She often flies across the country on a moment's notice to solve a problem for her company. He's on the road five days a week, checking in on the family by telephone. According to American Demographics, one in five employed Americans takes at least one overnight business trip each year. And for those in management and sales, the number of days away from spouse and family may climb into three digits.
The biggest stress for many families occurs right before the traveling spouse walks out the door. For others, anxiety and arguments break out when the traveling spouse returns home. Although travel puts a strain on communication—even in the best marriages—good-byes and homecomings don't have to be high-stress times. Here are ten ways to ease the strain.
- Get an Early start If you fail to communicate at home, don't expect your communication from the road to be any different. Build good communication skills when you are together, and it will pay off when you're separated by business travel.
- Do Your HomeworkIf you're the one who travels, pay the bills and take care of urgent home maintenance before you leave. That will minimize the stress on your family.
- Plan Your Good-ByesDepartures, by their very nature, create stress. Accept this as normal, then develop some helpful rituals, such as having a special dinner together as a family the day before the trip.
- Share Your ItineraryDiscuss the details of a trip—including the travel schedule and the business challenges—before you leave. This helps the non-traveling spouse understand what his or her mate is facing, and it gives both of you something to talk about when the traveling spouse returns.
- Avoid Emotional ScenesA traveling parent's departure can produce anxiety in the kids, so it's important that parents not let partings turn into stressful, emotional scenes. Provide simple explanations about where Mom or Dad is going to reduce kids' worry.
- Leave from HomeMake your home the departure point if possible, so you'll both be in familiar surroundings. It's easier to be sensitive to each other's needs at home, rather than in the stressful atmosphere of the airport.
- Choose Your CallsTo minimize frustration, agree on a time when the traveling spouse will call home. Each time you talk, decide when you will touch base the next time.
- Prepare for Re-EntryReturning home can be as tough as saying good-bye. Sometimes the spouse at home has made plans that get interrupted by the returning partner. If you're the traveler, make sure your mate knows your schedule before you return home to prevent conflicting expectations. But just in case, both spouses should be prepared with an extra dose of patience and flexibility.
- Don't DumpIf you're the stay-at-home spouse, be careful not to overload the returning traveler with complaints or lots of family business. Give him or her a chance to assimilate back into the home routine.
- Take It EasyWhen you're reuniting after a time apart, watch each other's body language. Sometimes the first day can be a little awkward, as you both get used to being together again. If you're the traveler, don't come back and immediately take over all the family management and plans. Give the whole family time to let you slip back into your at-home role.
Cindy Crosby is a freelance writer living in the Chicago area. Jim and Brenda Cote live near Charlotte, North Carolina, and Jim is author of On the Road Again: Travel, Love and Marriage (Baker).
1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.