When Spouses Travel: A Survival Guide for Marriage

by Editor on November 20, 2015

plane“Your husband is gone again!? Wow, he’s gone all the time.”

When a friend told me this I paused, “Really?”

Was he travelling too much? Were we being reckless and affecting our children in negative ways? How much is too much, anyways?

Living overseas comes with a lot of unique lifestyle changes. One of them, for most families, is separation because of travel.

My husband travels to teach, preach, and visit ministry partners. Each family is different. Sometimes, mainly the husband travels. For others, it is the wife. For some, they travel to visit projects in their local province. Others journey across the globe to attend conferences. For some it is the constant need to fund-raise. At times it is for medical help or just to connect with family in your home country.

There are actually a lot of reasons we travel. Almost all of us have this in common… a husband or wife that needs to travel as part of their ministry or family needs.

Some families navigate this in healthy ways. Too often, though, it has had a devastating affect on the family bond. Some adult missionary kids still carry the pain of abandonment they felt with their fathers’ travel schedules.

As I write this I am on day 12 of a 16 day trip for my husband. But who’s counting!? (Me.) My husband does most of the travelling, but I do some as well. This can add up to a lot if we are not extremely careful.

We have seen wonderful and terrible examples of families navigating separation. Because of this we have sought input and have an ongoing dialogue. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.

 

1. Honest Communication

No amount of tips or tricks can replace honest and vulnerable communication. How do you each feel about the separation? I have seen situations where the husband just plans trips and the wife simply gets informed. I once saw a leader announce upcoming travel in a staff meeting. His wife found out about it with all the staff! Yikes!

Before any trip gets planned, husbands and wives need to really sit down and be honest about what each can handle.

We then need to truly listen.

I’m so glad we were told that every trip should be evaluated by both my husband and myself… not just what he thinks is best. Together we are honest if we feel this will work. We then decide together.

 

2. Avoid Obvious Disasters

We made some big planning mistakes in the early days. I remember one trip where my husband was gone for two weeks (the longest we do apart). Because we were new to South Africa, we had no clue about public and school holidays. My husbands trip was over an entire school break… so I was home, alone with the kids for two weeks straight in the dark, wet winter. It wasn’t pretty. We now have a golden rule… no travel over school holidays. Bad things happen to Mom’s sanity!

When looking at a potential separation, we now ask, “Is there any obvious practical reason this is a bad idea?”

 

3. Prefer One Another

Sometimes one spouse is all for a ministry trip (normally the one travelling) and the other is very overwhelmed by it (normally the one staying behind).

I once had a friend tell me, “Oh, my husband never travels, I don’t like it.”

“Does he like it though?” I asked.

She looked at me, “He loves it, it’s the most life-giving thing he does in ministry.”

I walked away respecting that the husband listened to his wife. But I also wondered if the wife could also make some sacrifices to enable her husband to do something he loved so dearly. Even if just very occasionally.

When we communicate how we feel about travel, my husband and I both ask the question, “How can I prefer my spouse?” There is no pat answer to that. Sacrifices are made on both sides.

The children also need to be preferred. Some couples evaluate trips with their children. They let the children have a voice. This was wonderful for the children to pray and be honest about how they are affected by the travel. What an amazing picture if Dad and Mom said “no” to a trip because of feedback from the kids.

 

4. Evaluate the Seasons

Not all travel is equal. I definitely found travel much harder when my children were toddlers. It was very challenging and left me at the end of my rope. We learned some hard lessons in that time. I learned how to ask for help. My husband learned that there might be more trips when the kids are older because his wife doesn’t thrive when left alone with whining toddlers!

Perhaps there are ministry challenges, sickness, depression issues, a challenge with a child, or something else that makes separation more challenging. Often a trip would be fine normally, but because of the “season,” it’s not a good idea.

Seasons are not forever. So, don’t be threatened to let seasons shape your travel plans. We try to keep very flexible with our “rules” knowing that each season will bring a different approach to separation.

 

5. Own the Decision

Once a trip has been planned, we need to own the decision. If we both say “yes” to a trip, we can’t act like a victim of the decision. We can’t pout that “I’m stuck at home while he/she is out getting all the glory.” This is immaturity, and it will hurt our marriages and children.

We have a voice, and now we need to embrace our choice.

I’ll be honest, in our early days I often would punish Chris when he would return, and he would punish me. “Making up for lost time,” we would call it. Upon returning home, the left-behind spouse often expects to be “paid back” for all the extra work they did to keep the home fires burning. We have to be so careful of this. Once the family is reunited, rejoice with the victories and have compassion for the struggles, but don’t silently punish your spouse if you feel “left behind.”

 

What about you? Do you feel you are managing travel well? What advice and lessons have you learned along the way?

headshot-lindsey-150x150Lindsey lives in Cape Town, South Africa as a missionary with Youth With a Mission. She grew up as a pastor’s kid and dreamed of being a missionary as long as she can remember. At the age of 19 she packed her bags and headed to Africa. She’s been living the missions life ever since. Lindsey is married to Chris Lautsbaugh and together they have 2 sons, Garett and Thabo. Her passion is teaching on relationships including marriage, parenting, dating, sexuality, and friendship. In South Africa she works at a University of the Nations campus, training young people to have a passion for Jesus and people. Lindsey writes at thisisloveactually.com and is on Twitter (@mrslautsbaugh).

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  • Karen Calani

    This is great! My husband and I both travel (though, he’s doing more now as I’ve just had baby #2) and planning schedules is so hard. What I struggle with is the last minute trip sprung on my husband by his supervisor (sometimes with as little as 12 hours notice). Or, the last minute trip cancelation and rescheduling…this is almost as irritating since it means adjusting our calendars yet again to fit what my husband’s boss wants him to do. Unfortunately, this happens more often than either of us would like. It’s hard protecting our family and saying, “no” to a last minute trip without looking like we either don’t want to work or aren’t committed to the job/ministry. Sometimes I’d like for him to say no, but it would look bad, so off he goes and we just hope for the best! These are great ideas to keep us both on the same page no matter what our jobs require.

    • Thanks for this comment. I definitely wrote this from the perspective of having a lot of control over the trip decision. I think it is a very good point that sometimes trips are more “mandated” from a boss or other leader. That adds a whole other dynamic in the decision. I would love to see others share how they handle this aspect. One thing I can add is that we do work in an organisation that does value people who travel. It is seen has a higher “status” thing to do. So, those who turn down trips are possibly not as valued, celebrated or looked up to as those who travel the world. I, personally, have been seen as very strange to not jump at every travelling opportunity. I’ve made peace with it, even knowing that some opportunities have closed for me. I pray you and your husband can continue to have a clear strategy and wisdom on how to deal with this.

  • Shelly VanB

    Thank you for this. I stayed home with our small boys and my husband travelled and was away a lot as a youth pastor. Over the past few years, our roles have changed. We now have teenaged boys, I travel a lot with work and he stays home with them. I loved both, but I will admit I think it’s easier now for him than it was for me being home with toddlers….although, cheaper too. I could take them to a couple of parks and playgrounds…he has to be far more fun and engaging. : ) We often take one boy along if we can when we travel as well, which is also great for the family. Our life is much richer, we have more to talk about and we actually really miss each other when we’re apart….and that makes for great homecomings and time together when we are in the same country. It’s all about equal consideration and partnership for us. Thankfully, it works! http://www.thevanbinsbergens.blogspot.com

    • I love that you take a child along with you when the opportunity comes! As our boys get older this is something we want to do more. Thank you for sharing your perspective on how travel has changed through the years and the stages of your family!

  • Kimberly

    My husband travelling is part of our work. It’s a required part of his work. Here are a few of our lessons, 10 years into it:
    –Know Yourself: We noticed early on that separation beyond one weekend (family time) was particularly difficult. I learned I would usually ‘hit a wall’ about Day 8 and again Day 21. He would travel for 2-4 weeks at a time into the bush. So we kept trips to 8 days or less whenever possible (rarely). And keep long 4-wk trips to once/year as a personal limit.
    –Prayer: In our allocation, when one spouse is off poking holes in the darkness, the other one at home usually faces particular challenges and spiritual warfare. Have a team of prayer warriors backing you up during the separation.
    –Plan For Help: Geographically-single parenting is difficult. You’ll need backup. Plan for a live-in single friend, a local colleague’s daughter, a Nanny or relative to visit or stay with you during a long trip.
    –Prep Your Evenings: If you have multiple children, plan to begin dinner and routines a full 30 minutes earlier than you usually would. Everyone is tired and not at their best. Everything will take a bit more time when you are the only caretaker and a late bedtime only makes the next day difficult.
    –Distract Your Weekend: Find fun things to keep you out of the house during typical family times. Have guests over. Host a party. Crash a good friend’s house.
    –Make a Map: For young children it can be confusing for a parent to disappear for an extended period of time. Sometimes we drew a map on a poster on the wall and moved Dad’s picture each day to the bus or plane or city where he was. Cross off the days and keep his picture out, so they see him and say goodnight to him and pray for him, counting the days until he returns.
    –Stay Well: Make sure the whole family understands that they are ACTIVELY PARTICIPATING in the work by staying home well, helpfully, without complaint. That is their part of the work.
    –Keep a Diary: One colleague has both parties keep a daily diary, so both spouses can reconnect well about the whole trip after the fact (particularly necessary where phones are costly and wi-fi non-existent).

    –Expect Transition: We usually have about 3 days upon reunion of re-adjustment. Your routines have changed, there is much to catch up on. Schedule time and expect a few bumpy days.

    Hope that blesses someone else in the trenches! 🙂

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      I also hit a wall on day 8! I do fine for a week, and then I’m always like, “Ok you can come home now.”

      Also — about bed times. I HATE doing bedtimes alone. Hate it. So I will actually put it off as long as possible. I realize that is counter productive!! But it is what I do. Eek! So supper is on the table late. And kids are showered and in bed late. Then I’ll stay up late with movies, and skip my evening exercise routine, and sleep in and skip my morning devotional routine, and I’ll be too sleepy to homeschool well. Basically, a lot falls through when my husband is gone! I’m not saying this is good. I’m just saying this is what happens to me. :/

    • Thanks for sharing your practical tips… I’m sure it will help quite a few!

    • Mary

      Thank you so much. My husband is about to go to Africa for a month. I truly needed to read your comment. Those are wonderful tips and I will be sure to keep them near. This whole article and the comments have been such a blessing.

  • Solo parenting with toddlers. GROAN!! (says the mama of a two and a four year old whose husband has been away five times in the past eight weeks). This was a great article. Thanks.

    • I love toddlers but solo parenting with them is not easy! I groan with you! It does get better!

  • Ellie

    Brilliant article, Lindsey, thanks! And loving the comments too. Was something I somehow felt like I was doing on my own as we don’t have others in the same boat here but good to hear others’ survival strategies! 😉

    • Thanks! I agree, it does help to hear survival strategies from others.

  • Val

    The Lord sent His disciples 2 by 2 for a good reason. As much as possible my husband travels with a brother in Christ or sometimes with one of our children. I’ve had the joy to accompany him on some mission trip, leaving our kids with his parents for 2 weeks. He appreciates prayer support on the ground while he ministers and it also gives unbelievers a clear testimony in countries where tourists are often engaged in immoral practices like prostitution or drugs. To present Christ through our marriage covenant has been a powerful tool in a place where spiritual warfare is raging for the souls of humans.

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