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How to Tour and Stay Married

Chris Lose • January 2020LD at Large • January 12, 2020

Illustration by Andy Au

Traveling for work is hard. Being the partner left behind is even harder. It’s not a competition of who has more crap to shovel, but it is a concept that warrants more open discussion. It has been said that absence makes the heart grow fonder but long repeated periods of separation can lead to tension — at best, and at worst — jealousy or mistrust. When this troublesome situation is brought to light, it can be explored with honesty and tenderness. When it is ignored on the back burner, it can fester and boil over.

Like you, I travel for work. This means that I have to fly to wherever the work takes me. This makes for long periods of time that my beautiful wife is left at home with our seven-year-old twins, JJ the double doodle, seven loads of laundry, swim meets, dance classes and meal cooking on top of her freelance responsibilities. Resentment can creep in when she is buried to her eyeballs while I am sitting in a hotel bed leisurely writing articles about my adventures. My days off can easily be mistaken as vacation dates. My Facebook posts rarely highlight the boring hours spent perusing the calorie contents of the processed food aisles of the never-changing truck stops. Whichever side of the arrival airport you are on, I hope this article will give you a glimpse into the roadie relationship that my wife and I have worked hard for, cultivated and managed (at times with the help of a professional) for the past eleven years. If nothing else, we hope you read this article and realize that you are not alone.

‡‡         Exit Friction

Sharon and I couldn’t name it for the first five years of our relationship. I would pack my bag the day before my flight. She would notice my packed bag on the bed and, unconsciously, she would shoot a jealous or angry comment at me. She knew it was work, but the impending shift into geographical solo parent mode would amp up her anxiety. The day would predictably play out with her irritation being directed at me and I wouldn’t know why. In my mind, like a Viking, I was headed out to bring home untold treasures and fortunes for my maiden and offspring. In my eyes, I was going off to conquer the elements and bring home the spoils. With no family nearby, she saw two to three months of putting her projects on the backburner, cold sheets, unmanageable piles of laundry, dishes and scheduling conflicts with one less adult in the room to shoulder the day-today responsibilities. We began to notice that we had a huge fight every single time she drove me to the airport. We finally gave it a name, “Exit Friction.” Then we began scheduling our impending argument on the calendar or simply enjoying it on the way to the airport by giving it all we had. Getting clear on the pattern was a game changer and sometimes ended in fits of laughter.

‡‡         Entry Friction

Returning home from battle was no picnic either. I would want to jump right in, pick up where I left off, tell her all about my adventures, sightseeing and exploits and help discipline the kids. She would listen patiently before letting me know about how much dog crap she had to pick up, why the dryer smells like rotten asparagus and which child had yet another phone call home from the teacher. We would all be happy to see each other but inevitably there would be another big, predictable blow-up. We call this “Entry Friction”. She has been at home working 24-7 dealing with every little administrative detail while I was out working 4-out-of-7 days in Paris…or Brazil…or Singapore. (It doesn’t matter at this point.) She doesn’t care. Prematurely sliding back into the role of “Viking of the castle” before she had vented her frustrations and rested up was ill-advised. We would have been apart for so long that a metaphorical pony wall had developed between us. To step over the pony wall without recognizing it was trespassing. It’s our house, but it’s her domain, and it has been her home/office for months at a time. Embracing the fact that I could not control the daily flow of my own house was a tough concept to grasp. These days, I take a few moments to say hello, give the kids a gift, put away my suitcase and then slowly ease back into the system and routines before I make any assertions to change to the daily routine.

‡‡         Single Mother Syndrome

This term was the single greatest sticking point for my wife and me. We have only recently come to an agreement with this concept. She would tell me that when I was gone for longer than a week or two, she started to feel like a “Single Mother.” (I should mention that she acknowledges single mothers as heroes in their own right and is not comparing her circumstances to theirs.) However, for her to actually be a single mom, I would have to be dead or have divorced her. She felt justified in using the term, and I felt insulted by the mere notion. I am not dead, nor do I seek a divorce. It was a sticky situation for some time. She felt the term was accurate and reflected her truth. I continually felt the need to point out that her feelings were factually incorrect. That did not get me anywhere. Finally, a wise therapist friend of hers pointed out that in the military, the circumstance is referred to as “Geographical Lead Parent.” This term acknowledges that we both exist in support of our family and that we are separated by a physical distance. This term saved our marriage.

‡‡         Staying Connected

I rely on my good friend and longtime lighting designer for Metallica, Rob Koenig, for advice. I ask him for his wisdom on these topics because he has never known any different. He and his wife Lourie met prior to getting on his first bus. She was pregnant when he started touring over 20 years ago. They are still happily married. In addition to the comings and goings, he reminded me to discuss the things we can do to show love while geographically isolated. “We live in a time where we are blessed with all kinds of forms of communication. Now, we have FaceTime in that little device in our pockets.” he says. Rob respects those on his crew who are able to set aside some time to video chat with their family. He knows that they can’t hug through the black mirror, but it reminds them that they are not alone. Although Rob still believes in the wonder of a postcard, Lourie and Rob talk for about an hour per day. Even while entrenched in an eighteen-hour programming session, they still take time to send quick texts to each other just to say “Hi” or “I love you.” Maintaining a solid relationship at home while on the road is one way to make life on the road worth your while.

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