Last week we talked about the challenges of being the one left behind by a partner who travels regularly for work. It’s easy enough to pinpoint challenges. It can be harder to come up with ways to stay healthily connected to a crusading globe trotter and keep the home fires burning without getting resentful. Here are a few things that have worked for me …
Empathising with what your significant other is experiencing is profoundly important in managing your relationship long-distance. Honestly expressing, listening to, connecting with, and validating each person’s experiences is vital. We do this on a daily basis. That is not to say that we don’t sometimes talk utter nonsense and laugh and joke – we do. But the sharing of the day-to-day dramas and concerns is really important.
Many times, I have felt the challenges on my side of the world are petty or mundane compared to fighting poverty or implementing medicine and food distributions. But MoreAltitude is always genuinely interested, appreciative, and validating of my experiences. This is marvellously helpful. I imagine it would be very easy to get resentful or feel insignificant if he could not do this. After all, challenges are challenges, no matter where you experience them.
If I ever start feeling sorry for myself or resentful of the distance, I just think about the hard stuff my other half is experiencing and what he is sacrificing. And, if he is enjoying himself, I am grateful, because I like him and I want him to be happy. That usually sorts me out. We are in the same boat. We’re just at opposite ends of a very, very, large canoe.
Be mature and own your reactions
Ultimately your responses to the separation are only in your control. Recognize those responses and do what you need to do to look after yourself. In doing this, you look after your partner as well. Express your feelings, but don’t hurl them at your loved one as something they need to fix. Try not to blame or punish your partner or freeze them out while they are miles away (or in the same room, for that matter). That stuff is really unfair and destructive. Learning to do this consistently and well might mean seeking extra support from family, friends or professionals. If so, do it. It’s worth the time and energy.
Be deliberately active
Know what will help you get through the time apart and make plans accordingly. I like filling my house with people – our daughter is happiest when surrounded by energy. I also like to cook, so I try and hook up lots of dinners and visits in advance. We had a lovely friend stay with us for some time during this separation and her company made a world of difference.
Take the empty spaces and fill them with other things – things you like. Get out. Exercise. See friends. Meet people. See a show. Do the art gallery. Be spontaneous. Take the kids to eat ice-cream on the beach. Then keep doing that stuff when your other half gets back, but include them. It’s a nice way to bust out of a rut and experience your hometown anew.
Go with the flow. Some days, connecting with your partner may not be possible. Shrug your shoulders and save up your stories for your next talk. Similarly, many of the routines that we establish with MoreAltitude home just don’t work when he is gone so we shake them up and mix them around. When it’s just my daughter and I, things are a lot more fluid (including meals and bedtime). Our daughter often sleeps in with me at nights when MoreAltitude is away. It drives me crazy, but not as crazy as having her scream and whimper half the night for weeks on end because she is scared and she misses her step-dad. I pick my battles.
Get enough sleep
Sleep is a cornerstone of sanity. However, I often find myself becoming a terrible sleeper when MoreAltitude is away. When he is gone I avoid bed because I am wired and anxious and struggle to wind down.
I’ve found a few useful tools for helping me fight this tendency. These include completing a relaxation meditation – free from the internet – and, my most recent find, audio books. These are calming, they slow my thoughts down and stimulate my imagination in a healthy way. The more I sleep, the better I cope. It’s not rocket science, but your sleep routines can get mixed up when you’re apart and you need strategies to help make it happen.
If you can make it happen, it is incredibly useful to go visit them and take part in your partner’s world. Obviously it is not possible on many trips (it’s taken us over 3 years to make it happen for us) but recently I visited MoreAltitude in Ethiopia.
The insight I gleaned from this trip into his work and all of the various complexities he faces was invaluable. In that 10-day trip, I witnessed the impact my husband was having on huge programs – which made the struggle of the previous 8 weeks worthwhile. I also saw some of the nuances of the aid industry in action.
The trip has made a huge difference, as it has helped me gain a more balanced perspective of humanitarian work and our situation on the whole. I connected with my husband’s daily realities with all of my senses and can better visualize where he is and what he’s doing now when we talk.
That’s what I’ve found helpful recently in coping with being the stay-behind partner.
What about you? What’s worked for you? What would you add to this list?