Mental health in the workplace is gaining more attention these days as study after study is revealing how stress can negatively impact employee wellness and performance. As road warriors, there are ways that you can mitigate the strain on your relationships that frequent travel can cause. While you may love your job and don’t mind the travel, being away from family and friends can still take a toll in part due to something called ambiguous loss, which is a term that describes the uncertainty about how a relationship with a loved one may change due to separation. Below are strategies for keeping your relationships strong when your job keeps you apart.
Over the years, I’ve heard common themes when it comes to successful relationships. One of them was how well, or not, road warrior couples navigated the re-entry period, that time when the traveler comes home. One would assume that this would be the fun and easy part, but often that is not the case. Jet lag, flight delays or expectations not communicated can be cause for tension.
What to do? Discuss how each of you prefers to come back together. You may want 10 minutes of quiet when you come in the door, but another traveler may want to be immediately showered with hugs, kisses and a recap of what they missed. The hardest part many people shared was the transition itself. We all get used to our routines. What time you go to bed or when you like to eat dinner may be different when on the road compared to what your spouse at home prefers. Merging those routines back together can be an adjustment and acknowledging it is half the battle.
Quality vs. Quantity
If you have kids at home, your spouse may spend several days as the solo parent which is hard. Finding a way for them to recharge upon your return as well as time for the two of you as a couple to reconnect is essential. Don’t underestimate the value of date nights, but it’s also important to be proactive in communicating while on the road.
How best to do that? Let each other know what is most meaningful. You may be fine texting a few times a day, but your partner may prefer a quick talk at night. Another idea? A note on the bathroom mirror as you head out town that says, “Can’t wait to see you again.” Even better? “Thank you for being my partner.” The key is to be creative and intentional and if you have a disagreement, try to address it before you head out on the road again.
Business travel is a way of life for many and while it might mean we can’t physically be there, finding ways to make sure we are fully present when we are is essential for the health of our relationships with friends and family. A little communication, empathy for each other and gratitude can go a long way toward that goal.
Megan Bearce is a licensed marriage and family therapist, coach, speaker and author of Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When a Job Keeps You Apart. She is a sought-after speaker and writer on the topics of burnout, road warriors, mental health and perfectionism and has been interviewed as an expert on super commuting by publications including the BBC, SHRM, Forbes, MarketWatch, and CBS Evening News.