For the last year, Joe's work schedule and hours have been a little insane. It all started with lawn care season, lots of wet weather and a huge increase in the number of lawns that the company had on its schedule each week. On top of his full time job, Joe spent his nights and weekends fixing sprinklers and helping his crew stay caught up on mowing lawns. It was a busy season but we powered through and were excited when it ended. Then the busy holiday time hit at work and they were short team members and just starting to train others. For two months Joe was working 12-15 hours a day, some nights heading back to the store after our kids were in bed and staying until well after midnight to stay caught up. I missed having him home and we missed out on a few of our regular holiday traditions. Joe was worn out and the nights when he was home, he was exhausted so we didn't do much. After a couple months of a "back to normal" schedule, we're back to 12 hour days and there are potential six day weeks in our future over the next month or two.
In the midst of the holiday chaos, a few of you asked me to write a post sharing ways to keep a positive attitude when your spouse works long hours and I chuckled because I did not have a very positive attitude about our situation at the time. I have worked on my attitude a lot over the past couple of months and although I wish Joe's work hours were different, I can tell you that my attitude and the way I've chosen to manage our situation is a lot better. Some other requests for posts were how to stay connected in your marriage when one of you works long/late hours or when you and your spouse work opposite schedules, such as graveyard shifts. Since so many of the requests had a similar theme, I thought I'd combine them into one post with all of my best suggestions and the things that I've learned over the years. If you have things you do that are not on the list, feel free to share them in the comment section at the end of this post!
Tips for When Your Spouse is Gone A Lot
For Your Marriage
Make The Moments You Have Together Count
This is one of those things that I learned to do during the three weeks that Emmy was in the NICU. It seems like such a short time frame now that I look back on it, especially when compared to the weeks that he's been working so much overtime over these last few months. But in the moment, we had no idea how long we'd be balancing life between the hospital and home so we had to do something to make sure that we were still making time for each other and our marriage.
Each day we had a total of maybe 2 hours with each other if we were lucky. We made sure that we took a 30 minute break from life to eat dinner together. That was the only guaranteed time that we'd have together each day, so we talked about our feelings, funny moments from our day, and made plans for the fun things that we wanted to do after our time in the hospital was over. We used that time to connect, rather than talking about the business side of our relationship. We left those conversations for the other times that we had together or if it absolutely needed to be discussed right then, we would take five minutes after our dinner to have those talks. But the most important thing for us to do each day was to find time to just be there for each other and strengthen our relationship.
Those three weeks taught me so many things, but mostly this one important one, that the most important thing in life is family and you need to do whatever it takes to put them first. When you have the power to change your schedule, do it, but in those phases of life when you don't have much say, you can still make time for each other. If you don't have the luxury of spending hours together every single day, make every single minute that you do have together count.
Sit Down Weekly to Talk Business
Weekly business meetings can make a huge difference for your marriage! I love having designated time to sit down and talk about our schedule for the next week, review the status of our monthly budget, make plans for getting things done around our house in the next week and talk about anything else that's come up. We will talk about things that come up during the week if needed, but I love having the time set aside to talk. I've found that my husband doesn't love to sit down with the purpose of having a meeting, so we've done some other things that work better for us instead. We have our meetings in the car when we are driving to visit our families every Sunday.
On our drive there, while it's still light outside, I pull on my planner and we talk about our week. I like to make sure we're both on the same page and know what each other has on the calendar. Knowing what Joe's schedule is and what his expectations are for the week helps me plan my week out better and not become frustrated if I've planned something assuming that he'll be home and he's not. This also means that I can tell him what I need to do and find out when he'll be around, and let him know that I'm planning things so that he knows I'm counting on him to be home for certain things. On our drive home, I open up the Every Dollar app, where I've already input all of our purchases from the week, and we talk about bills that are coming up, purchases we want or need to make, and what our budget looks like at that point in the month. If there are any other issues we need to address, we'll talk about them then, after the kids are in bed or when we're on a walk sometime over the weekend.
Find Little Ways to Serve Your Spouse
When it feels like your spouse is never home, it can be easy to expect them to serve you whenever they are. I know that I felt that way a lot when Joe was working so much. The times that he was home, I wanted him to change all of the messy diapers or spend his entire day off helping me with the projects I'd been waiting for him to complete. While I still pass diaper duty off to him as much as possible on the weekends, I have been looking for more ways that I can serve him daily rather than focusing so much on what I need him to do for me. Most of the ways I have found to serve him have been simple, but I hope that they make a big difference for him. I try to make sure he always has something to take for lunch, whether it's leftovers or a sandwich that I get up early to make. On weeks when I know that work is particularly stressful or long, the kids and I will drop off a drink to him or meet him one day for lunch. When Joe is home, I let him sleep in and have some down time, and I try to take care of a few of the things that he'd generally do around the house.
Talk About Things Throughout the Day
One thing I love about technology today is the ability it gives us to stay connected throughout the day. I know a lot of wives who use Snapchat to share videos and what they are doing with the kids throughout the day with their husbands. Another wife I know has mentioned that she and her husband will e-mail each other a couple of times during the day because it's hard for him to check his phone. I like to send texts to my husband with the funny things our kids say and pictures of things I know he'll appreciate. I know that for some couples contact throughout the day isn't always possible, but if it is an option for you, make use of it!
For a while I was only texting my husband to share the struggles of my day. One day when I was reading back through our texts, I realized how negative my messages were. Joe couldn't help his situation and was doing his best to be home as much as possible, but my texts and attitude were making him feel guilty and not making home life seem very appealing at the same time. I still share the not so good parts of my day, but I've started to share more of the happy, the fun and the things that we're looking forward to doing when he gets home. Not only has my attitude improved, but I think I'm a better, more supportive wife that way too.
Look for the Good in Each Day
My goal for this year has been to work on myself and to become a more positive person. At the end of 2017, especially when Joe was working so many late hours, I was a very negative person and I had a hard time finding the positive in life. I kept thinking back to the times when Emmy was in the NICU and how grateful I was for things each day. There was so much that I could have been discouraged by and not every minute of the day was positive, but when I'd look back on the day overall, I'd cry tears of overwhelm and happiness because there was so much good. That's the attitude that I've wanted to adopt every single day of my life, but especially when things are tough.
A lot of people have a gratitude journal that they write in at the end of every day. I think this can be a great tool, even if the things that you list that you're grateful for aren't all sunshine and roses. You can find good in anything, even your spouse being gone a lot. That time apart can make you appreciate more the times that you have together. It can give you more opportunities to enjoy meals and activities that aren't your spouse's favorite. And the extra time that your spouse is putting in at work may be adding extra money to your bank account to help pay for a big trip you've planned for the summer or to put toward a big house project or other purchase that you've been wanting to make.
Take Time to Do Something for Yourself
This can be hard if you're a mom of young kids, but it's still possible. I remember when I was single and had nothing to do on a Friday or Saturday night, I'd pick up my favorite food, a few snacks, a chick flick and spend the night in the basement paint my nails and wearing a face mask. Now I do the same thing when Joe works late or is gone for scouts, after the kids are in bed. Food delivery services have made it a lot easier to get the food I'm craving and not have to pick it up before bedtime only to be eating it cold when the kids are finally asleep. You could plan a fun girl's night, spend the night pampering yourself or even go to bed when the kids do.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
I found myself so exhausted at the end of the year when Joe was working all of his overtime. But I felt guilty asking for help because I was working full time as well and felt like I was failing as a mom if I needed an extra break from the kids. I quickly realized that on days when I was feeling down, it was ok to take a break! Your family will benefit more when you are at your best, and you will function better when you've made time to take care of yourself as well. I was lucky because my mom often invited us to stay for dinner and take leftovers for Joe to eat when he got home. You might also consider hiring a babysitter one or two nights a week after your kids are asleep so you can go grocery shopping, out with some friends, or even out on a mini date if that's the time your spouse has free.
Maintain Your Daily Routines
When Joe isn't home, I find myself wanting to ditch my dinner plans, stay up later than I should, and throw all of my regular plans to the wind. Now that I stick to my daily routine, I function better and feel less resentful for the times that Joe is away. When the kids and I want to do something fun but dad isn't able to join us, we go on our own or invite grandparents or friends to come with us instead. We have dinner and bedtime the same way we would every night, whether Joe is home or not. My day goes more smoothly when I stick to my regular schedule and I don't focus so much on the fact that Joe isn't able to be there like we wish he could be.
Every stage of life is different and I hope that this one is brief for your marriage. Whether it's short term or a new way of life that might last a few years, you can decide to make the best of it. Adjusting your traditions and the things that you're used to to fit your new normal will make things better. You won't be as disappointed that you don't get to each breakfast or dinner together every day if you have found a new daily or weekly ritual to take its place, like enjoying a small treat as a family every night before the kids go to bed or a big brunch every Sunday. When you feel like life is so busy that you don't have time for your marriage or yourself, that's usually when you need to make those things a priority more than ever. Whatever you do, find what works for your family and make the most of it!
What things do you do for yourself and your marriage when the two of you are apart?
Photography by Sadie Banks Photography