcase to serve as reminders of family left at home.  The travelling spouse may leave notes at home in unexpected places to find at a later date, or send flowers “just because” or any number of other thoughtful gestures.   In successful commuter marriages, both the husband and wife recognize that romance isn’t limited to face-to-face contact.

Make the Time You Do Have Together Count

Make sure that when the travelling spouse comes home that there is a plan for getting time as a couple, as a family, and at least a little one-on-one time with each child.   This can seem overwhelming, but prior planning can make it possible by giving mom and dad some prayer time or private time, getting some game time with the kids, and reading a story or taking a walk or something else with one child or another. There is no question that commuter marriages are a challenge, but by being intentional about the relationship, couples can stay in touch and in love even when work tries to pull them in separate directions.

If you or your spouse are struggling with the challenges associated with a commuter marriage, call your PaxCare Tele-Coach today. Talk to us and get the skills you and your family need to succeed.

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