When there is physical distance in a family due to a family member working in a career that takes them away for extended periods of time, it can cause relational distance. A few careers that come to mind are military, truck driving, and the oil and gas industry. These careers can be rewarding and offer many benefits but can also lead to challenging relational difficulties.
Have you ever found yourself saying, “We have just grown apart” or “I feel like a stranger in my own house?” Statements like these point to a relational disconnection, foreshadowing major problems in the relationship, possibly leading to its ultimate end.
So what can families do to maintain a healthy, connected relationships in careers that require so much travel? The short answer is that they have to be intentional about maintaining connection. They can do that by creating specific time for communication, determining what their responsibilities are at home and away, and maintaining equity in parental roles.
Planning time to communicate is crucial and can really make a difference when it comes to maintaining a connected relationship. Schedules may be unpredictable but setting a dedicated time to talk about the day will go a long way in keeping that disconnection in check. This is a time to keep up with each other’s worlds, be it good or bad, and provide support for one another.
How responsibilities are divided plays a major role in maintaining a healthy connection. It is typical for the spouse left at home to take on most of the household responsibilities while their loved one works off. The list of responsibilities can be endless. It will be beneficial to the relationship if the spouse that is working can stay engaged with the homestead and show a sincere interest regarding the household. For example, the spouse that is away could possibly ensure someone cares for the yard.
Parental roles also contribute to the relational health of the family. It is important that the spouse who is working off continues in their role as a parent by maintaining connection with the kids and helping with parenting decisions. This will help the remaining spouse feel supported and will provide the children with a sense of security.
What about those periods of time when everyone is home? There will be a transition time that can be quite stressful. The couple should agree on a period of time to reorient to the home environment. This could include unpacking, resting, and spending some one on one time together. They could plan ahead to have a date night. This time together will help nurture the identity as husband and wife and can facilitate a smooth transition. They should be mindful not to play the “Who had it the hardest?” game. This will only lead to feelings of resentment and anger. Showing each other respect, patience, and grace will go a long way.
While at home, the returning spouse should take on additional responsibilities so they will feel and be seen as an integral member of the family. It will be important for the remaining spouse to release some of the responsibilities and give the returning spouse grace if they don’t take care of things the same way.
Leaving home is also a time that can lead to tension and conflict. There is a natural distancing that occurs as the family prepares itself emotionally for their loved one to go back to work. A great deal of misinterpretation can occur when it comes to how you navigate this process. Communicating openly as a family about any difficult feelings will help avoid unnecessary conflict.
The couple should also be careful not to fall into the trap of living separate lives while away. This will only put the relationship at risk and make it difficult to reconnect when back together. They must be intentional about keeping a seamless existence to avoid becoming irreparably disconnected.
Let’s face it, providing and caring for a family can be quite challenging. Doing it with the added responsibility of working at a distance can be even more stressful. If you find yourself needing more guidance and support for your family, please call Strategic Counseling Solutions at (318) 450-8719. We would be honored to work with you.