PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/ICONS8 TEAM
After our 18-month engagement got trampled and burned by Covid-19, we were finally wed in August in front of our immediate families at my parents’ backyard. It was rushed but intimate and perfect in every way. Unfortunately for us, my husband had to leave at 5 a.m. the next day for a 26-day work trip.
My husband works freelance in the film industry, and he’s been traveling a lot for work — yes, even during a pandemic. Before we got married, he was jet-setting worldwide for seven months on Netflix’s Restaurants on the Edge, which took him to Costa Rica, Malta, Hawaii, Hong Kong and many other dreamy destinations. Suffice it to say, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time apart.
This time, it’s different. We are married now, we have a puppy who acts more like a spoiled toddler, and we’re living together for the first time.
The first few months as a married couple should have been pivotal for us to start our life together, adapt to our new roles as husband and wife and learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
But we never got that. I was barely awake when the cab picked him up to go to British Columbia for over three weeks. Looking back, I wasn’t sure how I survived.
The nature of my husband’s work isn’t ideal
— insanely long hours, mainly doing physical work that requires exceptional attention to detail. He does the work of three different people, which doesn’t leave much time for text conversations.
When he’s back in his hotel room, he still has more work to do before he joins the rest of the crew for dinner at a restaurant. Some nights, he skips the meal altogether and heads straight for bed. Even if he is working locally, it still feels like he’s away.
While I’ve been talking about the difficulty of being apart for so long, there are also benefits. While my husband has spent over 60 percent of the first 90 days of our marriage on the road, I’ve learned so much about myself, and I continue to use the time spent alone to be a better wife. While I think our situation is unique, I think the lessons I’ve outlined below will help other couples grow stronger and deepen their trust for each other.
Being apart has taught me these five lessons.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/SUGANTH
Not crave attention
When you’re in a relationship, it’s normal to want to do everything, go everywhere and experience new things with your partner. It’s also normal to want to relax on the couch andbinge-watch on Netflix after a delicious, home-cooked meal.
When my husband travels for work, I’m left to do all these “normal” routines on my own. This was the easiest lesson to learn, but maybe because it was also the toughest.
I’ve come to terms with the reality that I can’t always do these activities with him. Now, I’m happy to wait until he gets back to start a new TV show, and I try new recipes ahead of time to share with him when he’s back.
When he’s home for a short break between episodes and wants to hang out with his friends, I’m reminded that he has a whole life outside of me. Yeah, he’s been away from me, but he’s also been away from his family and close friends. I mustn’t hog him and prevent him from spending time with others.
Grow a support group
I’m a lucky gal when the time difference between us is three hours or less. When my husband was in Hong Kong, he’d be waking up when it’s time for me to go to bed. Our conversations back then were mainly scattered texts of thoughts and events left unread for hours, only to be met with delayed and limited replies.
I learned to reach out to other people for support. Not only did this strengthen my relationships with friends and other family members, but I also wasn’t putting additional stress on my husband.
Now I feel more comfortable asking others for help when I would have solely sought advice from him. I also benefit from the various perspectives and opinions and feel safe to turn to others when I need it.
Sometimes, we have only 10 minutes to chat about our day. I need to be concise and to the point, or else I’ve wasted two minutes blabbing about nothing. This is especially important when I’m having a rough day and want to communicate what’s affecting my mental health and what I’m doing to work on it.
I also have to consider the fact that my husband is absolutely exhausted by the end of the day. Before anything comes out of my mouth, I need to evaluate if he even has the mental capacity to take in this information or if it’s best left for another day.
Enjoy every moment
I believe that how you react to everything in life is a choice. If I were to end a quick five-minute call and be sad, then that’s my choice. I’d probably be bummed for the rest of the day, wishing I had more time.
But when you look at life through a grateful lens, everything brings you joy. It causes me less stress, my heart feels full with less, and I look back at those sweet, small moments with fond memories.
The best part about cherishing the small moments is when he arrives, and we have all the time in the world to spend with each other. Five minutes feels like five hours, and we enjoy every second.
Because we’re more forgiving when we’re apart, we’re even more considerate when we’re together. Every dinner is like a birthday celebration, every movie night is a date at the theater, and every walk with our puppy is a special bonding time as a pack.
Develop side projects and hobbies
I can’t stress enough how crucial this has been for helping me keep my sanity. I’m currently developing a startup that has taken up most of my free time after work because it gives me things to do and learn. I’ve been attending online workshops and group sessions through Y Combinator’s Startup School, and it’s helped keep me on track and stay motivated.
I use my husband’s return dates as deadlines to show him all the cool stuff I’ve been working on. Sometimes, I’m so deep into work that I won’t even notice that it’s 10 p.m. and I haven’t had dinner yet.
When my husband comes home, I’m less productive because I want to spend as much time with him before he leaves again. Something I need to work on is how to manage my time to work on my business while he’s home.
Now don’t get me wrong. Most days are smooth sailing, but when the days are rough, they’re rough.
Ever since I met my husband, my goal has always been to make sure he lives the best life possible. I’m at my best when I’m caring for him by making food for him, making sure our home is tidy, and that all his dreams are supported. Taking care of him is my greatest strength, and it’s what I love to do.
When he’s not around, I feel lost. Who am I supposed to take care of? Myself? While it’s great to have my dog’s company, taking care of our pet just isn’t the same, even though it needs me more than my husband does.
My husband always laughs at me because my favorite time to initiate a deep conversation about life is right before we’re about to go to sleep. I like having in-depth chats at this time because there is nothing to do afterwards but sleep. We’re not going anywhere, and we’re not seeing anybody, just shutting our eyes to the end of the day. We’re also less likely to get worked up because we’re so tired, and it forces us to be very concise with our messaging.
I’ve been quite open with him about my struggles of being alone at home. But the more he’s been away, the more I’ve learned to be secure in myself. I always remind myself that I’m going through a tough time, but so is he, and so are other couples.
I focus on being grateful that he can get work and travel safely during the pandemic, and that I’ve been able to learn many amazing lessons that will only make me a better wife.
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