By Meghan Baxter
There are many reasons married couples need to live apart temporarily: military duty; long-term work or furloughs; immigration requirements; seasonal occupations; business trips; college or university studies; caring for sick or dying relatives.
The list goes on and on. But how is it possible to remain connected emotionally and spiritually when you seem to be living not only in two different places, but living two separate lives? Here are some things to think about as you prepare for a time of separation.
Define the details
Before committing as a couple to the reason for your spouse’s departure, consider the impending frequency of these trips and decide what your relationship can handle. Lay out your expectations of one another for the time you’re apart.
Discuss realistically the time you’ll be able to spend communicating by phone or online. Are you able to schedule daily phone/online times together, or will it be dependent on each day’s itinerary?
How often will you be able to visit? How can you budget for that? And how will decisions about finances, family and other important home issues be made in your spouse’s absence? Will you make an “executive” decision, or does your spouse want to be included in the details?
What expectations revolve around Christmas, Easter and other holidays and special events? Does your spouse expect to receive home videos of everything they’ve missed, or a journal or letters to read upon their return?
What do you anticipate from each other upon your reunion? Take into account how well – or poorly – your spouse travels. Consider that they may need some downtime before doing anything social when they return home.
Set boundaries and talk trust
Now is not the time to assume your spouse can read your mind. What are your biggest fears during this separation? Be honest. Discuss what each of you can do to dispel those fears. Consider setting up accountability partners who have the freedom to ask any question and receive an honest answer. This removes you both from feeling like you have to ask repetitive and obligatory “check-in” questions each time you speak; instead, you can focus on talking about things that matter.
Discuss the implications of the nature of the trip. If your spouse is travelling for business, how are accommodations set up with co -workers of the opposite sex? Will the group be doing social activities during downtime in which your spouse may feel pressured to participate? How will they rectify this situation without compromising their working relationships?
Say what you mean, and mean what you say. If you try to communicate by using a negative tone of voice or by projecting a bad attitude when something is bothering you, your “hints” may get lost in translation. Bottling up hurt or confused feelings will only cause them to reappear in harmful ways, like sarcasm, jealousy and accusations. Remember that your situation is temporary and that many issues can easily be blown out of proportion. However, try not to dump all your struggles on your spouse, either. It can create tension and cause unnecessary arguments when the one who is away feels frustrated that they cannot “fix” an issue.
Make it a point to listen to the radio interview we did with Gary Chapman about his book, The Five Love Languages, before your separation. Knowing how your spouse best gives and receives love can make a world of difference when you are attempting to express your adoration over the phone, or in a letter or care package. If you have trouble coming up with ideas, there are plenty of suggestions online for how to stay in touch with loved ones from afar. Find some that suit your partner and get creative!
If your church hosts each week’s message on its website, be sure that you attend in person and your spouse makes the time to catch it online. Then set a phone or webcam coffee date to discuss how it applies to your marriage and your personal faith journeys. This will keep your family moving in a cohesive spiritual direction. Encourage your minister or small group leader to keep in touch with your spouse, as well.
If you have a regular daily timeslot together, try reading to one another from a devotional book. And most importantly, pray together. It may feel awkward the first couple of times, but praying on the phone creates as much intimacy between you as a couple, and with the Lord, as does praying together in person.
© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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