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Gratitude: The Secret to Surviving When Your Spouse is Gone

I knew when I married my husband that his job as a bridge builder required a lot of him. But knowing it and living it are two different things. I would never call myself a single mom. The ways my husband supports our family financially and emotionally are invaluable. When he is home with us on the weekends, he is fiercely present. Our children adore him, and his absence during their waking hours of the week is a normal rhythm in their lives. They see nothing wrong with Daddy being gone so much, because when he’s home, he makes up for the time he misses them in spades. I hear him tell our kids he loves them almost every time they’re in the room together; he will drop anything he’s doing to play football with the boys, change a diaper, or take our daughter on a date. 

Visiting Daddy at one of his bridge projects

However, carrying the physical and mental load of parenting has taken a toll on me over the years in different ways. The first few years I was very bitter. I can remember thinking to myself, “This man has basically manipulated me into moving to the Midwest, impregnated me, and left me at home to take care of these kids all by myself every day with no family nearby to help.” 
He felt it. There was no doubt in his mind I was unhappy with our life, unhappy with his job, and most of all– unhappy with him. 
I hated being bitter. I hated the explosions that would erupt if he emptied the dishwasher incorrectly or couldn’t fall into the schedule I had created when he wasn’t around. I hated feeling furious if he had to run an errand or Heaven forbid, see some friends or have a hobby during his precious hours off. I hated stewing all day over something that had happened, and then wasting the 45 waking minutes we spent together at night ignoring him or punishing him with my unkind words. 
Something had to change. It wasn’t my husband, it wasn’t his job, it was me. 
Although we’ve discussed my husband changing jobs, that option is not on the table now. I know that this is a struggle for many marriages. I do not feel unique or special in my experience. When I talk to other friends, I hear them echo many of these feelings. Doctors spending years in residency, missing holidays and weekends. Farmers spending months of the year away during harvest. Spouses working three jobs around the clock to make ends meet. And of course the ultimate sacrifice of our treasured military families, missing entire years to serve our country overseas. 
These are a few of the things that have rescued me from my own bitterness, and allowed our family to function while I keep my peace of mind (and affection towards my husband.) 


Contentment and Gratitude 

When I was deep in my year-long funk, I really didn’t know how things would change unless Mike quit his job or we got a divorce. Neither option was going to happen. Things started to change because of a book I read called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp that invites its readers on a project in thankfulness. I started a gratitude list, and those positive thoughts began to replace the bitter ones. I started a second list of gratitude. I began writing out the things I was thankful for about my husband. During these months we were barely speaking, he worked six days a week, 14-16 hours a day. I had no friends and didn’t like being a stay-at-home mom. Everything changed when I did this experiment even though my circumstances didn’t.

The kids and I in Chicago

Babysitters and Friends

Finding baby-sitters has been my lifeline. They come when I have parent-teacher conferences to attend, when I am too tired to take all four kids with to a dance class, or when I am about to lose my mind and need alone time.

I also rely a lot on my friends and neighbors. I’ve called a neighbor to pick up medicine for us when we were sick and too ill to go out. When my son fell and needed stitches, I called a friend to come stay with the other kids so I could run to the hospital. During my pregnancy with our third child, I made a dear friend whose husband also traveled during the week. We would just meet for an hour and half to share our struggles and feed our kids dinner together using whatever we had left in our fridges that day. It was such a sweet time for us both. 

Protecting Time Together 

When Mike is off, I know better than to have signed us up to attend an event he feels obligated to go to or to host people at our house. We don’t sign our kids up for sports or activities that require much weekend commitment because those times are precious. We make sure to set aside time to travel and create memories as a family.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

For the most part, I strive to tell my husband when I’m discouraged or having a hard time. I’ve learned that I can’t assume he knows I’m upset or overwhelmed; I have to tell him even if it seems like I’m doing so for the thousandth time– that week! I’ve also found it is important to speak highly of his job in front of our children, explaining why daddy is away and what a blessing he is to our family. 

Don’t Compare

It might be hard to listen when your girlfriend complains that her husband didn’t get home until 4:30 the other evening, or to hear about how your sister went to stay at your parents’ because her husband left town for two nights. But honestly I have found over the years the more I talk to my friends, the more I’ve learned that each marriage has its own battles to fight. You really don’t know what goes on in other people’s homes, and it is best to focus on your own life instead of having your head on a swivel, making assumptions about everyone else. It is also important to be careful who you listen to when discussing your spouse’s career. I once had a friend who constantly told me our situation wasn’t healthy for our family and would be detrimental to our children. However, I learned to own that these are our unique circumstances and have found strength in the independence I have as a wife and mother. Our situation isn’t for everybody, but it works for us. 

Accentuate the Positives

The best part about having a spouse that travels a lot is feeling freedom to get take-out for dinner or just serve up a big ole bowl of popcorn and not feel bad about it! We do little things to make our evenings fun, and now that I’m used to nobody swooping in to save me at 6 pm, we have a great routine down. Because Mike started working out of town when our daughter was six months old, I learned early on that setting an early bedtime for my kids gives me much needed time alone at night. I have also learned to try new hobbies like painting when the kids are in bed, starting my own business, and of course binge watching shows he would hate– I really feel like the people in Stars Hollow on Gilmore Girls are some of my best friends.

If your spouse works a lot and you don’t have resources to encourage you, reach out to some mom friends or connect with people soon. It really does take a village to raise a family, and thankfully, there are a lot of wonderful people looking for friendship in the Omaha area. 

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One Response to Gratitude: The Secret to Surviving When Your Spouse is Gone

  1. Angela/MomInPearls February 26, 2018 at 10:56 am #

    Wife of a bridge inspector with 4 boys (7,5,2,2)- you wrote my story! Much truth and inspiration in your article. Thank you for sharing!

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