This is the 5th installment in our series by @morealtitude. He’s blogging from Ethiopia on a long-term work assignment while wife and child are at home in Australia. If you missed them, you can find Parts 1-4 here:
- Celebrating Two Years Of Marriage A World Apart
- Planning For Time Apart In A Long Distance Relationship
- Dreaded Departures: Four Things To Do Before You Leave To Ease Partings
- 5 Tips For Communicating Well While You’re Apart
Now, here are today’s thoughts on coping well with time apart in your LDR …
We’ve mentioned expectations before, but it’s so important it deserves mentioning again. LDRs are tough. Difficult things will come up. At times, you will miscommunicate, irritate each other, and even hurt each other. It will be an effort to understand and to fix that over distance. Expect to struggle sometimes and to have negative feelings emerge. Expect your partner to struggle, and expect to be surprised by the things they struggle with, because they’re not you so their experience is going to be different. Ultimately, unless you’re the sort of couple who need time away from each other (and those exist too), LDRs are not fun, so expect them to suck.
2. Prioritize your partner when they need you, even when it’s not convenient
Expect tricky issues or conversations to come up when it’s awkward to deal with them (for example when you feel rushed off your feet and the last thing you need to deal with is an emotional issue with your partner). Remember that this relationship is (presumably) one of the most important and valuable things in your life. Be prepared to drop everything and connect with your partner
3. In travel for work situations, mix up the routine a little for the person staying behind
Nothing is as lonely as going through the same routine as before, but without your significant other around. If you can, fill some of that space with other social engagements or interesting activities. Especially if you’ve got kids, think about changing the routine a little for all your sakes – maybe have dinner in front of the television a little more often, or have them stay up a little later from time to time, eat out, or go away for a weekend.
Don’t go overboard – you don’t want changes to the routine to be disruptive for them. Ideally you want them to feel like life goes on as usual but that there are some differences – even silver linings – to having a parent away. You want to compensate/distract from the absence of a parent, and also let them know, “Hey, things are a little different right now, it’s not normal, so don’t get used to it, and here’s a few things to make it a little better.”
4. Make sure you build in time to connect with kids
Kids make things a lot harder in long distance relationships or extended travel-for-work situations. In essence you’re not just maintaining one long distance relationship, but two or more and each one is its own distinct relationship that has to be supported.
As adults we can understand and cope more easily with change and separation, but in addition to maturity we also have an element of choice (and therefore control) in things, which kids lack. Kids are resilient too. They are also incredibly forgiving, even when you do put them through a hard time, but you must never take that for granted or exploit it.
With a child, the dynamic changes even more quickly than it will with your partner. If you spend very much time away – or regular time away – that relationship will suffer quickly. The child may also be very unsettled by your absence, which can put a lot of pressure on the parent left behind.
We’ve really struggled with this dynamic in our family when I travel. Make sure in your communications arrangements you build in time to call when the child is present and awake, and it fits within the daily schedule. Granted, it makes things a lot more complicated- but there’s a lot at stake, too.
4. Think creatively about filling the gaps
On this particular trip, we’ve asked a friend to come and live with the girls while they’re at home alone. It helps my wife feel safer in the house, gives her some adult company, and distracts the little one too. It’s been a great move and really reduced some of the pressures. If there’s someone (a good friend or a family member) who can be an additional part of life while you’re away, look into it. They may fill some of the gaps and ease the pain a little (or at least distract from it).
5. For both parties, try and find the silver linings in separation
What are the things that you can do by yourself that you enjoy, that maybe you don’t get as much time to do when you’re around your partner? It might be indulging in reading a book. It might be going out with your friends you don’t see much (equally true if you’re left at home or the one traveling). It might be writing, or praying, or quiet time just pottering. Maybe watching dumb rom-coms or stupid action movies that your other half doesn’t appreciate.
It will help if each of you tries to make space in your apartness for those things. It will inject some positive flavour angle to your separation and help minimize the cost. It’s never a completely satisfactory substitute, but it can help.
6. Don’t count down
In my experience, countdowns generally make the time go slower. Avoid them if humanly possible.