Relationships can suffer when one partner works away, and the other remains on home base. A working away relationship can also grow stronger from this swing shift existence. It takes trust, deep commitment and mutual respect — and most of all communication — to make it into a real partnership.
This is Part II of a series about working away relationships. Part I – How Working Away Relationships can be Partnerships – got a lot of reactions from Humanitarians, Aid workers, Oil Rig Workers, Actors and Aviators. It generated recognition – and questions such as: ” What can we do about it?” and “How can we change it for the better?” Read on to find tips on how to solve some of the practical logistics, and deal with the deeper emotional issues. The key to a working away relationship is to find ways to develop independently, yet depending on each other for emotional support – in a real partnership.
Working Away Relationships and Partnerships
You choose these jobs because they represent a childhood dream, a will to do good, a life long ambition, the need to make ends meet, and because it is a job that is a calling more than anything.
If your partner is in the same field, or similar, it makes for an easier fit when it comes to understanding (not domestic logistics). What if the partner fell in love with you, but not the profession that came with the package? You can clash both on the home arena and in overall connection. The most difficult part is to figure out if the issues you might be having are related to deep emotional disconnect, or if it is rooted in the practical, logistical or administrative details.
Relationship and Partnerships defined – what’s the difference?
You can be in a relationship, but are you in partnership with each other too?
“An interpersonal relationship is a strong, deep, or close association or acquaintance between two or more people that may range in duration from brief to enduring ” (Wikipedia – Interpersonal Relationship). Partnership is defined as: “Partnerships present the involved parties with special challenges that must be navigated unto agreement. Overarching goals, levels of give-and-take, areas of responsibility, lines of authority and succession, how success is evaluated and distributed, and often a variety of other factors must all be negotiated.”(Wikipedia – Partnership)
The difference is that in a Partnership there is negotiation, agreement and communication that get defined – which allows both parties to have their say, be heard, respected and a consensus can be reached. A relationship is an organic life form which evolves. Like a plant it needs to be nourished and appreciated, as much as respected. A mature relationship comes from negotiated agreements, compromises and give – take, as well as laughter, fun and enjoyment from being part of each-others’ lives. You never take for granted, nor do you loose yourself. In other words – a partnership where both parties have their share in a joint chosen interpersonal relationship is real togetherness.
Working Away Relationships: Top Tips How to make it into a Partnership
- To keep the emotions in good balance you need to have your practical issues in good order, since unresolved administrative logistics is what can drive huge wedges of misunderstandings between two partners.
- Make time for planning. Bring an agenda of to-do things that you have been thinking about and make this time all about practical, administrative and logistical issues. This is not a time for emotions – but to find solutions to insurance, tax, inheritance, school trip scheduling, DIY etc. If emotions crop up – make a list for this too – but schedule a special session to talk about those as mixing the two will lead to misunderstanding. This is a time to be practical, logical and solutions minded, OK?
- Get insured! Check your employment contract and make sure you and your partner understand exactly what the small print means. If you are only covered in part, or if your family is not included – make sure you get extra insurance to meet your needs. International Insurance brokers can give you quotes and spell out what you need (and can afford).
- If your ‘home base’ does not coincide with ‘home’ country, think of joining spousal associations, school networks or international clubs. Check with your Embassy, kids school or employer for recommendations. It is of huge value to get into a bigger network in a new country, and makes life less lonely too.
- As difficult as it may be – you need to think of a worse case scenario, and therefore I strongly recommend getting a ‘last will and testament. Keep this in a safe place known to both of you – as well as another trusted person.
- Make realistic to-do lists of domestic DIY (Do It Yourself) projects, and consider GSI (Get Someone In) instead for parts (or all) of it. Don’t make these projects coincide with precious together time – but schedule it so it makes sense for both of you, and bear in mind the financials too.
- Make a budget, and make sure you both have access to accounts. This includes having individual, as well as joint accounts. The fact that one person is away a lot may have to mean that the other person is ‘main account’ holder, even if tradition or family values don’t necessarily agree.
- Make lists of ‘go-to’ people for all the issues that could crop up. Everything from ‘In Case of Emergency;’ (ICE) – which should include employer, next of kin, family members etc – to the network operator, plumber, electrician, lawyer, etc. You both need to have access to these lists, as anything can happen to either one of you…
- Talk to your family and friends and explain what your life is like so you can get extended support – and understanding – for when you are away, or need precious ‘we-time’ together. They can help with baby sitting, shopping, daily issues as well as give you privacy when you need it to sort out any emotional issues you may go through.
- Explain, talk and communicate by using email, Skype, FaceTime and of course in person when you meet. Keep the communication flowing also when you are away from each other – but, bad phone lines and iffy connections can make it hard at times. My best tip is to write daily emails to each other (as somehow these get through easier in todays networks). Write about your day, the small things as this includes your partner in your day. It does not have to be along mail, or literary master pieces. Just “Hello, I am thinking of you” is very nice, right?
- When you are together make special time for talking – really talking. That is the time to bring up emotions and seeking reciprocal understanding for the situations you face. By talking about what makes your job important to you, and how it feels to be away versus being at home invites underlying currents to come out and shared views and solutions that make you both stronger.
- To communicate is also to actively listen, right? Really hear the challenges that your partner finds with the swinging schedule. It is not up to just the away partner to get understanding for the difficult job, the need for rest when at home, and the toll it takes on physical and mental well-being. It is equally tough for the one who remains on home base as s/he swings from fully responsible for all domestic happenings to then share and divide the decisions .
- Do develop independence (hobbies, activities, friends etc), yet depend on each other for emotional support.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff, especially in conversations over tricky phone lines. Or – those first days at home it can be oh! So easy to jump on nag-hag issues such as laundry, lawn mowing or the availability of ice-cream. To get into the small stuff brings about child like reactions, and silly misunderstandings.
- Use technology. Skype, FaceTime, Viber (Check out iTunes and Amazon) to chat, small talk and make plans. Try to make it a regular habit to talk at least on weekly basis (email every day though 🙂 ), and bring your kids into the conversations too. Making homework or reading bed time stories can work with today’s technology. Leave the big issues for face to face – unless it is really crucial.
- As a relationship grows and evolves, so does each individual within it. Respect your partners individuality, as well as your closeness together. If you want things to constantly remain the same, you will not evolve together. New interests, hobbies and projects are great, and you must not love it just because your partner does. Appreciate the joy it gives your partner, so do not tease or make fun. In an adult mature relationship you are mindful of each other as individuals.
- When you are together again make time for you – just the two of you. Social events, kids, and family can wait while you go for a long walk. Don’t expect to talk about ALL the big issues in one go. Enjoy each others company, and let it come out slowly and naturally. Eventually – talking through what happens to you as partners is essential for the relationship to grow, thrive and that important trust to remain.
- Plan and make time off together – and really treat it as that. The ‘half life’ that sometimes comes about when the one partner is back and therefore ‘off’. The other partner is not ‘off’ – and can often therefore feel doubly stressed as ordinary chores, domestic organisation and ticktock logistics are not in play. Plan for real vacation where you take each day as it comes, to really get to know each other again. Discover nature, and serene escape. By renting a house away, or spending time in a family getaway without schedule, culture tours, programme or super excesses is what makes for real quality time.
- If you sense that things are not right, that mistrust creeps in, or the relationship is changing for the worse – get help. Counselling works for many, and there are those that specialise in long-distance, army, humanitarian aid workers, aviation etc. The understanding of your special situation helps as you go through the process of counselling (see below for links).
- Allow work to be important but do include health prevention in to what you do. Go on a lifestyle change kick for both of you — and stay on it when you are apart. Email, Skype, Facebook challenge yourselves in this combined get fit challenge. It’s fun to do together, and remains a competitive healthy togetherness while you are apart. The jobs that you do may be super demanding, but even in the most remote of places the healthy efforts make all the difference, and makes your time off so much more rewarding!
The Working Away Relationship Partnership
Understanding, equal respect in roles that shift on constant basis, and continuous communication remain key to mutual trust. A strong union comes from going through the ups and downs that life throws at us. A negotiated, and agreed way forward brings a sense of togetherness – also when you are apart. You can laugh, love and find positive challenge from the different ways that you lead your lives. You are independent yet dependant on each other for emotional support. When you get stuck – talk. And – if that no longer works…. Get help, from counsellors, or other couples that understand this kind of life. An option is also to take bigger decisions. To leave, change and transform. The sad ending of a relationship is not necessarily what I refer to. Rather – if it really comes to a non-workable situation, choose to transform yourself through lifestyle change and / or look for jobs in different places. Health is all about finding balance in all aspects of life.
Please feel free to share and comment what makes your partnership work.
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Recommended and Related:
- Long Distance Couples – Counseling Center (NDSU)
- Counselling Humanitarian Aid Workers – Scoop.it
- The Rome Institute for International Counselling, Coaching and Mediation
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Thanks for your comment and link to your site – which has many topics that we cover here on The GOODista too. I liked your relationship tips, which complement our post about How To Keep a Healthy Relationship when one partner works away, and one stays at home.
I have no idea how you knew about the “availability of ice cream” being an issue but as a father and husband who works away, I can relate. Somehow it all just dissappears while I’m away, and when I return I have to deal with the myriad of emotion that wells up as I stare blanky into the freezer devoid of the icecream that I know I bought two weeks ago. Your article is a joy to read, and spot on in many ways, thanks.
Chris, Thanks for you comment – and indeed the challenges of working away AND coming home are not well understood unless you’ve lived it, ‘enjoyed’ it, and felt the positive and negatives sides to this switch on-off life. Feel free to follow The GOODista for more posts about working away challenges and healthy lifestyle tips. Cheers,