Tears raced down my face as my husband, Rob, and I passed snow-covered fields along the Colorado highway on our way back home from a holiday visit with my parents. If anyone had told me when I was single that marriage would contain moments like this, I wouldn't have believed her.
"I don't know what's gotten into me, Rob," I said between sobs to my husband of seven months. "I've never cried like this before after leaving Mom and Dad's."
I'd been dry-eyed earlier that morning when we'd shared good-bye hugs with my family. Then, Rob had suggested I stay with my folks an extra week. He could drive home alone, and I could ride back to our home in Missouri with my brother, who'd caravaned out with us for the holiday but planned to stay a few days longer.
In a burst of gratitude, I hugged Rob. With a 12-hour drive between home-with-Rob in Missouri and home-with-Mom-and-Dad in Colorado, I knew we couldn't afford another visit to my folks until next Christmas.
Just as quickly as my excitement came, it died away. The image of Rob traveling alone to a silent house while I enjoyed the close friendship of my family troubled me. I felt as though I'd be deserting Rob. I knew I was making more of the situation than it deserved, but I realized I was setting a precedent as to where my allegiance would lie.
A verse I'd heard often at weddings leapt to mind: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife" (Mark 10:7, KJV). Silently I added, And a woman shall leave her father and mother, and cleave to her husband. All at once, I knew that leaving had been one of the hardest parts of cleaving.
"Homesick" is a word we usually associate with the feelings we experienced at summer camp or those first few weeks of college—not at a fifth wedding anniversary or the birth of a child. Yet even years after our wedding day, many of us are broadsided at the most unsuspecting moments with a longing for our parents and the comfortable life patterns of childhood.
But this emotion isn't necessarily bad. It's often an expression of our heart's expanding ability to love. Over the three years Rob and I have been married, I've learned to handle feeling homesick with these basic strategies:
Talk it out. One of the most difficult moments of my marriage was right after our wedding. As Rob and I dashed to the car, I caught a glimpse of Mom and Dad in the crowd. Suddenly I felt as though I was walking away from 27 years of the most unconditional love I'd ever known. Pulling out of the parking lot and into our new life, I was overwhelmed with sadness.
Moving across the country from your parents or bonding with your spouse can stir up natural feelings of grief, loss, or even guilt. The accompanying ache of homesickness is a reflection of a longing for things to return to the way they were.
"When we first got married, I felt as though I was betraying Dad, who lost Mom to cancer just after I was born," says Rebecca, a homemaker. "It was just the two of us, and Dad always called me the light of his life. Now I was off having fun with someone else, and Dad was alone.
"A couple years into my marriage, the homesickness hit hard. Suddenly, I couldn't sleep for worrying about Dad—whether or not he was eating right or working too hard—and wanting to go home and take care of him.
"But one night when I was talking to Dad on the phone, I burst into tears and told him how I felt conflicted over loving my husband, Dave, and loving him. My father explained that though I was still the light of his life, my finding a great husband eased his concern for my happiness. Knowing Dad understands my love for Dave helps me see it was nothing more than guilt making me homesick."
When Rob and I'd been married a year and a half, I finally confessed to him how homesick I felt the day of the wedding. Rather than feeling be-trayed (as I'd feared), Rob took my hand and said, "Even though I don't identify with your homesickness, I still understand why you felt that way. Your whole life was changing in those few minutes." Our communication—and his understanding—went a long way toward alleviating my homesick feelings.
As Rebecca and I have learned, communication with our spouse and our parents can make all the difference. We may be worrying about a situation more than it deserves, and talking it over may help put things in perspective.
Meet in the middle. "My folks were into holidays," says Melanie, a newspaper reporter, "and my husband, John, isn't. Fourth of July was always my favorite because my family would make a whole day of it with the town parade and a neighborhood picnic. But John prefers to watch the parades and fireworks on TV, and later spend time praying for the nation. It's the same with Easter and Thanksgiving. I'm slammed with homesickness every time there's a major holiday and we just sit there instead of celebrate."
Through counseling with their church leadership, Melanie and John came to appreciate each other's differences. "As we talked, we realized that in his single-parent family, his mother never had the energy or income to fuss over holidays. Her big thing was having prayer time with the kids. John grew up feeling that was the 'right' way to commemorate holidays.
"Thanks to some sound advice, I became open to spending more time praying with John. We've set up 'rituals' around our holiday prayer time to make it more special. For example, every February we make valentines for our family and pray over each one. For John's part, he's realized it's not compromising his faith to create fun family traditions."
In my own marriage, I discovered these moments of family differences in everything from deciding the "right" way to wash dishes to choosing which colors to use in decorating. My mom always made those decisions, so I was surprised to find Rob had opinions about how our household should be run. It was easier to hope he'd agree to do things my way than to communicate and compromise—and that created homesickness.
One day when I was feeling dissatisfied with the color scheme we'd chosen for our living room—light blue and beige (Rob's favorite colors, my least favorite)—I realized I was demanding that Rob have the same likes and dislikes I did.
Later that day I purchased several light blue votive candles. Rob may have never noticed the change, but every time I look at those candles, I remember I'm making a deliberate choice to welcome Rob's tastes.
Learn to say, "Your way is good, too." Choose your battles. Realize that towels can be folded in thirds instead of halves and still look nice. By accepting your husband's differences, you allow your ideas of home to blend.
Appreciate your mate. "I remember feeling especially homesick one time," says Lori Weber, a homemaker in Colorado. "It was definitely an 'I want my mommy !' moment. I called and tearfully told Mom my troubles, but all she said was, 'Mama said there'd be days like this.' I was so mad! I wanted to hear, 'Come sit on my lap and let me make it all better,' but Mom knew I needed tough love at that crucial moment."
When her mother's wise words left Lori to deal with her problem alone, she made the conscious decision to be grateful for her spouse—and that led to a deeper sense of belonging in her new home.
Early in my marriage, I played the "what if" game often, wishing Rob and I lived closer to Mom and Dad. By giving up my "what ifs," I learned to accept life the way it was, and I developed a deep sense of gratitude for God's gift of Rob to me. Now when I want to go home but can't, I list the many ways Rob makes me feel "at home," then call Mom and Dad for a chat.
Face being homesick head on. List the problems that stand in your way of accepting your new home, and change the things you can. Avoid self-pity by focusing on all that's great about your life with your mate.
As we drove down the Colorado highway, tears still streaming down my face, Rob repeated the offer he'd made before we embarked on the long trip to Missouri. "Shawnee, any time during the next hour you want me to turn around and drive you back to your folks, just say the word."
His patient understanding brought a fresh wave of tears. I struggled with the desire to accept his offer, but I'd made my choice when I said my vows. He was my family now. "Thank you, Rob, but my place is with you. Let's go home."
Shawnee McCarty Fleenor, a writer and speaker, lives in Missouri.
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