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Help for the Road Weary

A conversation with Elizabeth Hoekstra, author of Keeping Your Family Close: When Frequent Travel Pulls You Apart (Crossway)

Are you more familiar with airline schedules than your child's soccer schedule? Does your suitcase stay in a corner of your bedroom rather than stashed in a closet? Then chances are you're one of the more than 40 million people who travel for work each year. And if you're used to stretches of single-parenting, then you're most likely the spouse who is left behind. While business travel is a growing reality, Elizabeth Hoekstra dispels the notion that your marriage has to suffer as a result.

What is the biggest mistake couples make when adjusting to one spouse's business travel?

People often view business travel as a curse instead of one aspect of their relationship. Marriage is like a skyscraper with each floor representing a specific aspect of the relationship. Jesus is the foundation. Beyond that are the sexual, emotional, parenting and financial aspects. And if your spouse travels frequently, there is the travel aspect.

So couples need to accept travel as part of how their marriages are defined?

Exactly. Travel-related separations can be a threat to a marriage, but only if the issues involved aren't identified and addressed. If couples will accept travel as one aspect of their relationship, they can work through the emotions involved—guilt, fear, loneliness or resentment. Only then will the threat begin to be minimized.

It's natural to have negative feelings about travel. What can couples do to combat that tendency?

I live by the motto: "It's a matter of choice." If you choose to remain negative toward a mate's travel schedule, cynical feelings will trickle down and adversely affect all areas of your marriage. But you can choose to prevent that damage by addressing your feelings and working to preserve your marriage.

Don't tell me that you woke up one morning with a smile on your face and said, "I love having a husband who is on the road." It can't be that easy.

Peter and I have been married almost 15 years, and he's been traveling for about 12 years. My acceptance of his travel has been a process. When our children were little, I very much resented him being away. As I'd watch him pack his golf clubs, I'd think, "You're having a great time!"
I talked with others about how they handled a spouse who travelled, and most weren't dealing with it much better than I was. Eventually, I sought out the Lord and that's when I realized that my negativity had the potential to destroy our marriage. But likewise, I also had the ability to build it up.

In your book, you stress that communication is essential to developing a healthy attitude toward travel.

Adapting to a travel lifestyle isn't something you talk about just once. As needs change, you have to repeatedly identify the issues, reach a compromise, set goals and re-evaluate the impact travel has on your marriage and family life. Peter and I have a good handle on travel, but it still requires a lot of our energy.

How can spouses stay connected when travel frequently separates them?

Travel soon has you playing a game of emotional "red light/green light." You're getting along fine, there's a real sense of connectedness, and then travel interrupts things with a red light. Everything is put on hold and it becomes easier not to communicate than to communicate.

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Business; Marriage; Work
Today's Christian Woman, Fall, 1998
Posted September 12, 2008

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