Some people have partners that have to travel a lot for business. It can be especially tough when they’ve got kids because the parent that stays at home lives like a single parent, which, as you can imagine, might build a lot of resentment as the emotional and physical demands of parenting alone start piling up.
I’m fortunate to have Andrew at home most of the time. Well, he works a lot, and he’s out on the road most of the day and when he does come home, he is tied to his phone (the life of a realtor). We like it this way because we appreciate the trade-off of having flexibility in his schedule, but also that he is able to be with the kids a lot more than if he worked at his old job (he was an electrician for years).
Now there’s one thing that we do deal with: Mental illness. Because mental illness (or mental fragility, mental struggles, whatever term you’d like to use) takes a person on a business trip at the drop of a hat. There is no schedule, there are no plane tickets, just one person that unknowingly checks out of life and checks into somewhere else for a while. Sometimes that somewhere else lasts a nanosecond and sometimes it lasts a lot longer.
So, if you’re finding yourself left behind, here are a few things you can do to make sure you don’t build up resentment, lose your shit, or start day-drinking too much. These aren’t rules, I am not a doctor (but oh man would that would be hot), but they work for me:
Accept the fact that your partner is gone for a time.
They’re on a business trip, they’re not available emotionally, physically, spiritually. Don’t depend on them for what they’re usually capable of.
Do not, do not do not do NOT DO NOT take anything personally.
This is a war that they are fighting within themselves and this has nothing to do with you. You are not responsible for their actions but you are responsible for YOUR reactions. Don’t participate, don’t antagonize, don’t let your frustrations out on them, don’t use this time to convince them to come back, and don’t feel rejected when they can’t/don’t.
It is very difficult to empathize with someone who is frustrating you, but it’s possible, and possible is all you need. Empathy will take perspective, and perspective comes with accepting #1 (your partner is unavailable) and #2 (this has nothing to do with you). If you’re struggling to find empathy, then think back to the last time you felt so alone and in so much pain. Remember that underneath it all is a hurting person, and that person is someone you deeply love.
Set boundaries and stay neutral.
Here’s an example. I’ll use Jake because I know he won’t mind me writing about him here. So, he and I talk a lot; we’re pretty close. A few months ago he started addressing me with “Yo.” I was like, no. But I didn’t go on and on about how it’s rude or how sad I am or start ripping apart his character or preaching at him; I just wrote back something like, “Oh Jake. Don’t address me with “yo” because it’s disrespectful. I won’t engage in a conversation that is lacking respect. I respect you, and I ask that you do the same.” It was over, just like that. Set a healthy and rational boundary, protect yourself, do it with kindness, neutral and calm, and stand firm. I now refer to myself as “Yo Mama.” It sounds pretty badass and it gives Jake a good laugh.
Now is not the time to help them.
When I say “help” I mean by giving them advice, lecturing them, begging them, and doing all the negotiating we like to do to get back a sense of control. You’ve heard me say it a zillion times and I’ll say it a zillion more: love asks us to let go. It is VERY uncomfortable, but I promise once you loosen your grip, a bigger gift of love will circle around and fly back to you and settle into the wounded parts. Have you ever heard how we’re not supposed to tell a drunk person that they’ve got a drinking problem? Same thing here. Wait until they come back, and then talk. There is bound to be things that they need to address, like maybe medication changes, or learning triggers, or dealing with difficult counseling sessions. They may need to make amends with you or others and forgive themselves, but now is not the time. TRUST ME.
Take care of yo Self.
Okay, so it took me a few years to actually accept the fact that this is our life. As long as Andrew and I are together, this is something that we will deal with and so I will deal with it because I love him so very much and I can’t imagine not being together forever; he’s my best friend. So when he goes on these “business trips,” I do my best to follow my own advice above, and then while I’m waiting, I write, I run, I take long baths with lavender oil, I read deliciously sexy books, I run some more, I type out texts that I want to send him but I don’t (I keep them in my notes section), I do push-ups, I play (hoop in the garage, sculpt playdough penises while Callum sculpts spiders and snakes, paint, cook cool stuff), I force myself to eat healthy food (I don’t eat when I’m stressed out so this is a tough one for me), I offer up prayers/dedications, I knit scarves (I used to, anyway), and? I cry. Hard. I get it out. I get it out because this is hard and it hurts and there is no sense in carrying around cries that belong in the abyss.
Also? Make sure you find people to talk to. This is a no-brainer, but I’d like to take it a little further and just say that it doesn’t have to be a counselor or a doctor (although those are bonuses). It doesn’t even have to be someone you see on a regular basis and in fact, after a bit of a steep learning curve, I realized that family and close friends aren’t the best option. Not because they’re not amazing (they are!!!) but because they’re too emotionally involved and it’s a stress on them too, so what happens is you’ll talk to them, they’ll get stressed out, and then you’ll end up carrying even more stress. I’ve got a few online friends, some that even have experience with bipolar disorder who have helped me immensely. Sometimes all I need is to know I’m not alone, so I’ll text a friend or two, tell them what’s going on, and all I need them to do is reply with an “I hear you.” That’s all I need.
Accept that mental illness is a part of your lives.
This one was a rough one for me to accept because I am so driven to do what most of us like to do: FIX IT. I’m a caregiver by nature so that “fix it” mentality transfers over to “fix everyone.” I’m nearly forty years old and I think it’s finally starting to sink in that I can’t fix anyone but me. If Andrew had cancer, I would drive him to chemo and make sure he still got regular haircuts. If he broke his leg, I would push him around in his wheelchair and put his socks and shoes on for him. If he gets diagnosed with bipolar disorder, then I learn about how to help him manage the rough spots.
I know I missed so much. Is there anything that you guys would want to add? Or want me to answer?
When is the last time you felt like things didn’t make sense? Like when bad things happen to good people? How do you deal with this?
You don’t have to answer any questions if you don’t want to. If you have a story to tell, feel free to tell it in the comment section!