During much of our dating and the first eight years of our marriage, we had a long-distance relationship. That is, Doug's work required that he be away from home several nights each week, while Polly's work kept her in mostly in Richmond. While the old adage states that, absence makes the heart grow fonder, distance can actually put a lot of strain on a relationship. We came out of our traveling phase with a strong, loving relationship. Here are a few tips that helped us keep the fires burning across the miles.
1. Remember, business travel is not a vacation.
It is easy for the one left at home to believe that living in a hotel, eating out and having maid service equals a grand vacation. This can be especially true on laundry day. However, anyone who has spent significant time traveling on company business would beg to differ. They would tell you that eating by yourself in restaurants or entertaining business clients or associates is not as enjoyable as spending time around the family table. They would explain that having the whole bed to themselves is actually lonely. Maid service is nice, but most travelers would gladly put up with a ring in the tub and toothpaste on the sink if it meant they could kiss their spouse and kids goodnight. If you are the one at home, know that your traveling spouse would rather be with you than on the road. As much as advertisements try to make it glamorous, staying at a Holiday Inn Express will not make you feel like a star.
2. Find ways to do simple, everyday things together.
When Doug was traveling, we use to make time to watch T.V. together. Thank goodness for cell phone plans that allow unlimited minutes to specific numbers. Before and during the show, we would talk to each other, make comments about the show, or simply sit quietly and watch until a commercial break. Being linked by phone while doing the same activity made it seem like we were sitting together on the couch rather than hundreds of miles from each other. We found other ways to spend time together. Doug would call the home number each morning to wake Polly. She called him, her personal alarm clock. We always talked the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night regardless of how busy our schedules.
3 Find ways to share special occasions.
We remember one Halloween when Polly had to be out of town and Doug was home. This was a rare occasion. She always looked forward to the kids arriving in costume and demanding candy with a loud, Trick or treat. Polly was actually a bit upset to be stuck in a hotel room, missing out on the fun. Doug had a solution. He slipped his cell phone into his pocket each time the doorbell rang. He would greet the children by saying things like, What a pretty princess you are with your pink dress and sparkly crown, or how scary you look in that ghost mask. He kept a running commentary going, chatting with each goblin and witch, allowing Polly to feel a part of the action. With the advent of Skype and other technology, travelers should never have to miss singing happy birthday, hunting for Easter eggs, or sharing in family celebrations.
4. Actively work on your relationship.
As much as you like to be together, you can get used to living apart. To keep the spark alive, you need to make your relationship a priority. You should talk to each other. Discuss your goals, dreams, needs and wants. Reminisce about happy times. Tell each other about important and unimportant matters. We used to do calendars each week. This simply meant reviewing our schedules with each other. We would talk about what we were doing at work and in the evenings, what we had planned and what we wanted to do when we saw each other again. The point is to share more, not less. Make the other person fully involved in your life so that it will be as if they never left, when they return.
5. Make your reunion a joy.
It's easy for the spouse at home to save up chores, problems and frustrations for his or her returning spouse. Our advice: don't do it! Your time physically together each week is precious. Yes, there are always chores to do and problems to solve, but make sure they don't suck up all of your face time. Likewise, if you have been away all week, don't spend your few hours at home playing golf with your buddies or with other activities that take you away from your spouse and/or kids. Work hard to find a balance between must-do activities and time together. We had a special date night each weekend. We had as much fun discussing and planning these events as going on the date. Whatever works for you, make your time together so special that you can't wait to see each other again.
Managing a long-distance relationship can put extra strain on both the traveler and the one at home. It is easy to let relationships fade when two people are living in different cities. Developing techniques to bring you closer together while being physically apart can help you enjoy your time away as well as your time together.
Doug and Polly White are Principals at Whitestone Partners; a management-consulting firm that helps small businesses build the infrastructure they need to grow profitably.