You all need to stop being so nice about Alex’s work schedule. You’ll put dangerous thoughts into his head. Like feelings of importance and entitlement. So lid it. But for real, yes, my husband works A LOT. This winter has been trying, for a number of reasons: the weather, my injuries, job frustrations, and Alex’s insane work schedule. In honor of what I hope will be the last 2 weeks of his blitzkrieg of inpatient, I thought I would discuss how one deals with being married to an absentee spouse, and how one can help said absentee spouse retain their identity when they are stuck in such a situation.
Obviously, these are things that work for Alex and myself–we are a very particular couple, with a very particular chemistry (that I will discuss in some detail in a minute), and we have only been married for a year. But we have been together for nearly 6 years, 2 of which were long distance and 2 of which were spent with me working full time at a restaurant. The last year we have had several weeks where we saw each other awake a total of about 10-15 hours. Max. So while I am certainly no expert, I thought I would shed some insight into our strategies.
A few notes of back story:
Before being married, Alex and I never lived together officially. This is not for lack of desire, trying, or due to parental restriction; it was just never an option. He graduated the year ahead of me, and I had signed my lease. Then I went to grad school, and he was in VA. I lived with him for a portion of a summer, and then when I came back for another little bit, but there just wasn’t enough space in the apartment for me as well. So Chicago was OUR first home. And this has made a huge impact on our relationship–not because we fight, but because we know that, if nothing else, we are coming home to the same place every night. Or day, in Alex’s case.
Alex and I are INCREDIBLY comfortable in our relationship. We trust each other implicitly. There is no chance that either one of us would ever do anything. We get jealous of the other people in each other’s lives not because of trust but because we are jealous of the time they get with them that we don’t. Also, we are independent people by nature–myself more so than Alex, but this is good because we balance each other out. But we do miss each other when we don’t get our us time.
We’ve done long distance, where were were hundreds of miles apart–my time living in Jamaica (where we could talk only by skype) and during grad school. We know how to concentrate on each other when push comes to shove.
So, with that in mind, here are some ways to help get through times when you get to see far less of the one that you love (be it your sister, husband, cat, gerbil, mother, or celebrity crush):
*Find a way, any way, to stay in contact. Just let them know that you are thinking of them. Texts are amazing for this. I’ve sent Alex pictures of my simply waving like a penguin (it’s hard to describe) to say “hi.” Or mentioning stupid inside jokes.
Just make sure that your texts are going through. iMessage is a piece of crap. We literally thought one was ignoring the other for a week or so until we figured it out.
*Along the same lines, but slightly different–find ways to infiltrate their day in a positive way. Because I do the groceries, I take great pride in picking out Alex’s snacks–it is my way of reaching out to him in the middle of the day when I am not physically there. And I love to cook, even if not with super complexity–so making food for him, or just making sure that he has food for when he comes home and is exhausted, well, that gives me a great amount of happiness. I’m a Jewish motha apparently. 😀
*Let them do the things that help keep them THEM. There are times when Alex comes home at 8 and goes to the gym, when he could be hanging out with me. And you know what? I let him do it. Because that is what he needs to do to keep being Alex. It isn’t going to do our relationship any good if he is feeling gross and trapped but is spending time with me because he feels obligated or that he should. As I tell him, I of all people understand this need, But there HAS to be a balance. They can’t always pick the gym. But you have to compromise and help them get through this time as well. During marathon season, I go and run instead of hanging with him in the mornings that he may/maynot be home/awake. I choose yoga sometimes. It is a balance.
*Find a date night activity that gets you out of the house, even if you end the evening early. Alex and I have our date nights–we skip our afternoon snacks (or do a light one, let’s be honest, I don’t do hungry, or quiet. I really don’t do quietly hungry. And if I am at that point, get ready for the tears.) and go somewhere that has some sort of happy hour deal (or not, but hopefully), get a drink and an app, and then early dinner. We usually end up home between 7-7:30, and watch tv, later on I have dessert, but we just spend time on US and the focus on US. And getting out of the house and going to a bar/drink means that there is no TV or whatever to take the attention off of our relationship and our friendship.
*That said, sometimes you just need time at home. But make it a little special. Put on music and cook dinner. Play jenga (for serious. We do).
*Keep them accountable. Give them chores that they are responsible for. You might be in charge of the majority of house work–I do the grocery shopping, I feed the cat, I try to keep the apartment in somewhat manageable shape–but by giving them something that they are responsible for–Alex does the laundry on his day off (I do it if he has to go way far between days off), he cleans the cat’s litter box, on his days off he also cleans the bathroom while I do the kitchen and we trade off the living room. Sure, it is annoying that he never remembers where the cleaning supplies are (even though he uses them every single time), but…
*Cut them some slack. Their brains are filled with nonsense. And yours likely is too. And, if they have schedules like Alex’s, they are getting no quality hours of quality sleep. They are basically vegetables.
*If you have the desire, means, and resources, get a companion. Zoe is huge in keeping me company. If you have human friends, this also works. My human friends happen to live in other time zones or are also residents. Furthermore, there is always the chance that he might come home or, what is more likely, I find myself waiting for him to come home, and he is an hour or so later than he thought he would be. So you wait.
**Discuss things. Don’t let them fester. You need to have discussions, not confrontations, and if things build up and up they become confrontations. Let each other know when someone is struggling–it is only natural that you should. It is NOT weakness. But at the same time, wear Big Girl Panties. Don’t be a little wuss–you are not a victim of life, and you have a way out, if it is so unbearable. If it is bearable, bear it.
**Don’t forget or lose who YOU are. Find things that interest you. Keep busy–don’t call attention to the hours you are apart, but instead fill them so that they are less obvious and you have more to discuss.
Ultimately, periods of living like this are a dance: you time, them time, and your time. You have to have respect for all components of this machine->each member contributes (yes, even the cat). Communicate, say what you feel, ask when you need help, and give of yourself. But you need the same in return. Good old Golden Rule, right? R E S P E C T. For yourself, them, and the relationship.
And, at the end of the day. have a little patience. These things too shall pass. Even if he never figures out where the cleaning stuff is located.
Contributions? Have you ever had to do the long distance dance? Successfully? Not successfully? What contributed to the success/failure?