14 March 2012

Managing Apart-ness

The dark days are sufficiently behind me.

I can follow through on a promise to a friend to write about how Rick and I dealt with living apart for several months.  It wasn't fun, but it was worth it. 

We had been living semi-retired in Costa Rica for a few years, and life was getting a little tame.  So, I tested the waters with a 4-month contract in Iowa.  Rick couldn't come with me for the whole time, but he was able to visit for a month in the middle.  We had never been apart that long before!  In 20 years, the longest we had been apart was 3 weeks (and for similar reasons).  This was quite different.

So, for anyone in a similar situation, here is my advice.
  • first of all, *celebrate!*  Do something to mark this as a happy occasion, both before you leave, and again when you return.
  • before you go, reinforce your relationship with words.  It is important to say "we've been married 20 years, we can handle a little distance for a little time; it's not much in the scheme of things."
  • reassure each other that your relationship is strong.  Recognize that some things will be issues that aren't when you're together.  Discus how you will handle the lack of physical intimacy; express confidence in each other.  This is not the time to be shy or vague!  Explore what distance and time might do to you.  Be as open as possible, while being clear about what will bother you.
  • discuss money issues;  expect that both may spend more, especially if the separation is due to a job or sick family member;  determine an amount that one partner can spend on an item without discussing it first.  Aim for getting rid of guilt or surprises before they can bite you. You may want to make a shopping list of big items, and talk about it ahead of time.
  • make it a priority to stay in regular contact.  Get skype and a webcam, and call each other - eat dinner together.  But don't make it feel like an obligation - go out with friends once in a while instead; then tell each other about your evenings out the next time.
  • definitely *do* make time for friends, old and new, here and there.  It is easy to get into a routine that is just work, home, sandwich for dinner, sleep.  That can be a fine day here and there, but depression will sneak up on you - if you are the one in a new place, explore!  If you are the one at home, strengthen your support system!  Find out something new about your home area.  Share your adventures the next time you talk (or even send a postcard). 
  • make a list of things you like to do, that your partner doesn't especially care for - then do them!  Spoil yourself, indulge yourself.  You have "your time" to fill, so fill it with things you enjoy - no guilty feelings for dragging someone else along, or leaving them on their own.  Recognize that it is for a short time, and revel in it.  It is surprising how short this list really is, and how soon you get these things out of your system...
  • make another list - this one of things you would normally do together.  Then do them alone, or with friends.  Then share your adventures with your partner when you talk.  Perhaps plan a similar outing during a visit, or when you return home.
  • aim for some normalcy.  Make sure you find a way to exercise, and eat healthy meals.  Cook a real meal once in a while, even if it is just for one.  Better yet, invite friends over for a Sunday dinner with all the fixin's.  Well, that is, if you enjoy cooking.  If not, meet friends for a healthy dinner out.
  • you will probably fall into some not-so-great habits.  Try to be aware of this, and keep them to a minimum.  If your wine-tasting turns into a bottle-a-night, fall-into-bed routine, at least add some crackers and cheese.
  • use this time to make yourself a more-rounded person; aim for personal growth.  Don't be afraid to try something new.  Then share your triumphs and set-backs with your partner.
  • if going out on a Friday or Saturday night is depressing, make plans for Thurs evening, or Sunday afternoon.  Find what works for you, what makes your life more enjoyable.
  • for the duration, enjoy the fact that the toilet seat is left in the most convenient position for you.  It's ok to notice these things!
  • get a few items that make you feel more comfortable - a fuzzy blanket, a piece of local art, flowers, etc.  I highly recommend an electronic photo frame, loaded with pictures from home and vacations - I turned mine on in the mornings as I got ready for work.
  • take advantage of being in different areas; get local specialties or items that are hard to find at home to take back.  Stock up on seasonally available items for when you return.  Take pictures to share, just as if you were on vacation
  • send short email love-notes
  • if mail is reliable, send a card, postcard, or note
  • don't dwell on "apartness" - don't count the days till... or since...  live as you go
  • when that lovely day arrives, and you are together again, you will notice anew all the little things you do that say "I'm here, I love you."  That's the time to pay attention, reconnect, enjoy each other.

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