Dea and I became friends in college and with our little group of college friends have maintained our friendship for the last decade (wow, I didn’t realize it had been that long!). Through weddings, marriage, babies, loss, changes, moves, and many other things, I have been blessed by her friendship. She is an encouragement and treasure in my life and I am honored to share her with you today.
When he drove away for that first rotation, I had no idea what the coming months would look like. I knew the facts: I had stated my support for his chosen vocation, jobs were scarce in our area of the province (and scarcer still for a rookie medic with limited experience), and after months of unemployment, food bank visits, and cold applications, this position up north was an answer and a blessing.
But I still didn’t know. Beyond my spoken commitment and my heart’s intentions, I didn’t understand all the challenges and accomplishments awaiting us through this one decision.
My husband and I were entering a new life expression: a season of marriage, apart. In choosing to pursue emergency services J’ needed to begin at the first rung which, for him, meant leaving our small town home and heading several hours north to serve as an oil-field medic. For him, it meant living amongst oil riggers, long days sitting in the ambulance, and nights away from his wife and sons. For me, it meant tending to our home and two sons (now 3 ½ years, and 16 months) alone, while pregnant, for weeks on end. It wasn’t a traditional picture of marital bliss in any sense.
The first night or two alone held a mix of “Um…now what?” and, surprisingly, a bit of ‘girls-night flare’. I watched chic flicks and made myself treats. I left the dishes and had a bath. I was doing alright! But then, the next night came…and the next week…and the next month. Now, several rotations later, this is what I’ve learned and would like to share. Perhaps you are within a season of long hours apart or perhaps you have one coming. Perhaps you’re spending long hours together (the flip side of this kind of life and industry). Or, perhaps, there is some unknown in the future that is going to challenge your current zone of comfort within your marriage expression. However you live your life together and apart, I hope my experiences can prove to be a help and encouragement.
Living within a committed long-term relationship but being physically separated is difficult. When you add children and limited communication skills to the mix, the strain is felt a bit more with each passing week. I soon realized that we aren’t great communicators on the phone and that long-distance communication in general can be especially challenging in the midst of busy days and needy children. Beyond communication, there are physical tasks that are more difficult to tend to as a pregnant mama than for the ‘man of the house’. Finally, the sense of partnership and presence is much more tangible when there is a more regular physical exchange; a touch of the hand, an offer to help, confirming a comment through the eyes instead of interpreting through the screen.
When J’ is home, he’s involved with most aspects of the home and family. He loves spending time with his sons and is quick to help when I’m struggling with the other responsibilities around the home. After almost four years of living and working together at home full-time (a different story), I was not well-adjusted to taking on the full responsibility of house and family on my own. At all. By the time J’s second rotation arrived I realized I needed to wake up, grow up, and gain some skills. I recognized that I simply was not keeping up and that the constant sense of disorganization and one-step-behind was working against the sense of peace and order I desired within my life and home.
Week by week, I began to take steps towards learning order and embracing responsibility. I hauled loads to the thrift store (cuz if I can’t take care of it I probably shouldn’t have it….), began meal planning, and opened my mind to consider that perhaps I was stronger than I had believed. It wasn’t easy and I was surprised (and humbled) by the slow-pace of my learning, but bit by bit I began to notice something unexpected. I noticed that, if I stopped talking about how tired I was and how crazy they were, I could tend to my boys. If I took care of things sooner than later, I could get the dishes done. And if I paced myself and considered what was a Good use of time and what was just taking it, I could occasionally have a moment to sit and read and write. So much came down to my own choices and my own responses and reactions to things that were honestly difficult, but also honestly opportune.
The heart of the matter
When J arrives home from time away, there’s a sense of holiday and celebration. We eat treats and play and catch up as a family for the first two days before rediscovering our footing as housemates. I also find that I run on continued adrenaline the first day and then typically crash about Day Three (ie. Naps and tears!). By about Day Four we’ve returned to a sense of normal, just in time for him to head back north.
We have now lived through seven months of sometimes-together, mostly-apart. I can see the points of struggle and failure, and I can also recognize some areas of growth and strength. I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the father and husband and life-offering J’ is to us. I’ve discovered a strength within myself as a woman that I didn’t know I possessed. I’m learning to recognize what is worth fighting for and over, and what needs to be released.
But overall, I’ve learned something surprising: At the heart of it, the core values of life are (or perhaps should be) the same whether a couple is together or apart; whatever the expression of home or employment.
- If it was a conflict at home, it’s only going to be exacerbated when apart. Seek reconciliation and peace in all things…and don’t hang up on each other!
- See the other as your helper and your gift, not the answer to your demand or the fulfillment to an obligation.
- Get creative! If you have children, invite them to participate (drawing pictures, Skype sessions). As sexually connected partners, well…talk about it.
- If there are issues of fear, resentment, or distrust that stir when apart, address them so that they do not simply simmer until the next season.
- There’s a difference between expressing that you miss someone or expressing a legitimate need that is beyond your ability, compared to expressing statements leading to guilt and pressure on the other partner that they honestly cannot fulfill within their other commitments.
- Be connected to some kind of support group!
- Growing as an individual brings depth and color to a partnership. While J’ is away, we watch some of the same films, compare books, and pursue new areas (ex. he started studying Latin, I joined a book club).
- If we long for our partner when apart, or can speak well of them when separate, then live it out when together. Embrace that gift of togetherness and do not be frustrated when reminded of those other little aspects of personality that irritate. Speak well of them to their face and celebrate their uniqueness.
- Celebrate the little joys and pleasures you or your partner experience when apart, and give each other the freedom to actually be alright somedays. (ie. That conversation, a certain party, a special treat enjoyed, a new friend).
- There are certain attitudes that will destroy a partnership. It doesn’t matter if you have spent every day together or years apart. Repent of and stand against: jealousy, selfishness, fear, lust, lies, impatience, and pride. The Good is not to be found in these things. They will only lead to heartache.
- Remember that you are together. Whatever the seasons of our lives present us; separation, tragedy, celebration; in vowing our lives to each other we’ve committed to seeing it through to the end.
J’ and I aren’t sure what the next months or years hold for us. We know we desire to be a whole family under one roof. We also recognize that much of life is uncertain. We are responsible to live Well in the now, to build pure and sturdy foundations for the future, and to be open to promise and possibility.
Have you experienced seasons apart from your partner? How about the flip-side; seasons entirely together?
What are the values or practices you have found that encourage growth, connection, and health within your own marriage-expression?
What have you discovered about yourself as an individual in the changing seasons of life and home?
Dea’ is a mama to boys, a former college educator, a writer, and a ‘simple-green-living’ home-maker. Currently residing in small-town Alberta while her husband practices as a medic in the north, Dea’ can be found chasing her boys and backyard chickens while experimenting with whole foods and (attempting to) break into new areas of writing and other creative things. You are welcome to follow her family and story at wholedei.