Working away from home impact your relationships. When you spend weeks apart, to then rejoin for a while, life/work balance challenges add up. Working away is a way of life. It means spending more time away than at home in most cases. All your relationships – with your partner, children, family and friends  – get impacted. It is a special kind of existence that many humanitarians, logistical personnel, air crew, military / army, oil workers, actors and musicians know all too well. It sounds great when you sign up for a job like this, but the reality is an intense carousel of ups and downs in emotions, practical arrangements, time, organisation and attention to what is ‘home’. In reality many couples make this work because they become partners in a very real sense. A partnership develops that makes the relationship stronger too. Change Reaction can be to inspire change in others illustrated by man helping another up a hill

This post is followed by part 2 – that gives you top tips on how to build a partnership and solve those practical (and emotional) issues to make the working away relationships stronger. It takes a few rounds  — and work. But, Hey! Don’t all relationships? 

Working Away Relationships: A Way of Work – A Way of Life

The challenges of a job with a rolling schedule are many. Highs of adrenaline pumping action when at work, and supposed rest and recreation time when at home. Your experiences are similar to many others who lead a global nomadic life across continents, relocations, and jobs.  

The common denominator is that one partner works away, and the other stays on home base. Both get impacted, and pressures can build. These can also lead to appreciation of each others strengths and abilities, as well as experiences shared that makes your relationship strong, unique and utterly unbreakable. 

What is ‘Working Away from Home’? 

Field Mission Dilemma, Fit for Purpose in a Broken World? Illustrated by World breaking on shattered glass.Rotational schedules; Away Duty; Non-Family duty station; Special operations approach; On Location – the code words are many for a life that an average family does not need to know. In the UN, NGOs, Oil Riggs, Aviation & Transport Logistics, Movies & Theatre these words are part of a reality where one partner is away for work for extended periods of time, and the other partner takes care of home base. 

Change Reaction to a new marital status or partner can be surprising as illustrated by a gold fish leaving the tank by means of a red balloonThis kind of life can be greatly exciting, allow for variety and experiences you would not normally have. It also puts strain on family routines. It can tear at the very fabric that makes up a childhood, and a relationship. Your extended family relationships get intensely affected too – as your life is not what one would consider ‘normal’. 

In yesterdays’ world Mama would stay at home, and Papa go to work. Today – in the average family, both partners go to work. Kids to go nursery or school, and all reconvene for dinner. Neither of these pictures work here. 

Working Away Relationships Today

In the Working Away scenario – One partner goes off for weeks to work. The other one stays at home to take care of everything else, as well as work. For a few days/weeks they both share the home base again – after which the rolling schedule starts again.

In Living Abroad is an experience, and home is everywhere yet nowhere illustrated by the symbolic oyster shell holding the worldmost cases this home base is not in your home country which adds another quirk to the situation. Your vacations are rarely spent relaxing, but rather back and forward trips between respective home countries to visit family, taking care of health visits and administrative sort-outs.

The work conditions can be tough, and equally so for the one ‘at home’. It often asks for unusual compromises which leads to one of the partners working from home, or alternate so in the next location the home based partner swoops places and goes away for work (UN/NGO job sharing for example).

It can lead to emotional breaks – but in most cases it is the practical arrangements that make it rough at times. The relationship can and will hold if communication, mutual respect and real commitment for life and work is upheld.

Working Away Partnership: On-Off Relationships with a Twist

Practical, administrative and logistical issues tend to take over when you are together for a Working Away Relationships can hit a bump in the road, but forming a partnership will make it strong. Illustrated by roads forming a heart over two heads looking away from each other.limited few days, or weeks, at a time. Real quality time together can be hard to find in between social circles, family and relations that want a piece of you as a couple too. After a while, the emotional connections between you can hit a bump in the road.

The global nomad lifestyle, financial shifts, and life events add their bit too. The relationship can get into trouble, but it doesn’t have to be so.

Do you feel as if you’re the only one who is caught in an ‘On-Off Relationship with a Twist’?  Rest assured, you’re not 🙂 ! Here are a few examples of what it can feel like – and please feel free to comment – and share your experiences. 

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Working Away Relationships: The Away Partner

  • World as a Maze to illustrate the humanitarian, aid work, international aviation job etc that demands 100% concentration when at work.You have a 24/7 job that requires all attention, devotion and concentration on your high pressure profession.
  • You spend weeks away at work. You then return home to take part in all family responsibilities for a week (or a while). You feel like you are on a swing, and go in and out of realities that are hard to keep apart – yet difficult to explain for those who do not live it.
  • Your job is a part of who you are, and requires 100%. You share an intense camaraderie with the ‘sister/brother hood’ that you share this work experience with and a deep connect to the mission/profession that you are in.
  • Field Mission Dilemma in Remote location, hardship duty station is normal for Humanitarian living conditionsThe security is a real issue which adds to the stress levels. You are very limited in your choice and access to everyday comforts, gyms, restaurants and shops.
  • You work all the time, and long for ‘Home’. You enjoy dreaming up scenarios of what social fun you can organise at home, and DIY projects you want to get into. Home cooked meals, happy children, and an ever-smiling partner is part of the somewhat rosy picture you paint when away. These day dreams keep you going as the days turn into weeks, and weeks tick away one by one.
  • Your friends and relations who are not in this business don’t get your choice. The fact is that you don’t choose to be the ‘wayward’ one that opts out when away. You end up missing the everyday little dramas, and joyful events that are part of family life. You feel that you are on an unwilling guilt trip, which keeps you awake at night, and sad at times.
  • You feel you ought to take care of all the domestic ‘to-dos’ when you are on home base – but there is only so many hours in a day, and you are also bone tired from your weeks away. This often leads to also upset, pointed fingers, and children that don’t understand why you can’t be like their little friends parents.
  • You trust your very able partner to mop up the split juice, tears or take care of the leaking roof — as you very understandably are not there to do so. Your partnership is what makes this work – and without each other the carefully built equilibrium goes out of balance.Jet Lag is part of the job in many professions illustrated by this air plane photo curtesy of Marc Kempf

Working Away Relationships: The At Home Partner

  • Health Matters illustrated by cartoon superhero indicating need to love oneselfThe week(s) when you partner is away, you are the full-on caretaker, and responsible for all domestic activities – ranging from children to wood chopping. You have developed multi-tasking skills and master the art of taking care of bills, bureaucracy (in a foreign land?), health crisis, social relations, relatives gifts and birthdays (on both sides), DIY, gardening and oh! yes you have a job too 🙂 .
  • Perhaps you are in a different country and stay at home base, which is in fact not home at all. It demands careful planning, military logistics and a wide network of ‘go-to’ people.
  • You may have had to take a side step in your career, and chosen an alternative way of working to make sure it all fits in. As much as possible you want to be there when your partner is at home, but cannot turn everything ‘off’ to make it so. Because of your temporary location, the traditional way to find jobs is not an option – so you find ways and means to make ends meet, knowing that your turn will come to in the next location. 
  • Health Matters are also being social, meeting family but means setting heathy boundaries as illustrated by these expressive facesWhen your partner comes home, s/he is ready to suddenly take part in this carefully organised ‘home’ life again. Your social relations ‘on button’ goes into red alert, as family and friends gather. They have waited – just as much as you – to see your beloved again. As much as you enjoy all the fun there are moments when you wish there was more time just for the two of you to talk – just talk…
  • Then there are all those DIY plans your partner comes home with. Full of adrenaline, s/he goes about starting one job to then abandon it as the work schedule get changed, or tiredness sets in. You know you will be the one finishing that half done paint job, right?
  • Junk Food Jungle is also the busy mother who has no time to cook as illustrated by this octopus mother juggling baby, laptop, food etcYou strive to find balance, and wish you could turn on a ‘happy button’ every time s/he walks in through the door after weeks away. It doesn’t always work. As much as you try it is hard not to turn into ‘Nag-Hag’, as you stand there with a child on one hip, and a hammer in the other.  You know however, that this is part of the deal, and click into ‘s/he’s’ at home mode quick enough.
  • You develop an active life that continues also when you partner is away, and whilst perception might be that ‘you sit there and wait for him/her to come home’ this is far from the truth. In fact – on the one hand the carefully laid logistics of a your temporary single parenthood, challenging work / home planning, and Domestic Dictatorship suddenly gets thrown out when your partner comes home – but, on the other you are also aware how much you are needed by everyone for everything. You therefore make sure that you maximise your time, and learn how to divide it in a clever way to make this chosen partnership work. 
  • Your friends and family who do not have similar experiences do not understand why you ‘give up’ so much to support your partner. They don’t understand that you have an agreed partnership as well as a strong relationship. Working Away Relationships work if your develop a partnership where both juggle responsibilities as illustrated by this man juggling elephants.

Working Away Relationships: How Two become One

The challenge is how to be supportive of each other. Your time together is precious, but equally – to understand what the other partner goes through when you are away from each other is key to making the whole equilibrium work.

Working Away Relationships can mean forming roots together based on agreed partnership as illustrated by two tree roots growing together.The Away partner is often jet lagged and worn out, and may have gone through traumatic events in the often highly security precarious job s/he has.

The At Home partner has dealt with the multitude of everything that constitutes home, work, routines and children. Tiredness alone makes you less smiling than you perhaps feel you should be.

How To Make It Work

Mutual respect, and time reserved for rest and recuperation are key ingredients in making this partnership work – and most of all the ability to talk (in more ways than one).  Those conversations you and your partner had when you accepted the job have become a distant past as reality hits. 

When you hit those pot-holes, the road can actually lead to a true sense of partnership and a stronger relationship formed. It may not sound so romantic, but the deeper connection is far more rewarding the pink clouds of an initial infatuation.

The practical arrangements can actually be solved if you get organised. You have to be able to seize the day. Being on the same wavelength, communication and clever tools can make this a working away relationship partnership — check out some tips in part II. 

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How do you deal with the swinging schedule, and what tips would you have for someone who is about to embark on one? 

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