How We Have Survived 19 Years of Travel in our Marriage
He is home.
19 years we have done this life. We have dealt with travel delays, cancelled flights, snowstorms, 9/11, 3:45 am wake up calls and weekly airport runs. We use Skype, texts, Facetime, emails and phone calls to keep in touch. The toiletries are always packed in a quart size zip lock bag ready for the security check, and the travel wardrobe hangs close to the carry-on luggage. We know exactly how long it will take to travel from our house to the airport, from check-in to security, security to the gate, leaving just the right amount of time for a cup of coffee on the way.
For most of these last 19 years, I have stayed home and held down the fort while Steve traveled his 100,000 plus miles a year. United Airlines tells us he has flown 1,594,509 miles with them in that time.
For the last four years, I have learned this life of travel now that I work in the Tours Department at Compassion International. I am now a “traveler” who understands what it is like to track frequent flier miles, hoping I will make status, and praying for upgrades. I have learned the art of packing just the right amount for each journey. I now know how hard it is to kiss your sleeping child goodbye. I know what it is like to leave when things aren’t perfect.
It’s a different life. It’s not a desk job. The “traveler’s” office can be at home, on a plane, in a hotel or in the field. It’s no longer 9-5. In fact, it can be 5-midnight. Traveling can make you tired, sick,…and grumpy.
When the kids were little, Steve would call home from the road, and it seemed like every time he called, he only heard the war going on in the background. The kids would be throwing a tantrum or fighting, and he would no doubt worry and say, “What is going on?”
I was left to decide if he could handle the truth.
“The girls have become possessed.” I would exclaim.
Then there were the trips when I was dealing with diapers, doctor visits, messes and tantrums, with little contact with people over three feet tall, while Steve was sitting on the beach with adults in the Dominican Republic on a Compassion trip having conversations outside of potty training and fishy crackers. I was slightly jealous.
And over the years, there were trips when the miles that separated us, seemed especially brutal. Here are words we used.
“Stephen, you need to come home. We found out your dad is very sick. I am at the hospital right now and they say he has six months to live.” 1997
“Stephen, guess what? I just took a pregnancy test… and I am pregnant.” 1998
“Oh my gosh! Did you turn on the TV yet? I can’t believe what I am watching.” Sept. 11, 2001
“How are you going to get home?” Sept 12, 2001
“Stephen, the cat was crushed in the garage door.” 2006
“Stephen, Grace’s birthday was awesome. She loved the Toby Mac concert. I wish you could have been there.” 2005
“Patricia, the cat was killed by a coyote, we are saving the body for burial until you get home.” 2012
“Patricia, the girls are so hormonal, I don’t know how to handle them.” 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
“Stephen, I love you. I am sorry.” 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
“I miss you.” 1994-2013
“I need you to be home for awhile.” 1994-2013
“Patricia, the girls need you home.” 2012
Having a job that requires travel has helped me understand the traveler, as well as the one who stays home. Here are a few things that helped us survive.
1) We have a strong marriage. Not a perfect marriage, but a marriage that can handle it. We have trust for each other. We are committed. We make time for each other, we are proud of each other and we support each other.
2) We have a family intact. My girls are strong. They are helpers. They are incredibly responsible and they support our work because they believe in it. They have traveled and seen Compassion, and they love the ministry.
3) We forgive each other. The traveler can come home grumpy. The one who stayed home can also become grumpy. Grace is needed in these times as we readjust from travel.
4) We communicate regularly. It’s important to stay in touch. (Honestly, Steve is better at this than me).
5) We set boundaries in traveling. Steve has always respected me when I have said, “Please stay home.” We can call a timeout.
6) We are accountable to others and to each other. We both have agreements about our behavior on the road that builds in trust for our marriage.
7) We set reasonable expectations. It’s easy to build expectations of what it’s going to be like when reunited, however, we have learned over the years by trial and error, it doesn’t always go as planned. It takes time and energy to adjust again after travel and I will never again plan a surprise party for Steve the night he gets home.
8) We enjoy the rewards. Not once has Stephen ever used his frequent flier miles for upgrades. Instead, he has used them to fly us around the world.
9) We spend purposeful time together when home. We have family meals and we check in with each other. We work on the calendar together as a family. We try to make sure we are all aware of what is going on in the family before we set travel plans.
10) We seek help. Steve and I both have parents close by. Grandmas come to our rescue all the time.
11) Finally, we love this life. Neither Steve nor I want it any other way. We love what we do, we love the mission, and we both agree this is exactly the calling we have from God. If we both didn’t agree on this, it wouldn’t work.
Hopefully something in all of that can help those of you who are either new at this travel thing or who are struggling through it. And for those of you who don’t have to deal with this at all, possibly you are thankful.These have been some hard learned lessons.
I would love to hear any of your ideas since I am sure we aren’t the only ones doing this and we certainly don’t have it all figured out.