The saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a total load of crap, and anyone who is away from their husband or wife for long enough knows that. Many relationships suffer when one person has to travel for work. A spouse may be in such varied positions as the military, in finance, a traveling salesperson, an author on a book tour, or even a rock star, and, chances are, the relationship struggles when he or she is away. It’s easy to lose some degree of connection with your partner when you are on the road.
When I was a television producer in reality programming, it included crazy long hours and loads of travel. People working such brutal hours in a vacuum with a team of other people forge a closeness that helps them get through the turmoil of the season. It’s not unusual for staff to have a sort of Stockholm Syndrome loyalty to their executives, make lifetime friends with their co-workers, and yes, even develop romances with members of the team. This is so common in theater, television, and film industries that there is even a term for it: “Showmance.”
These relationships happen when the close contact and insane work hours cause a blurring of emotions and create very real relationships during the timing of the project. The most famous “showmance” to date was when Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt filmed Mr. & Mrs. Smith in 2005. It’s not easy to prioritize your relationship with your spouse when you find yourself entwined in a sex scene with a goddess.
Usually, “showmances” only endure through the production calendar, but this one was unusual in that it lasted past the premiere parties and continues through the birth and adoption of practically a small village of children. (Okay, they are probably soulmates, but it did start as a showmance.)
I don’t think you have to be in film or television to be surrounded by the lure of a work romance. I know of husbands who have spent years on the road working in sales, and wives in finance who rack up more frequent flier miles in a month than some people do in a lifetime. Even spouses who have opposite work schedules can find that they have to work that much harder to stay connected with their partner. Many people lament having to travel so much for work and find ways to stay home when they can, but others love being a road warrior and are happy to have a partner who supports their independence.
I’m definitely not suggesting that travel is a detriment to a relationship. I have a friend who traveled into a war zone in the Conga for nine weeks, for the sake of a documentary she was working on. Her passion for human rights projects is a spark that illuminates those around her, and one that her husband adores.
Traveling for work is often a necessity and can bring so much to the table. Many people have aspirations of far flung travel, eating exotic food, and discovering new cultures, and are lucky enough to have found careers that let them do just that. Once they’re married, it would be insane to have to give that up. But, even when you know it’s right, it can often feel so wrong.
For the record, I never engaged in a television “showmance,” but the nights away were definitely hard on my relationship. Through my (and my co-workers) trials and tribulations, here’s a few ways to connect to your partner on a work trip and ensure that the itinerary doesn’t end with a “Team Aniston” T-shirt.
1. Tech Talk. You and your spouse are probably addicted to screen time anyways, so make that work for you. Many experts suggest making sure to Skype every night with each other. That’s great in theory, but when you are traveling for work, your hours are often long and with time differences, one partner would be expected to rouse out of a deep sleep to say hello.
I think brief g-chats and texts throughout the day show your partner that you are thinking of them. A jokey IM thread about what’s happening in your world alleviates the pressure to have to download your whole day at one time. And then when you do a get a chance to FaceTime, you won’t feel like this is the first time you’re connecting to your partner since you boarded the plane.
2. Think Details, Not Broad Strokes. It’s tempting to just outline the general picture of your week. But it is actually better for you to fill in the blanks a little more, and let your spouse get a visual picture of your day-to-day life. Instead of listing off the activities you did (boarded flight, taxi to hotel, and now jet lag) try updating your partner with anecdotes. “The flight was an hour late and I wept throughout the entire ride while watching The Fault In Our Stars, while the guy next to me thought I was having a stress-induced breakdown.” Regale your partner with stories of your bosses embarrassing themselves, your co-worker’s bizarre outbursts and the miraculous sights you’ve seen.
Often people want to clam up, so as to not make their partners feel like they are having fun without them, but sharing your experiences can make your S.O. feel more connected to your world.
3. Listen Up. On the flip side, if you are the one traveling, make sure you also shut the hell up at some point and put your listening ears on. Although you may have a lot of excitement in your travels that you want to share, don’t forget that life hasn’t stood still for your spouse at home.
Make sure you give ample time for your partner to share the details of their life too, even if that means strategizing a new way to load the dishwasher or finding a binge-worthy show on Amazon Prime. If it’s important to them, it should be important enough for you to listen.
4. Everyone Likes Presents. Nothing says you’re thinking of them like a thoughtful gift. This doesn’t have to be an expensive string of Mikimoto pearls. In fact, it shouldn’t be. A cool postcard -- or a handmade trinket from a market vendor that made you remember your boo at home -- is much better. You’re not trying to bribe their affections, but the gesture lets them know that even though you were miles and miles away, they were still on your mind.
Also, trying to outdo yourselves with creative gifts can be a fun game to play while you are galavanting around to different countries. My husband and I built up quite a mug collection by purchasing coffee cups for each other whenever we went away. (Our cupboard doors don’t close anymore, so I wouldn’t recommend this exactly, but you catch my drift.)
5. Many Happy Returns! When either of you arrive home, you may still be on the work clock. Maybe you’re still jet-lagged or stressed out, and you just have other trip-related things on your mind, like stapling receipts for reimbursements, doing laundry for the first time in a month, or just curling up in your own bed to sleep.
But when you arrive home, it’s really important that both halves of the relationship make time for a warm welcome and some QT to catch up, before jumping right back into your routines. A quick dinner, a glass of wine on the couch, or a warm hug can go a long way in helping reconnect and recharge your relationship after a trip.