When He Travels

Posted on: March 14, 2012 Written by
When He Travels
      Photography by: Robert Kneschke from iStock    

On the WOTH blog, In Real Life with Jamie Jo, readers pose questions to Jamie Jo hoping she will draw on her 26 years of missionary experience and offer profound and life-changing wisdom to aid in living cross-culturally. We think she nailed it on this one.

Q: “How do you deal with absences and returns of your husband if he frequently travels? It seems that as a family we have one routine and system while he is gone, and then we have to adjust when he returns. It is like going from a two-parent family to a one-parent one and back again. What ways have you found to handle those transitions?”

For those who have no idea what she is talking about, let me conjure up [ahem] a hypothetical situation. When dh* is away the wife can more fully devote herself to the Lord and the dc*. Her panache is restored without a partner by her side to witness and/or point out her failings. Her new confidence may or may not be warranted, but she enjoys serving only a perfect Master, one who wipes the slate clean day by day. As bad as this sounds, and as much as she hates to admit it, dh’s travels provide a break from any and all marital strife.

She begins to make daily decisions usually left up to dh. She groans under the weight of responsibility, but she grows closer to the Lord through this occasional suffering. Meanwhile, she carries the mantle of spiritual direction for and discipline of the kids, growing in her ability and confidence to run the home on her own. For a while, she likes it, if she would be honest enough to admit it.

At the same time, she does miss the daily adult companionship dh normally provides, but somehow she finds alternate ways to fill that need. She sometimes chooses to be hospitable and to minister to others, but usually she turns to Facebook and online forums to fill the need, then often feels guilty for it afterward. Still other times she becomes a happy recluse, reveling in her newfound solitude in the evenings after dc are in bed.

If not extremely careful, she can become downright narcissistic while dh is gone, seeking every selfish pleasure—like online bargain-hunting, bubble baths, pedicures, journaling, or reading a good novel. She rationalizes by saying she needs to refuel her emotional tank, but deep down she suspects she is going overboard (not that she cares).

On her good days, she spends her evenings in prayer and meditation, a luxury that pays off in the end, unless she becomes resentful of her dh when he returns and spoils her new habit of solitude.

Meanwhile the dc are enjoying more quality and quantity time with Mom, rediscovering the blessing of having only one parent fussing at them, only one parent needing to grant them permission (or should I say, only one parent who will give in to crazy requests?). The dc enjoy the simpler meals and the flexible mom who is suddenly free to read them a story, play a game with them, etc.

Then, in comes dh at the end of his trip, weary and possibly queasy, feeling very needy for dw’s* attention, which the dc are not ready to share. Depending on the length of the trip, during his time away dh misses his dw and dc until the very memory becomes distorted. What he longs for is not the family-as-they-are, but an ideal dream-family-of-his-own-making, a family-without-faults.

By the time he returns, dw has grown tired of the added responsibilities of answering emails, phone calls, and drop-in visitors, in addition to caring for the house and kids. By now the dc are taking advantage of her good nature until she is sick of the whole thing. She longs for dh’s return—not the return of the real flesh-and-blood dh, mind you, but the ideal dream man without faults.

If this were a piece of fiction, we would say dh’s return is the climax of the story, involving a tremendous clash in which expectations are dashed all over the place in an ungodly all-around reality check.

The children, who are no longer quite so dear, miss the subtle hint that they must stop badgering Mom, who is relinquishing her status as the family pushover. Meanwhile, Dad wants them to consult him before going out, meals begin to include yucky things like salad and vegetables again, and everyone is out of sorts as a result of the inevitable discord between the “now-two” parents; chaos reigns until the former norm is restored.

Have I come close to pegging the situation?

I may or may not be speaking from personal experience, [ahem] but I will share a few tips I have learned along the way.

1. First, keep routines the same whether Dad is home or not. No “Yee-haw, let’s be slobs and not clean house until the last day,” and no eating ice cream and calling it dinner!

2. Spend the time dh is away listing all the reasons you appreciate him, empathizing with him for carrying so much of the weight of responsibility for things financial, mechanical, electrical, spiritual, and otherwise.

3. Discuss dh’s plight with the dc and plan for his return by possibly play-acting the role of the ideal dw and dc he misses, at least for the first day or so. Delay the reality check as long as possible, or make sure it happens gradually.

4. Practice honoring Dad while he is gone.

5. Do NOT dump a list of grievances on poor dh the minute he walks in the door, no matter how many appliances broke down while he was gone.

6. Take care of as many disasters as you can before he gets back, especially things like changing the propane gas tank and relighting the water heater so he can get cleaned up before discovering any major problems.

Oh, and most importantly, pray. Pray before, during, and after dh returns.


*Jamie Jo-speak: dh-dear husband; dc-dear children; dw-dear wife


©2012 Thrive.

Questions to Consider: Can you relate? What do you have for dinner when your dh is away?

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  • I do believe you hit the one on the head! I was just scared to be this honest… Ha!

  • Jessica

    I can’t believe how accurately you hit this one on the head! My husband is a Missions Pastor who travels every other month or more visiting all the Mission locations. We’re in constant flux, although having done this for 10 years now, we do have a pretty good routine. I feel that I’m constantly shifting between before/during/after a trip, and how well the trip goes, depends on how good of an emotional state I am in!
    I really agreed with the part about it being a bit of a break for the dw. Usually when my husband is gone, things slow down, ministry becomes quieter and I can breathe! I enjoy the extra time with the children, and greater flexibility. Although we don’t eat ice cream for dinner, we do eat simpler. There are trips when it can be very busy, and I’m updating people, sending our prayer reports, manning situations on my husband’s behalf, etc. on top of taking care of the home, kids and medical needs of our family.
    We do talk about my husband while he is gone and pray for him, and the Team, and sometimes we have our own Missions projects we’re working on while he’s gone, such as hosting Missionaries in our home, etc. I also have learned the hard way not to dump my challenges on my poor hubby when he first walks in the door, or even via email when he’s on the field. He just can’t process it all while being there. Great tips, Jamie!
    I’m just so happy to have read something that I so identify with…it’s hard to explain to people the shifting we go through with our crazy but fulfilling Mission life! Thanks Jamie Jo! 🙂

  • jan feliciano

    I am an american married to a Mexican Tezltal Pastor in Chiapas . We have been here for 28 years ,You have put in words how I felt when DH would leave for his tour of duty as I called it. My children are now married and when DH leaves I am torn I have things I love to do here and ministry work too but I could go with him now. He was just installed in a church 4 hours away . I am praying about what part I can have with him in these next 5 years.

    Thank you for sharing

  • Jane

    Yes, how much we change our pace, less serving and more personal time. I find it an adjustment each time dh returns as we have developed some independence as he goes over seas and often I can not join him. We do want to travel together but funds keep us from this.
    Thanks for the perspective to keep honoring dh and keeping focused on gifts and talents and positive attributes, and not looking at our humanness and short comings.

  • thx for reminding me of these realities in our missionary living. We have serve in Brazil since 1978

    I always enjoy having the roomier bed, the less-interruptions, and quiet times!

    One of the hardest things for me was when he returned and took back leadership without asking what had hap’d while he was gone. The children were greatly confused by this. Our children are grown and leading their own lives. One is in heaven. I am glad we made it through many difficulties. It was well worth ev’ry effort!!!

  • umm….Jamie Jo,

    have you been peeking in my window?!? it’s either that, or maybe i’m truly not alone after all in how i deal with my dh’s trips away from home…

    thanks for being real.
    by grace,

  • Susan

    Wow! This is the first time I’ve read someone honestly admitting all the feelings I too fluctuate through as my husband increasingly travels. I hadn’t even let myself internalize enough about it to realize all the feelings that popped up, and how I choose to deal with them. Thanks for sharing your heart honestly. I needed to read this today. Sometimes my husband is gone for about the same amount of time he is home; other times he gets to spend longer at home. At this point we have teenage daughters at home who love to have company over. My husband’s schedule fluctuates often and can change daily at times. We don’t know what to plan or expect. We’re all adaptable, have to be for this life, but I’ve noticed increasing tensions when dh is home about having folks over, or including them in our plans. He’s always been far more outgoing than I and the first to invite people to join us. Now he is too often frustrated with the girls desire to have friends over, wanting peace and quiet at home or just theirs and my attention and companionship, rather than a ‘crowd’ or ‘mob’ as he terms it. 🙂 We are trying to learn to be more sensitive to this. And to make all the good memories of times together we can as our girls won’t be around much longer. I just hadn’t expected the change in increased travel to make such a huge difference in my dh’s desire for quiet and family versus having more guests over or included in our plans. From my perspective, one of my biggest ministries here is to open my home and heart to many folks, especially young people serving alone. But now I try to plan that more for times when dh is traveling. New motto; Live, learn, adjust and PRAY, pray, pray that we can all minister at just the right times and in the way God would have us, placing our Father’s will first and than our family’s needs before trying to reach out to more. Thanks again

  • Jamie definitely said it like it is. I mean it’s almost crazy how that could’ve been ME writing that! Thank you, though, for the reminder of what we should be doing…even though the “shouldn’ts” are also true.

  • Reinhild

    What an encouragement to read that I am not alone and that other missionary wives and mothers experience the very same things!!! Thank you so much, Jamie. And the way you wrote was absolutely fantastic!

  • jan

    the tables were turned recently in our home and my dh held the fort. my return was not as glorious as I had hoped. I had forgotten how pride can get in. Thank you for sharing and reminding me of how we are in this adventure together, even when work calls us away frequently.

  • shelley

    Love your article, J.J.! The tips are great….Tip #2 really touched…convicted…and challenged my heart. I need to do this more, even though my dh doesn’t travel very much! Thanks, friend.

  • TJ

    Thanks for your honesty. Over the years when my dh was away so much, I often asked the Lord if this really was what a marriage was supposed to be like. Where is the balance between ministry and family? I wanted to block dh out, but we wouldn’t have had a marriage at all if I did that. But a very big wall did grow between us, and it’s taken years to pull it down brick by brick. Keeping our hearts right before the Lord is vital. Honoring our dh by respecting him is also vital. We need to somehow stay connected with our dh on more than a superficial level and that is a challenge. We as women want a deeper relationship whereas dh is finding his fulfillment in all that he is doing. If you are in the menopause stage of life as well where hormones are all over the place – just as they are when you are pregnant and have toddlers – you are feeling that you should be coping better than this. We can really beat ourselves over the head. We need to give ourselves a treat sometimes. And not despise our shortcomings, but keep talking to the Lord. He is always there and willing to carry us when we need to be carried, loves us unconditionally, and will heal our broken heart. One of the books that has been really helpful for us is “Daily Marriage Builders for Couples” by Fred & FLorence Littauer. This has helped us talk and listen to each other when we didn’t know where to start. This book helped tear down the walls between us. And now that we are understanding each other, life is so much better. We either enable or block our dh’s ministry by our attitudes. But we need to be surrendered to the Lord and allowing Him to fill our cup to overflowing. Then we can give to our dh.
    Sorry this got so long. Hope it helps someone.

  • Ann

    You are spot on! My husband began traveling at length when our 4th was a newborn, 4 yrs ago. Oh the learning curve… Oh the bliss when kid#1 became old enough to babysit during nap time. Last week, youngest requested waffles for supper. I didn’t want to until I remembered the $1 box of frozen waffles in the deep freeze. Never thought empty carbs could make us so happy.