by Carolyn Miller
Nine years ago, I was watching the closing ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Olympics on TV, when I saw an Australian girl walk into the arena, holding hands with a US male athlete. Something inside me was gripped by this couple as I wondered about how they had met, and how their relationship had lasted despite the obstacles of distance. Despite my best efforts, I could not find out who they were, so I made up ‘their’ story, which became my very first novel-length piece of fiction. Since then, I’ve switched to historical romance, but I’ve always been fascinated with how long-distance relationships work, when obviously there are long periods spent apart. Sure, military spouses manage it, but back then it wasn’t part of my world.
These days, however, life looks a little different. No, my husband hasn’t joined the military, but he does work away from home for long periods of time. As I write, he’s in Washington state for a month’s work at a plant nursery there, while I’m back in Australia caring for our four children, and writing my next Regency romance. For the past five years, he’s spent ten weeks each winter in New Zealand doing similar work, budding and grafting, while I tend to the home fires. It’s not ideal, but he can earn more in a day than I earned working for three days as a high school teacher, so we do our best to make it work. We understand this is a season in our lives (and, quite literally, it IS a season when plants have potential to strike most effectively, which is why he must work when the season is on), and that there are not too many people in the world with my husband’s particular skillset.
We have been married for over 21 years now, and are doing our best to make our relationship work well, despite long distances and time apart. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about negotiating long-distance love:
Make the effort to connect: The most obvious way is via phone calls, but text messages and emails are valuable too. These days we’re very blessed by the opportunities offered by technology, and can see each other through Skype, FaceTime, and other technological avenues where cameras and audio can synchronize. Find what works for you, and make it happen. This is especially important for children, who may wish to show (or at least tell about) special projects, missing teeth, their latest trampoline trick, etc. Even though the day may have been hard, making the effort to regularly connect is vital for keeping long-distance love alive. We aim to Skype or FaceTime daily.
Make the choice to be present: It can be challenging in our busy lives to really stop and focus on our loved ones, to really hear what it is they may or may not be saying. But choosing to focus just on them gives us a greater sense of connection, even if we’re miles apart. Being mindful of this can sometimes generate a greater sense of connection than when we’re together in the same house, where it’s easier to take one another for granted as we engage in the mundane activities of life. Be present, switch off the distractions, and listen, really listen, to the other person, and let him know you care.
Make the times together fun: It’s often easy to focus on the negatives of being separated by distance (and time zones!), but there can be benefits, particularly when work allows for increased income. I’m not advocating spending money willy nilly, but if you have the means, then it can be a wonderful time to create memories together by taking special holidays or vacations together. Last September, I attended the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Nashville, then flew back to LA to meet my husband who had brought our children over from Australia. We then spent the next four weeks traipsing up the west coast to Vancouver, Canada to visit my sister who currently lives there. Spending so much time together was glorious after spending the previous ten weeks or so apart, and we were able to build many precious memories. Now taking a huge international trip is NOT something we are in the habit of doing, but the timing and budget worked. (My eldest daughter has now started senior school and we don’t think my sister will be in Vancouver forever, so it was a case of now or never.) Even if time away is not in the budget, then making sure you schedule times for regular dates or fun activities together should be, because marriages need (at least a degree of!) romance to flourish. Coffee dates, restaurant meals, movies, shared sports activities—whatever floats your boat—make sure your precious time together IS precious. It’s all too easy to let time together become lost to the myriad of handyman jobs and paperwork that always requires attention. So have fun together.
Remember you’re not an island: With my husband working away as much as he does, it can be easy to succumb to the ‘I don’t know how she does it’ praise, which can lead to a sense of (prideful?) independence (or maybe that’s just me ☺). It’s important to remember with one spouse working elsewhere that there will be slack that needs to be picked up, and sometimes I need to call on others for help. I’m blessed in that my parents live nearby and are willing and able to help with the occasional spot of child minding, but even so, I don’t want to abuse their good nature. So sometimes I don’t ask for help, which means I may miss out on things. But when I recognize certain things as being important, then I’ll prioritize them. For example, in March I have two conferences I would like to attend. One of these is a Christian women’s conference, something I would really like to attend as I can’t make it to my Bible study regularly due to child minding duties. Do I ask my aging parents to look after my children for both weekends, or do I simply ask for the conference I know will best nourish my spirit and soul? Regardless, I need help, and cannot manage four kids, running a household, taking care of pets and a large garden, AND my writing career without some help. None of us can. So don’t revel in independence at the expense of isolating yourself, whether you’re the one away or the one left at home. We all need regular reminders that we’re not alone and that there are people willing to help.
Above all else, guard your heart: Even with the best of plans, prayers and intentions, being separated can lead to feelings that aren’t helpful. Sometimes independence can lead to a sense of isolation and feelings of sadness/depression. Perhaps we can resent the other person. Perhaps we may feel unloved, and entertain thoughts about others that aren’t honoring to our spouse. I’ve learned in the past few years the importance of appreciating what my husband does. He doesn’t enjoy being away from us any more than we like him being away. It’s a whole lot harder for him when all he hears is complaint and resentment. When we were pastoring a church, we would often give advice during marriage preparation courses about the need for appreciation: that what we appreciate increases in value in our eyes, that what we don’t appreciate tends to lose its value. In other words, be each other’s biggest cheerleaders. Don’t complain. Be honest—kindly. Don’t entertain thoughts of “shoulda, woulda, coulda” or compare your spouse to others. That won’t help your marriage. Love thrives on patience, on kindness, on selflessness, on encouragement, on hope, trust and perseverance. Appreciate your spouse, and let him know this often. And even though miles may separate you, you will find your hearts growing closer—which will make the times of reunion so much sweeter.
Taking the time to be intentional about loving our spouse is worth it, and all the more when he (or she) works away from home for periods of time. Remember, it’s a season, one that will have an end, and it’s worth investing in long-distance love not just for you and your spouse, but for the sake of your children as well. Long-distance love—it’s worth it!
Carolyn Miller lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, with her husband and four children. She has worked as a church pastor, a high school English teacher, and now enjoys drawing readers into fictional worlds that show the truth of God’s grace in our lives. Her Regency novels include The Elusive Miss Ellison, The Captivating Lady Charlotte, The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey, Winning Miss Winthrop, Miss Serena’s Secret, The Making of Mrs. Hale, and A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh.
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