Read an Excerpt
Lack of Time Together
Temporary Separations, Communication, Creative Time Together
John has a job that requires him to travel five days a week, three weeks a month. A Powerful Choleric with some Perfect Melancholy, he thrives with his fast-paced, full life. His weekends are short. He usually arrives home on Friday evening; if his flight is late, the hour sometimes is past midnight. Completely exhausted after traveling from one city to another, he catches a few extra hours of sleep on Saturday morning. Then, after brunch with his wife, Joan, he heads straight to his home office to file reports from the past week and prepare for the upcoming week. Joan has her second cup of coffee, reads the morning newspaper, and cleans the kitchen, hoping this Saturday will be differenthe will finish early. But the routine is unchanged.
By late afternoon he completes his work and sits down with Joan to discuss plans for Saturday night. Their routine has developed into going out to dinner with friends, going to a movie, or renting a movie and staying home. On Sunday, John joins his friends in a round of golf. Then he has a late lunch with Joan before packing his bag to leave for another week of work and travel.
Joan's job as a schoolteacher keeps her busy during the day, but her evenings are lonely. She reads, watches television, has dinner at a restaurant with friends, or telephones her parents. The companionship she expected in marriage is absent.
When they married, John was traveling two to three days a week. A few months later, he was promoted to regional sales manager and his travel schedule increased. Rather than travel four weeks out of the month, he would have one week at home. But during that week, he works in the office from early morning until late evening. Many times after dinner, he will return to the office to work on projects for the upcoming weeks. Except for having dinner together and John's sleeping at home that week, there is little difference in their weekly routine.
Joan understands the demands of John's job, but as a Popular Sanguine, she misses him and the fun they had early in their marriage. Before marriage, they had discussed having a family. John now feels they should not have a baby until his schedule is less hectic. He keeps reassuring Joan that things will not always be this way. She is concerned that their marriage is suffering from a lack of time together. Each time she brings the subject up, he argues that he is a good provider and spends as much time as possible with her.
InsightsIn our global workplace, many couples have to spend more and more time apart. John's job requires that he spend large chunks of time on the road. This often happens in military families as well. Other couples are temporarily separated when one spouse has been transferred and the other has not yet found new employment. In other cases one spouse may have to spend long periods of time away meeting the needs of extended family. Whatever the circumstances that create the separation, we have chosen to address two key concerns that are important for keeping a long-distance marriage healthy: communication and creative time together.
COMMUNICATION Most marriages suffer from lack of communication, but for couples who spend large quantities of time apart, it is especially easy for their lives to drift in different directions. For John and Joan to maintain a healthy marriage, they need to remain in contact with each other and be involved in each other's independent activities, much as they would be if they had dinner together every night.
For me, this was a concern when Chuck and I were living apart due to our jobs. As in John and Joan's case, Chuck did not seem as bothered by this as I was. For five months we saw each other only on weekends. We communicated mostly by phone and occasionally via e-mail. It seemed that the nights we felt like talking did not coincide. By the time we had our phone conversation at the end of the day, if I was tired, he wanted to talk. If I had time to talk, he was tired and short with me.
One night, when Chuck was first living in Colorado, I called him as I usually did, but he did not answer. I overreacted, first wondering where he was and whom he was with, as he had always been reachable. I tried his cell phone and couldn't get him. I got angry and then worried as the hours ticked by and I still could not reach him. When he finally answered, I was in tears. Once I calmed down and we discussed the situation, Chuck agreed that he would keep his cell phone with him and keep it on. I agreed that if I called and he was out having pizza with the other therapists, that I would not expect a full report of his day, but I would know where he was and I wouldn't worry.
However, we had to plan to make our usual conversations a priority. We had to call each other earlier in the evening. Originally our tendency was to place the call just before turning out the light, but we were too tired by then to share much of what went on in each other's day. As we developed a better pattern, even though I'd never met any of the boys he worked with in the residential treatment center, I felt like I knew them almost as well as he did.
Now we are back living in the same house, but I travel and am occasionally on the road for a week at a time. The day-to-day communications still take an effort to maintain. We talk on the phone almost every night when I'm gone. I leave notes for Chuck in places I know he will discover throughout my trip: in the refrigerator, under his pillow, in a book he is reading, in his organizer, under a few pairs of socks. Sometimes he sends me e-mail. It brightens my day to open up my e-mail while I am on the road and see that I have a note from Chuck.
While these ideas may sound trivial, they go a long way in helping us feel connected. I would encourage John and Joan to be sure that they are communicating on at least this level before they move on to addressing the deeper issues that may exist.
After reading about John and Joan's situation, Shirley wrote,
From her experience, Shirley suggests that Joan start by beginning to express her thanks for what John does dohe comes home faithfully, spends Saturday nights with her, and provides for her. Since we know that John is a Powerful Choleric, we understand that he has a need to be appreciated for all the work he does. He believes he is doing what he needs to do as a husband by providing well for Joan. Men see togetherness much differently than women do; their being in the same roomor houseis often sufficient "together time" for men. In talking about her marriage, Shirley says,
That was the story of my life for forty-two years. During the last five years, it has really intensified; Nate retired from the Air Force and went with industry. He has been to China and Russia almost three times a month. Over the years I have had the full range of emotions: feeling neglected, wanting to divorce and find someone who really "cared more about me than his job," creating arguments to try to get my point across, ignoring him, developing my own interests, pretending I didn't care, gaining sympathy from other people for my "sad state of affairs"and the list goes on.
Meanwhile Joan needs to be sure that her heart is right. Like Joan, Jo found that when her husband traveled, she had to fight resentment. Jo reports,
My Powerful Choleric husband, Nate, did not need to spend any time with friends or even spend Saturday night together [with me]. Being in the same room was great "togetherness" for him. Once I realized that being in the same room with him, even though we didn't converse, fulfilled his "togetherness" idea, I could relax with it.
If Joan attempts to address her concerns with John and she is full of anger, her attempts will backfire and may drive him away. Perhaps this is why talking has not been effective. Gaylen Larson, Ph.D., warns Joan,
Because my husband, Ray, had been bored in his prior job, I actually encouraged him to take a career advancement to North American sales manager even though it would require more travel. I put a cute and silly, or loving and sexy, card in his suitcase for him to find every time he left home. We talked nightly on the phone. But when his travel time became so extensive that it took him away from me for week-long stretches, back to back, month after month, the stress built within both of us, and our relationship became less tender and caring. I fought resentment, but I knew I had encouraged this change. I often prayed about my attitude.
To love John extravagantly, Joan needs to be willing to make the first changesmuch like the advice given to Elizabeth in the "Married From Our Dysfunctions" chapter (14). Joan can begin to make some personal changes through her time with the Lord. Without evening family responsibilities, she has plenty of time to look at her own issues. Addressing her similar concerns, Shirley says,
You need to understand the principle that anger feeds anger. If you approach John in an angry manner, you will feed his anger, resulting in a negative outcome. Proverbs says a soft answer turns away anger, and that an angry answer feeds anger (Proverbs 15:1). What you want to do is to dispel the anger, not feed it.
Once Joan has given the Issue to God and made the mental adjustment from anger to understanding, accepting John for who he is, focusing on his good points, I encourage her to be sure that home is a place where he feels welcome and wanted.
Although I was deeply involved in speaking and women's ministry, the lack of togetherness began to take its toll. I could feel myself moving toward depression, so I began journaling my feelings. I recall getting up one morning at three and going downstairs to write my thoughts to God. I was very honest with Himsince God already knows my heart. I asked Him to help me understand and accept Nate for who and what he is: a good provider, a man of high integrity, a man who I know loves me (in his own way)and to help me support him in the areas of his needs. The Lord helped me find a good Christian friend who would listen in confidence to my complaints, but would not allow me to tear Nate down or wallow in my self-pity. She listened, empathized with me, and then challenged me with ways to help understand and accept his work and his waysto love extravagantly, though she did not use that term.
Now I pray for Nate, and I encourage Joan to do the same for John. I suggest that Joan read The Power of a Praying Wife, by Stormie Omartian. Another wonderful book is Personality Plus, by Florence Littauer. Understanding the Personalities and his "work" mode versus her "friend/social" mode would be extremely helpful to Joan and John as it was for Nate and me.
In our marriage, I am the one who is often on the road. But as with Joan, Chuck doesn't like that I travel. However, traveling has been a part of my life for all my adult years. When I met Chuck, I was teaching seminars all over the country. I think he should be used to it after eighteen years of marriage. Instead, he likes it less and less.
However, like Joan, I am the one who was unhappy with the way things were, I was the one who wanted a change. Coming home on the plane, I often enjoy the relaxing escape of romance novels. As I read, I picture Chuck meeting me at the gate with roses in his hand. Or at least dropping what he is doing when I walk in the door to hug me, kiss me, and confirm how much he has missed me.
In reality, the plane lands, I walk alone through the terminal, get my baggage, and go to my car. I wait in line to pay for parking and drive home. Because I like to get home from a trip as soon as possible, I frequently arrive late at night rather than the next day. Chuck is often asleep when I get home. I tiptoe in, drop my bags, and undress in the dark. I crawl into bed beside him and he wiggles his toes against my leg to welcome me home. Hardly the romance novel scene I had painted in my mind.
Once I was scheduled to fly home the day after a seminar, and it happened to be our sixteenth anniversary. Since it was our anniversary, I really wanted that romance novel scene. The day before, I had arranged to have flowers sent to Chuck's office with a card that said "Happy Anniversary! Hurry home!" (I had the flowers delivered in the morning in case he forgot what day it was. They would remind him, and he'd have time to do whatever he needed to do.) I planned to arrive home before he got off work. I had time to shop for the ingredients to make a lovely dinner. I got home, did the dinner prep work, and put it all aside. In the bedroom I found something small and black hanging on our four-poster bed with an anniversary card. (He hadn't forgotten, after all.) I relaxed in a bubble bath and put my present on. I lit candles in the bedroom and put something bubbly in the silver bucket next to the bed with two crystal flutes. It was nearly time for him to get home. I crawled up on the bed and read my romance novel. I waited. The dogs barked and I heard his car door. I tucked the romance novel away and placed myself artfully across the bed. I could write my own romance novel with the results of my efforts!
Since I had sent Chuck flowers, he knew that I had not forgotten what day it was. He knew I'd be waiting, and he knew what he had waiting for me. He was excited to see me, glad I had come home. While the night left me breathless, I thought it through the next morning. That was the reaction I'd like to get every time I come home!
Romans 12:18 tells me that it is my job to "live at peace with everyone." It does not tell me to change my husband. I thought, "What could I change that would bring about the desired effect?" First, I could change my schedule so I got home before him, instead of after he was asleep. I could fix a special dinner. I could put on one of the many "little somethings" he has given me over the years, and I could place myself across the bed as if in a lingerie catalog. Yes, I could do that. My next trip I did. It worked againeven without the special day and without the flowers. My next trip I tried it again. It worked again. I had created an attitude adjustment. While he is still not crazy about my traveling, he loves my coming home. Without travel, I wouldn't be putting forth the homecoming effort. (I do not go through my "attitude adjustment" routine every time I come homeit would lose the sense of surprise that makes it special.)
While I doubt that John is expecting a romance-novel greeting, Joan can make some adjustments to be sure he feels welcome, giving him a sense of excitement and enthusiasm about coming home. On the nights that he gets home early enough, she might prepare his favorite meal and serve it in front of the fireplace. When his arrival hour is late, she could try my routinespending time pampering herself with a bubble bath (or whatever works for her) and getting in the right frame of mind. As Shirley suggests, make his homecomings special:
By following Shirley's advice and my example, Joan will be creating an environment that is conducive to discussing her other concerns: their limited time together and how many of her needs go unmet. Then she can ask John what his thoughts are and what he sees might take place to remedy the situation.
I believe that if Joan begins to accept John just as he is and lets him know that she appreciates his being such a good provider and acknowledges to him that "traveling all the time must be hard on him," and then asks what she can do to make his homecomings special, she will begin to see a difference in their relationship.
For example, when Jo addressed her concerns with Ray, she chose a time when they were doing something they enjoyed. She said to him, "We have such fun together. I love you and want you to be happy in your work, but I married you to share a life with you, not to live alone."
By this point, we hope John will be willing to discuss Joan's concerns and make some changes. He must recognize his role as a husband is more than just bringing home a paycheck and playing spouse for a night. Gene, who travels for his job as well, advises, "John must find balance in his schedule. If a conversation does not resolve the Issue, then they should make an appointment to visit a marriage counselor."
Jo agrees with Gene and empathizes with Joan:
Once Joan and John discuss the issues that are present in their marriagewhether on their own or with a counselor helping themand have opened up the lines of communication, they can then address the concern Jo mentioned: spending time together.
Joan has her hands full because she appears to be the one in the relationship who sees what is happening. As much as she tries to understand the pressure John is under, and how that might be a good reason to play golf with friends every Sunday, she appears to be feeling neglected. When she does try to tell John her feelings, he doesn't validate those feelings or her concerns, but merely justifies his actions. Since it is already to this point, I think Joan needs to seek a counselor or other professional person with whom she can talk. She needs to ask John to see this person with her so the third party can help John see and hear how neglected Joan feels. Joan is concerned for good reason, and to let it continue like this will only build resentment within her and dangerously cool her desire to spend future time with her husband.
CREATIVE TIME TOGETHER The presenting Issue shows that Joan and John have fallen into a trap many couples face, traveling spouse or not. Their relationship has a routine and lacks excitement, variety, and a creative use of time togetherwhich is especially important due to the limited time available. While John is working very hard and providing for Joan, the first change he must make is to draw some boundaries and make Joan a priority on the weekendssince they both have this time off.
Sometimes when I travel I am gone weekdays, other times weekendsoccasionally both. When Chuck is off weekends and I am home, I make it a policy that my weekends are his. I do not make any plans until I know what he wants to do. Once in a while he wants to go for a bike ride with his friends or build something with a buddy. On those days, I do my projects. Otherwise, I do whatever he wants.
While I have been writing this book Chuck's schedule has been extremely varied. Some weeks he has been working seven days in a row. He hasn't had two days off in a row the entire time I have been writing. Last week he found out at the last minute that he would have the next day off. At first I said I could not play with him that day, as I had to write. Then I realized, what good is writing a book on marriage if my own marriage is not my priority? Fortunately I am self-employed. I put my writing aside and took the day off. We slept ingot out of bed around eleven, had a late breakfast, and went inline skating for three hours. We went to lunch around three-thirty and took a sunset motorcycle ride that evening. Chuck appreciated that I made him my priority and spent the day with him doing whatever he wanted.
John needs to do the same thing for Joan. Since his weekdays, and part of the weekend, don't involve Joan, he needs to make some sacrifices for his marriage. From his own experience with his wife and travel schedule, Gene recommends, "John must place a priority on spending time with Joan. He needs to focus more on her rather than playing golf every Sunday. John should try to consolidate as much work as possible during the week, leaving only a minimum for Saturday."
If John makes this adjustment, spending more time with Joan, they can probably reach an agreement that would allow John to golf with his buddies once or twice a month, and spend time with Joan the other Sundays.
Even if John does not change his priorities and carve out more time to spend with Joan, the time they do have needs to be more creative and stimulating for both of them. Gene says, "Rather than follow the same routine every week, they need to explore some new activities. Joan needs to arrange a Saturday evening to attend a play or a concert, visit a museum, or spend a romantic evening together at a favorite restaurant."
Chuck suggests that they take turns making the decision on how they will spend whatever time they do have together. Once the activity has been decided upon, both must agree to go for it with full enthusiasm. For example, Joan may enjoy the symphony more than Johnmany women do. So she might select that for their evening out. John needs to go without complaining and make the best of it. Likewise, Joan needs to go to a football game enthusiastically if that is something John might choose to do.
I enjoy going to our symphony's performances, but I especially enjoy them when they are outdoors. Chuck is okay with the symphony, but he really dislikes any activity that is indoors and likes almost anything that is outdoors. Four times a year the New Mexico Symphony plays outside at the zoo. The attire is casual and people bring a blanket or chairs and sit on the lawn with a picnic. These outdoor concerts are a good compromise for us. To make it extra special, I prepare a terrific picnic menu and pack everything. Chuck gets out the red wagon and we load it all into the car. At the zoo our little red wagon attracts a lot of admiration as Chuck pulls it to a grassy spot loaded with the chairs, blanket, picnic basket, and cooler. We agree that lying under the stars listening to Gershwin is about as perfect as a summer evening gets.
Chuck does the symphony for me. I go on motorcycle rides for him. He has a Harley Sportster. If that means anything to you, you know it is not a comfortable bike for long rides. His has a little buttonlike seat on the back fender for passengers. When we go for longer rides through the mountains to a famous motorcyclist hangout for lunch, I find myself hanging on and praying, "Oh, God, help me have a good attitude." It must have worked; now I am the one suggesting that we go on a motorcycle rideand the restaurant has really good burgers!
We often go for hikespicnicking at the waterfalls. Yesterday Chuck told me, "Next day off, I want to go to Santa Fe." Whenever that may be, I'll be delighted to join him. Santa Fe has great restaurants!
For Chuck's birthday this year, I wanted to do something very different. I had been on the road and was scheduled to come home in the middle of the day on his birthday. I thought about throwing a surprise party. But his Perfect Melancholy Personality doesn't go for that sort of thing. Have some friends over for dinner? But Chuck has been working such long hours, I knew he would not want to be "up" for a bunch of people, plus his birthday fell on a work night. I had to think of what would be special for him. I know Chuck likes picnics, and his work schedule has prevented us from having many this summer, so that is what I planned.
I had "happy birthday" flowers sent to him at work telling him to hurry home. I got home in time to prepare a lovely picnic dinner: grilled chicken Caesar salad with a croissant and a bubbly beverage, and fresh brownies for dessert. I packed it all up with our portable picnic table. A friend took me up to the top of the cliffs overlooking Albuquerque where I set up the picnic, arranging his presents around the table. I had left a card with a riddle at home for Chuck. When solved, he would know where to meet me. As soon as we saw Chuck driving toward the cliffs, my friend left. I was alone when Chuck got there. We ate dinner and watched the sunset in one direction and the lights of the city come on in the other. We had a lovely evening! We agreed that we needed to do that more often.
When John and Joan plan their special activities together, they need to take into consideration what they like to do together and individually. Perhaps Joan could learn to golf so John can still golf, but they could be togetheror she could drive the cart.
To prevent falling into a rut, try one of the many books available that offer creative dates for couples. Simply entering the word dating on Amazon.com brought up over 1,600 books. Two I suggest are by Dave and Claudia Arp: 10 Dates to Revitalize Your Marriage and 52 Dates for You and Your Mate. Joan and John might want to get one of these books and spend an evening selecting a few dates that they both agree sound like fun.
Another issue of concern found in the presenting Issue is that it appears Joan and John do not have any spiritual connection. Church attendance should be one of the activities that they do together as their Christian life offers the foundation for their marriage commitment. They might seek out a church with worship services offered on Saturday night as well as Sunday. Attending on Saturday would leave Sunday morning open for their personal quality time. While this may sound somewhat heretical to some, I think God would honor the decision to encourage a healthy marital relationship.
Even after Joan and John work together to improve their communication, talk about their concerns, and spend creative time together, they might find that they are still suffering from lack of sufficient together time. In fact, once they really start to enjoy each other again, they may find that they both resent John's traveling even more. Since Joan is a schoolteacher, she may be able to join John on some of his trips during the summer. Jo traveled with Ray from time to time. She says,
While all traveling men or women won't look at the situation as Ray did, they do need to value the feelings and insight of their marriage partner and respond with care and love. When Chuck and I lived in different states for five months, I drove back and forth most weekends. We tried hard to make it work. But it is very difficult to have a marriage when weekends are all you have together. Amanda said this about her long-distance marriage:
We tried to work it out so that I could go with Ray occasionally, but Ray eventually decided he missed being with me more than he enjoyed the prestigious title and the hectic schedule it required. When an opportunity to change positions presented itself, Ray took it in order to cut back on travel time. He was highly respected in his industry, and when he answered the question about why he took a demotion in his career, he answered truthfully, "To spend less time on the road and more time with my wife. Our relationship is more important than anything." Every man hearing that has told Ray he admires him for doing it. We are thoroughly enjoying having more time together.
Many couples live apart long term. Others, like Amanda and Tony, make it through a few months of a temporary situation. Whichever your case, I hope the insights offered here will help you love each other extravagantlyto give, not to get.
Tony was a national sales manager. He left Monday morning and came home on Friday nightit was hard! After a year, he went to work for someone else, and we've made sure never to live like that again. It was way too hard on the relationship.
Interaction1. The couple needs to create a balance sheet on John's job to determine if it is worth the strain on the marriage. In separate columns, they should list the costs and benefits of the current job. This will help them see in black and white whether or not John should stay in this job.
2. Each spouse should ask him or herself, "If things remain exactly the same, how long do I think I can hang in there?" Then share the responses. This is an indicator of how critical the situation is and how urgent the need for change. Different solutions to the Issue require more time to complete than others. When time is short, bold action is required.
3. Depending on the answers to the previous exercises, begin to look for avenues for change. For example, if both agree that a job change is not needed, what changes can be made in the weekend routine? List specific variations and select one for each upcoming weekend. Even if a job change is agreed upon, it may take months to implement. Therefore, a change in the weekend routine may still be needed.
4. Because of the minimal time this couple has together, they need to maximize the time that they do have. Schedule time weeklyabout an hourto do the couple's communication exercise (see appendix D). It will be especially valuable to this situation.
Love Extravagantly: Making the Modern Marriage Work by Marita Littauer & Chuck Noon
Copyright � 2001, Marita Littauer
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.