It’s been a long twelve months. Last weekend, my husband finally came home after a year apart, having earned a master’s degree in a different state.
When we first considered this separation, it seemed quite logical on paper: Going away by himself would allow him to study more without the distraction of little kids running around. We would actually save money this way (housing costs, etc). We wouldn’t disrupt the routine of our four-year-old by making her start preschool in another state. More fundamentally, we assumed that because we’d been together twelve years, married for eight, our relationship was strong enough to withstand a long time apart.
For the first couple of months, this maxim held. We were each striving to uphold our end of the bargain: my husband, the dedicated and focused grad student and myself, the captain of the ship at home.
But it didn’t take long for cracks to show.
Being a solo parent of two very young children was more difficult than I expected, with all the loneliness and drudgery the role can sometimes involve. I felt isolated, overburdened, and servile. I rarely had time for my own paying work. I began to feel marginalized, like my efforts on the home front were not adequately respected while my spouse appeared to be having the time of his life in another place, enjoying time with other people.
Four months went by and our communication began to suffer. Talking on the phone became a chore. I couldn’t muster enthusiasm relaying the minutiae of my day – clearing breakfast dishes, running baths, locating errant shoes and socks – while his days appeared to be full of excitement, learning, and adventure. They weren’t, of course — his days involved plenty of tedium too, but it became all too easy for me to imagine his success and happiness came at the expense of my own.
It’s a terrible thing when resentment creeps into a marriage, infecting every aspect of the relationship. Even saying “hello” to the other person becomes fraught.
By month eight, I could feel myself pulling away, adopting more of a go-it-alone, legitimately single-parent stance. I kept more things from him as he kept more things from me, each not wanting to upset the razor-thin edge we clung to. “It’ll be better when he comes home,” I told myself. “We can have real discussions then.”
We held fast to that idea, bolstered by the fact that our marriage legitimately is strong. We are able to laugh, share, listen, and compromise. It’s the phone and texts and emails that seems to mess everything up. Technology, ironically, makes it too easy to detach.
By month twelve, I began to ready myself for his return. I wondered if the year apart had caused him to change. I wondered if a year of discord with me had changed us. Could we be what we once were again?
In the days leading up to his return, I tried to focus on just being. I tried so hard to resist the temptation to react to all the little ripples that inevitably creep up after so long apart — insensitive things we might do or say, little hurts we unwittingly inflict upon each other. I wanted to allow all of that to roll over me, through me, and change me, change us into something better and stronger and more prepared if something like this ever happens to us again.
I am ready for the disruption a long absent spouse brings home. I want to explode all the schedules and routines and protocols I had implemented. I’m dying for the extra set of hands; someone to clean up the dinner dishes while I give the baths, someone to watch the kids while I go write. It feels like a vacation.
It will take time before we’re on super strong footing again – we have a year’s worth of separation fatigue to wade through, but we’ll get there. I’m sure of it.
That’s what marriage is, right? Getting through it.More On