To the Wife Whose Husband Works Long Hours
I know a time comes when your husband’s sacrifice and steadfast faithfulness to provide for his family despite the hours will cross from seeming unfair to him to unfair to you and your kids. Resentment will build (if it has not already) and it will be harder to shake the feeling that you are on the outside looking in on other “happy” marriages and families. The weight of being mom and dad will cause your back to bend and your heart to crack.
You put on a brave face when he missed a little league game. You talked yourself out of tears when you had to cancel another couples night with friends because he wouldn’t be home in time. You said, “it’s a mother’s sacrifice” when you canceled a much-needed girls night because your kid needed a ride to a special event. There are only so many pep talks and fake smiles before you simply feel you are on your own. Your life resembles a single parent’s life more than a couple. Increasingly, you leave him out of the loop on making decisions or plans because you assume he won’t be around anyway.
He is never here.
He is out of touch.
Why does it matter what he thinks since he won’t be around anyway?
These are the thoughts that lead you to wonder in the darkest of moments why you bother with this married life. You are under the bondage of marriage with none of the benefits. You won’t verbalize this because it sounds just a tad too dramatic and you don’t want to seem ungrateful for his job. So you continue on to science fairs, recitals, and little league games alone. You politely decline invitations to do what couples do for fun together because being the odd wife out is unbearable. You share more memories with him than experiences together because his schedule leaves an extra place at the table. All the while a faint feeling of depression replaces the companionship that was rightfully your husband’s spot.
We soldier on. We can take it. We have grown accustomed to it. Until you notice this pattern of “soldiering on” is repeated by the children. The moment your child scans the crowd and remembers dad isn’t there to see his home run, you realize forcibly holding back tears has a distinct look. Your sadness for your husband having to miss out is replaced with anger and resentment.
All 18 years of my married life has been to a man who worked long hours. Due to his hours, the complete duties of running the house became mine. If it needed to be fixed, I googled it. If it needed to be moved, I found super human strength. If two children needed a ride at the same time, I found a way to be in two places at once. If it had to be done, I did it. I plunged the toilets, I patched a leak on a rainy roof, and I fixed a fussy printer. I attended appointments and events alone. I didn’t fit in with single moms nor military wives, yet I felt the sting of having a husband “missing” from the dinner table. It felt unfair. It hurt.
I remember a time when my husband had to go on a business trip for a week. Up until then, we had never been apart for so long. Other wives would say, “You will certainly miss him.”, “How will you cope with him being gone for so long.”, “I remember when my husband went away on a weekend and it was just so hard to manage.” For me, the week came and went without much change in routine. When you have a husband that works 12 plus hours a day, you learn to manage your house without backup. You can’t even wrap your mind around a woman who feels like she is missing an arm with her husband away. Yes, we quickly became accustomed to our phantom limb.
Through these years, I had to continually shift my focus away from my feelings. I became acutely aware that he must feel like an outsider to his own family. This man we missed, missed us. This man we harbored feelings of resentment toward, resented his job for robbing him of family time. This man who only took part in the memories wanted to take part in the experiences. He felt the same isolation. Each decision made without him made a life together harder to build. You see, we were still in this together even if we were apart. We still needed each other to maintain the bridge before it could no longer cover the distance in our hearts.
You and I have a special challenge. Fair or not, we need to maintain a healthy marriage despite the hours we are apart. Let’s begin by not leaving him out of the equation. I caution you against living a life on your own just because you feel on your own. So, how do you do that? How did I do that? It is done through consistent hard work. You are going to fight for every brick you use to build up your marriage. You will do cheesy things like writing him notes or taking pictures of your child walking in the park to share with him later. It may not sound so cheesy at first, or maybe it does, but it may feel like it later. One of my biggest challenges was appreciating him calling me daily. You see, I had grown so accustomed to living my day as MY day that when he called it was an interruption. It didn’t take long before he sensed my attitude. So, he stopped calling. Calling was his attempt to maintain that bridge. My perspective had to change from “my day” to “our day”. We spent our days apart but we shared our life. He was not interrupting my day but providing a bright spot.
Here are some ways I learned to live as a couple in our crazy schedule.
-I make sure we had dinner, as a family, as much as possible. There have been times that dinner waited until 8:00 pm. We all survived the wait and were better for it. You don’t have to do this every night but making the effort when possible is important.
-I held off on making decisions without him. While I never made big decisions without him, I did run things as I saw fit. My husband trusts my judgment and takes no offense when I make decisions in his stead. Of course, there are limits as some decisions need input as a couple. However, I grew so comfortable taking the reigns that I was living on my own terms. Yet, I wasn’t on my own terms. It may seem innocuous but discussing some minor decisions as a couple gives you the sense you are working as a team. Trust me, you will need to find opportunities to reinforce that feeling.
-Take a lot of pictures and mental notes of an event he misses out on. He doesn’t want to miss out any more than you want him to miss. Make your kid stand still for a picture and say, “Let’s take a picture for daddy.” Reinforce to them that daddy is sad he missed out but will love to hear all about it later. Then carve out time to share all these memories with him.
-On particularly long days, I would allow the kids to stay up late to say good night. There were many times my husband would leave for work before the kids got up and not come home until after bedtime. When this happened three days in a row it means your children have not seen daddy in three days. Even staying up to say “good night”, is meaningful to both the kids and your husband.
-You must must must make some time as a couple. I don’t care if it is 10 minutes before he dozes off or one Saturday night a month, you need to be purposeful and fight for this time together. Despite what you read in romance novels, absence does not make the heart grow fonder. It makes it grow resentful.
-Most importantly, pray together. Put God first so neither of you end up putting yourselves first.
I have used the word “purposeful” a few times. You see, since wives like us cannot count on consistency we need to count on being purposeful. Consistency implies routine while purpose implies action, making the latter difficult for exhausted moms. Now, please don’t take away from this that all the work is for you to do. Certainly, this purposeful action requires 100% from both you and your husband. There will be days when you feel like giving 20% and need him to give 80% and vice versa. It is in those moments that doing the little things, that made you feel like you were in this life together, will rise to the surface and sacrificially give that extra percent. I won’t pretend it is easy, but it is worth it.