My husband is in Afghanistan. When I mention something like that to perfect strangers like you, they jump to military connections. No, he’s not in the military. He does work for an NGO (non-governmental organization) in Kabul. Sometimes people hear “Cabo,” when I say “Kabul.” I just let them think I let my husband go to Cabo without me and that I believe it is a work trip.
I miss my husband sometimes when he’s gone. But I don’t spend my days and nights pining away for him. Most people don’t understand that. The usual question from people is, how do I survive when my husband is gone so much?
I think people presume that instead of a marriage we have a sort of biological symbiosis—like I’m some sort of slight, white bird riding atop the haunch of a massive rhinoceros. (Notice the way I turned that metaphor to favor me as thin, and him as strong.) Well, that’s not our relationship. Maybe people are just being dramatic. I mean, after all, a person’s survival is never dependent on another person’s presence—ask an army wife, or the woman who’s married to a sailor, or a man who works on an oil rig. These are marriages, too, and the rhinoceros, as in the strong one, is often not the explorer, traveler, soldier or wanderer, but the partner who remains at home. (Did I just compare myself to a rhinoceros?)
Anyway, the point is that neither of us is a rhino or a bird. Neither of us is the stronger one who provides the framework to support the other. We are each strong in differing ways and we support each other. Marriage is less like two animals and more like a raft of logs that you both lash together with braided vines. We’re sailing out to sea together hoping the raft withstands the ocean break and then the open water. The vines keep deteriorating and we manage to retie them and keep up the maintenance so that we’re sailing together for a few more minutes.
That makes marriage sound very difficult. I suppose some couples would tell you that’s just how marriage is. Though I suspect that while they’re at the front of their raft fixing the vines, their partner is at the back untying them. Some husbands or wives do this without even realizing they are in fact the saboteurs. For example, I do that when I don’t realize how hurtful my criticisms are. Or the hubs does that when he buys me socks for Christmas. Sometimes it’s me. Sometimes it’s him. In the worst times its other people or other forces at work in our lives that make it more difficult to be with each other, to trust one another, or whatever. So I suppose that could be Afghanistan.
However, as strange as it may sound, my husband’s travel schedule has never been the thing that pulls at the vines of our raft. We’re going on 25 years now and honestly, him being away because of his work (which has only been the last dozen years really) is not usually the thing that strains our relationship. However, leading separate lives is on the list of what breaks relationships apart. But I think that leading separate lives has less to do with geography, and more to do with independence.
In our marriage we have normalized one of us being halfway across the world a lot. However, and this is a big however, we are together in most every other way two people in a marriage could possibly be together.
· We have the same bank accounts.
· We support each other in parenting (as in, we don’t correct or command each other in front of the kids, and if we disagree, we have private, side conversations so we can get on the same page with a lot of respect).
· We share calendars and schedules so we each know what the other one is doing most of the time.
· We sit and talk. (I talk a lot when my husband comes home—usually on the way back from the airport when he needs to be caught up on family stuff and he is too jetlagged to keep up his end of the conversation.)
· We also plan days together and look forward to dates and weekends together and trips. Sometimes these plans are the only thing keeping us going.
· Most importantly, we spend time together. We do chores, go to the movies (I watch his movies—he watches mine.), eat dinner together, whatever.
Lately, we started running together. I’m trying to get in better shape for my daughter’s wedding and my husband says he just likes doing something together. He’s right. It’s been really great doing that together. Interestingly, it was much more difficult to run alone while he was traveling—MUCH more difficult. But he promised he would try to keep up with our plan so we would still be in sync when he got back and could continue running together without one of us collapsing out of breath or something. So that’s the thought that keeps me going on the trail around the lake the days he is gone. I don’t want to get out of sync. I hope that keeps him going, too; the thought of me keeping going.
That’s the kind of thing that keeps you together even if you are physically apart. You’re doing the same thing, thinking the same things, even apart. Being together in your head is the point. We have all known plenty of couples who physically co-existed, but who were never in each other’s thoughts. Being in someone’s head and heart is an important part of marriage. Being together geographically and physically is also important, of course, but keeping someone close can happen from thousands of miles away.
Rebecca works in Kids Ministry at Flatirons is married and has three children of her own. Figuring out ways for all these kids to understand the love of Jesus consumes the bulk of her time. The rest is spent reading, writing, gardening and cooking.