The first time my husband was ever away overnight, I was a basket case. I thought I heard something in the leaves outside and frantically called my landlord, who patiently came over and checked the outside of the house for me. If I had to leave home while my husband was away, when I came back I wouldn’t feel comfortable until I checked every room and even every closet to make sure no one was lurking there.
Over the last thirty years, I have had to get used to him being away from home much more than either of us likes. Thankfully that’s not been as much of a problem since our last move.
Other ladies have sometimes commented to me that they could never handle having a husband travel as much as mine did. Believe me, I didn’t like it! And at the beginning of my married life, I would have despaired if I had known just how much my husband would be away. It is only the grace of God that has enabled me. I would like to share some things He has taught me along the way.
I used to pray that my husband would not have to travel as much. More correctly, I used to whimper and wail and and whine and tell the Lord it wasn’t meant to be this way, that husbands and wives were meant to be together. It seemed like the more I prayed, the more my husband ended up having to travel!
Of course, it isn’t wrong to pray that the Lord would change a difficult situation; but until He sees fit to do so, there has to be acceptance of the situation as allowed by Him. If He allows it, He will give grace for it. We may not like the situation, but focusing on that dislike can cause us to be stuck in discontent, resentment, even despondency.
Women marry for love, of course, but I believe the next biggest reason is companionship. Girls dream of finally being able to “be with” the man of their dreams “happily ever after.” It is a difficult adjustment to realize that the job, the children, and multitudes of tasks and commitments leave very little time to just “be with” each other. This is further compounded when a husband’s job requires him to travel.
While husbands and wives do need to be sure they make time for each other, most wives also have to realize at some point that their primary emotional and companionship needs are not to be fulfilled by their husbands. God has to have first place in those areas. No human being will ever be able to meet all of those needs all of the time. God does graciously give us husbands and friends, but our main fellowship and contentment must be from Him.
Once settled on that point, it is necessary for couples to keep in touch. I am thankful that my husband has been able to call me almost every night he has been away: in fact, sometimes we actually talk more when he is away than when he is home! For situations that don’t allow that, though, perhaps e-mailing or frequent notes would help.
A husband’s absence is a good time to focus on others, perhaps visiting an elderly neighbor or calling a girlfriend. Keeping busy, taking up a special project, or having specific goals of things you want to accomplish while he’s away can help pass the time.
One of the biggest things I have wrestled with when my husband was away was fear, though I don’t check closets when I come home any more (after 30 years of marriage and three children, there is no room in any closet for anyone to lurk anyway!) And once after checking locks and closets before going to bed one night, I woke up the next morning to find I had left my keys in the doorknob! All my efforts amounted to nothing, but God protected me anyway.
Originally the fears had to do with someone breaking in, but then I developed a couple of health problems which have required five emergency room visits between them; so new fears developed about the possibility of something happening to me when my husband was away. The Lord has dealt with me and helped me from His Word many, many times in regard to fear. Though He uses husbands to protect us, ultimately our protection is from Him. One moment that crystallized that truth for me occurred when I was lying in bed and realized that even if my husband was right next to me, I could fall ill or even die, and he would not be able to do anything about it. Now, that may not sound like much comfort! But it helped me realize as never before that my health and safety are of the Lord, not my husband.
Incidentally, God did allow one of those emergency room visits when my husband was away. When I needed to go, I was able to call a friend who was nearby, who also graciously stayed with me til the early hours of the morning when I was released. My oldest son was old enough at the time to watch the other two; my youngest was already asleep, so he was spared being frightened by the situation. My friend’s husband offered to come and stay with the children. Another friend called while I was at the hospital, and, upon learning of the situation, offered to come over or to come and take the kids to school the next day. God took care of every detail.
I think perhaps a mother with young children at home has the hardest time with a husband’s absence. She looks to him not only for a little relief in giving the children care and attention, but also for adult conversation. When he is away, perhaps trading off babysitting time with another friend would help, or little excursions like going to the park or even for a walk with another friend.
A mother also needs to keep things consistent even when Dad is away. Standards and punishments should be the same: nothing should “slide” when Dad isn’t there. “Wait until your father gets home” doesn’t work when Dad won’t be home for three days and Junior is young enough to need immediate dealing with to reinforce the principles you want him to learn. I am about the most indecisive person I know, and so many situations come when my husband isn’t there that I have really wrestled with knowing what to do. When I can, I wait until I can talk with my husband; but God does promise wisdom when we ask Him for it, and He has given it many times.
It can be easy for Mom to spend even less time with the children when Dad is away, either because there is just more to do with one less person in the house to do it, or because she is keeping extra-busy to keep her mind off his absence. Depending on the children’s ages, perhaps Mom can do some fun things with them to help them with their loneliness while Dad is away: play games, read together more, rent a special video. In our case, there is a nearby pizza restaurant that my husband doesn’t care for but my children love, so sometimes we’ll stop there for a meal when Dad’s gone. This relieves another problem: it used to be that, when my husband was gone for several days, I would be ready to get out of the house and go out somewhere when he came back. He, on the other hand, having been away and eating out for days, was ready to stay home and have a home-cooked meal. So now I try to take the children out if Dad is away for an extended time so we get that out of our system before he comes home. There are also some very simple meals that my children love that my husband isn’t crazy about that we have when he is gone.
Every individual has his or her quirks that make for adjustments in marriage. When one spouse is away, sometimes those adjustments have to be made to some degree all over again when he returns.
We have to be careful not to let resentment build up against our loved one. We need to guard against stray thoughts that can lead to a root of bitterness: “He could have gotten out of that trip if he tried.” We may feel that is actually true. Or, “Why doesn’t he find a different job where he doesn’t have to travel so much?” We have to help our children with disappointments when Dad can’t be there for the big game or the recital. Life doesn’t always work out like the family movies where Dad leaves his company in the lurch to get home at a crucial time. We may wish it did. We, or the children, may not understand why Dad could not be there for the special occasion. It is hard, but we have to accept it and not resent it or him. Beyond just trying to “grin and bear it,” perhaps we can think of fun ways to include Dad in special occasions he has to miss: a video recording of the event (possibly even styled as a news report), or an e-mail write-up including a picture.
Though naturally we will be lonely and maybe even tearful when a spouse is away, we have to be careful not to just give ourselves over to grief and pine away the whole time he is gone. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when we realize we’re not to be so emotionally dependent on our husbands, we can tend to pull back a little too far and become almost aloof in an effort to insulate ourselves from loneliness, or we can get so busy that we’re hardly aware he is gone — and then hardly have time for him when he is home. Our Lord can help us find the right balance.
A friend once told me it was easy for her to get a little too independent when her husband was away for a long time. Though we have to make decisions and direct the family when he is away, we need to remember we are still in submission to him and try to make decisions in light of what we think he would want us to do — and not resent a possible reversal of that decision when he comes home. Once when my husband arrived back at home, one of my sons was due to attend an event soon. My son was displaying a bad attitude, and my husband told him he would not be able to attend that event if he didn’t change his attitude. Immediately I began to think, “That’s not fair! You haven’t been here; you don’t know the circumstances; you don’t know how he has been looking forward to that event!” But I had to rebuke myself, because my son was sinning with his attitude, and even though I would have handled the situation differently, my husband was still in charge. Happily, my son changed his attitude and was able to attend his event, and happily, the Lord set a watch before my lips and prevented me from creating an even bigger problem!
Pray for him
Once when my husband was out of town with a colleague, they stopped to eat dinner. Some time during their conversation, the other man noticed two girls and said, “There are two chicks just ripe for the picking.” My husband explained that he wasn’t interested in pursuing women. That incident jolted me to the realization that I needed to pray for his protection from temptation.
Pray also for his witness. People in secular jobs have an opening with folks who would be unlikely to darken the door of a church, and long hours of travel with a colleague can naturally open the door to talk about the Lord.
Of course, it is natural to pray for his safety, but we can also pray for his health (our family has learned from experience that falling sick while traveling is a trial!), for his business, meetings, etc. to go well.
Some years ago my pastor preached through a section of the Psalms that men sang on their way to Jerusalem. There were a few times a year men were called to go to Jerusalem, leaving their families behind, and those particular psalms were sung by the men on the way. My pastor pointed out the faith it took to go away, trusting God to take care of the loved ones back home. My thoughts, as the “loved one at home,” considered the situation from that angle, trusting the Lord to take care of us at home as well as the loved one on the road. That sermon also helped me realize that, in the providence pf God, He sometimes does call a husband to be away: it isn’t just circumstances or the job. That helped me immensely to trust that He had all things under His control, and to trust that Him for the sufficient grace He promises in His Word for all things: “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work,” (II Cor. 9:8) and “He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (II Cor. 12:9.10)