Musician and electrician Tim Estes runs a spit-and-polish home. But that changes when his wife, Cali, founder of The Addictions Coach, a mobile counseling program, returns from one of her frequent road trips. "He says, 'Hurricane Cali came through here; the house is a disaster,'" she reports with a laugh.
Cali travels for weeks at a stretch. Tim says it takes about 72 hours for the pair to readjust after she gets home. "You're walking on each other's feet and invading each other's spaces. It takes a little bit of getting used to," he explains.
Keeping a household and a relationship on an even keel with all that coming and going requires having both spouses on board. Leaving for a business trip doesn't mean you get to leave home completely behind (and, yes, it takes more than a Skype call to stay involved). The issues traveling couples must work through can range from pragmatic to personal--from dealing with household repairs to managing fears of infidelity. Here are four of the biggest challenges.
Respecting complementary strengths. Tim appreciates the perks of Cali's income and happily handles the cooking and cleaning. "I enjoy it all, which is weird," he says. "And Cali's horrible at it. It's a full-time job, keeping her in line and set and not looking like her clothes came out of the bottom of the hamper."
For some, absence really does make the heart grow fonder
While some couples are happiest with constant contact, others do best with a bit of space. "If the couples agree on the arrangement and are also free to amend the contract at any time, it can be a strength in the marriage," says psychologist Randi Gunther.
Couples who have adjusted well often find benefits to some time apart. Cali Estes, who does mobile counseling, spends a lot of time on the road. Her husband, Tim, thinks this keeps their relationship fresh. "It's something different every day," he says. "In my opinion, relationships that are the same every day can stagnate. Ours never stagnates. Her traveling keeps it exciting and just makes it different."
Most important is that the couple is solidly bonded and everyone is on board with the arrangement. "Some couples want and need more space as individuals," says psychologist Robert Simmermon. "It becomes about the quality of time, rather than quantity."
When Cali feels the weight of financial responsibility, Tim reminds her that he has a full-time job looking after the house and her needs. "That's really the only gripe we've ever had," he says.
The only household chore Tim tends to fumble is paying bills on time, so Cali put everything on autopay. Problem solved.
Keeping home in mind. A toddler and an infant are a handful. So Kingsville, Ontario-based strategic-marketing consultant Noah Fleming does what he can to make life easier for his stay-at-home wife when he travels. For example, they prepare healthful meals in advance so she can get food on the table easily. And when he saw the polar vortex barreling toward them right before a trip, he lined up someone to plow their driveway. "She would have been stranded if we hadn't prepared," he says.
Quashing relationship worries. Life on the road can seem awfully glamorous to the stay-at-home spouse, making one wonder: Do I seem dull? Will an exotic stranger tempt my traveling mate?
If these worries crop up, travelers should gently remind their stay-at-home spouses not to "believe everything [they] think," advises Robert Simmermon, an Atlanta-based psychologist. If they stress themselves out imagining you dining in fine restaurants and sipping cocktails by the pool, "from there it's only a short neuron firing away from imagining [you] staring into the eyes of a lover," he says.
Stay in close contact while traveling, filling your spouse in on details of your (possibly boring) day as reassurance that, no, it's not all glamour and fun. And keep in mind that, as Simmermon points out, "if a spouse is going to cheat, they can do it anytime, anywhere. It's a relationship issue, not just an act of opportunity."
Smoothing reentry. A traveling spouse can't come home and expect everyone to drop what they're doing, although homecoming rituals can help couples stay connected, says Randi Gunther, a psychologist in Lomita, Calif. The Estes family treats Cali's first 24 hours home as a special time to get reacquainted. Tim might cook a big dinner, or they might go out. After that, they snap back into routine.
And there's a lot to be said for routine. When St. Louis-based customer-service expert Shep Hyken is home from his weekly business trips, his wife, Cindy, makes sure they have home-cooked family meals most nights. "We truly enjoy the time we are together," she says. "We look forward to being back together when he is gone."
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