How do you stay close if you’re afraid you’re growing apart from your husband?

I’ve been writing a three-part series on porn, and I have more I need to say. But I feel like I’ve been talking ONLY about that all week, and so I’d like to put all of that on hold and come back to it later (I promise). And today I just want to be really vulnerable and share some things with you.

My husband and I have had a rough few years.

It’s not because of anything either of us has done; it’s just because of work schedules and geography. We simply weren’t together very much. And that put a huge strain on us.

We’re coming out of it now, and I’d like to tell you about it–my warnings for other people to avoid, and what made it possible for us to reconnect afterwards.

I’m honestly  just a real person like all of you.

I don’t want you, my readers, ever to think that I’ve got the marriage thing totally figured out. Some seasons we sail right through, and others we really have to work. I shared in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage (my newest book) about some of the struggles Keith and I have had over the last few years, and what I had to do to change my own attitude and my own mind.

Sometimes when I meet blog readers I realize that there’s this perception that we have a perfect life. And we really don’t. And I think that this may be an encouragement to you–to know that EVERYBODY goes through rough patches. So let me tell you what happened with us.

Growing Apart as a Couple--how to pull together when life pulls you apart

Keith got a job in a different city.

For years his job in our hometown was so stressful. He had long hours, personality conflicts, and constant crises. They were chronically short staffed of pediatricians, but needed the call schedule covered. What do you do if there aren’t enough pediatricians? If you’re a caring, nice guy like my husband is, you step up to the plate and you do extra call.

But that takes a toll.

And finally he said, “enough”. He took a job at a bigger teaching hospital an hour away.

It was the perfect job. My husband is such a good teacher, and the job entailed teaching medical students and residents. He won some awards. He was having the time of his life.

The problem is that he had to about eight calls a month. Those calls were infinitely easier than the ones he used to do, because instead of going in to the hospital in the middle of the night, residents now took care of things and only phoned him for orders and advice. But it also meant he had to stay in that city for eight nights a month.

There was a long commute–and he had to be at work at 7:30. That means that we no longer had breakfast together.

He was home much later often, especially when he had periodic meetings.

And at the same time I still had speaking engagements.

We tried to work his call around my speaking, because our daughters were still at home.

So think what that did: he’d be gone eight nights a month. I’d be gone maybe five. Take a few more nights for his meetings. Then we had church commitments (we ran the youth quizzing ministry at church which required four weekends a year where we’d take the kids away to a competition. Four weekends doesn’t sound like much until you realize how few weekends we’d have).

Suddenly we had very little time together.

We didn’t realize it would be this bad (he was only supposed to do five calls a month when he took the job). But that first month he had his full call load, plus he had two weekends for conferences and training courses. I spoke for a weekend. We had maybe seven nights together all month. And I started to get scared.

Of course, when your schedules are bizarre like that, you know what always happens, right? When you finally have a week together, in its entirety–that’s when your period comes. It doesn’t come when he’s on call. It doesn’t come when you’re away traveling. It’s when you’re finally together again. And I was having major issues in that department and getting chronically anemic, and the stress was horrible.

And it just got hard. So hard.

I started getting used to living my life alone.

Keith used to be my confidante–the one I bounced everything off of and the one who helped me through all my decisions. But when he wasn’t home for days at a time, I got used to thinking about things myself. I’d take walks and process my thoughts. I’d call my mom and bounce things off of her. I talked to my girls a lot.

And he’d get home, let’s say three days after whatever crisis had begun, and it would feel like too much work to fill him in on everything. So I’d just share with him the “short version” of the story.

Within a year I felt like he didn’t really understand my heart anymore. When he didn’t even know 90% of the things that were bugging me, then how could we feel like we’re one?

We tried talking more, and sharing our “highs” and “lows” of each day, and that certainly helped. We called each other more when we were in different cities.

But when someone isn’t there in the day to day, you really start to feel like you’re walking through life alone and unsupported, even if that is not anyone’s intention.

And I know that Keith felt the same way, too.

The seasons of distance were draining us.

Finally Keith realized he was just too busy. He had no time for his hobbies, and he had no time to connect with me. And we really wanted to spend more time together and see more of the world. So he made a decision last winter that he would go part-time and we’d buy an RV so that we can spend several weeks at a time driving around for me to speak, and then return home for several weeks so he can work.

He arranged for a part-time job, we bought the RV, and we just got back from our first trip.

Was our trip ever great! We drove a grand total of about 70 hours in just 19 days, which is a lot of driving. We had several 8 or 10 hour days. But those days were great because we got the chance to just chat. It’s been so long since we’ve had that kind of time (after all, we had our daughter’s wedding this summer, too, which took a lot of our time!)

We stopped at places improptu just to explore and take pictures, whenever there was a sign for a waterfalls or a scenic lookout or a hike.

We planned this trip to Presque’ Isle park in Pennsylvania:

How to stay close when you fear you're growing apart

But then we found these waterfalls by accident when driving through Northern Ontario on our way home:


We stopped at a tiny town that had a giant goose statue off of the highway, because all bird watchers have to take a picture under a giant goose statue and then text it to their daughters:


We pulled over at various birding hotspots to see some new species of gulls:


And we stopped at the Terry Fox memorial outside Thunder Bay–close to the very spot where Terry had to abandon his cross-Canada 1981 run to raise money for cancer because the disease had returned.

Taking chances to make memories--staying close instead of growing apart

That meant a lot to Keith especially, since he’s seen far too many patients die of childhood cancers.

None of those moments was really planned. But we had a chance to take them because we were together again.

It was easy to pick up where we left off, because nothing had been seriously wrong in our relationship–no affairs, no secret texting, no porn. But despite that, we were definitely growing apart because we just didn’t have time together.

So here’s what I’ve learned:

What Kept Us Together During this Season of Growing Apart?

We had a great foundation for our marriage

We were best friends before this started, and we had a good sex life. We were always close to each other. So when we started to spend less time together, we knew that the relationship itself was still stable.

Conclusion: when life is relatively easy, cling to each other and seriously grow your friendship! Work even harder! That way when a tough time comes, you’ll weather it much more easily.

We knew for certain that we were staying together forever

There was no point in letting resentment grow because we knew we’d be together forever.

Conclusion: Don’t feed negative thoughts! When you know you’re together forever, then treat each other well to preserve that relationship.

We kept pushing through–it was hard work

I had to teach myself to share things with Keith about my day–even when I didn’t want to. If I had had a big issue that I had worked through, I wouldn’t necessarily want to relive it all again to try to explain it. But I learned that the work was worth it, even if it wasn’t easy.

Conclusion: Sometimes marriage IS nothing but work. When you have to deliberately keep each other in the loop it’s work. We think marriage should be easy, but often it isn’t.

We told ourselves it wasn’t forever–and we made specific plans around that

When we saw what our work schedules were doing to our marriage, we knew that we had to take steps to make sure this was only temporary. And it was.

I know not everyone has that option. Keith and I have been extremely blessed. But there have been periods of our lives that were intense, work wise, and we just had to get through them. Keith’s training, when he was gone 120 hours a week and I had babies; Opening up his practice; and then the last few years. I can’t imagine, though, if any of those stages was permanent.

Conclusion: If you’re in a position where a job is making your marriage super tough, then ask yourself: are there alternatives, even if those alternatives won’t come for a few years?

Keeping Marriage Strong: Be Intentional about not Drifting Apart

Sacrificing some financial security so that you can keep marriage security is often worth it, though I know it’s not always possible. But I really don’t think I could live like we did for the last three years indefinitely.

So that’s where we are! We were growing apart, but we’re growing close again. Sometimes marriage strain comes not because of sin or neglect but just because of LIFE. If you see that happening, double down, work harder, share more–and see if you can make that period of your life shorter.

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentThought #9 in Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage is that drifting in marriage is natural; it’s staying together that takes work. I experienced that firsthand while writing this book, and lots of my stories are in there (I think I’m more vulnerable in this book than I even was in my sex book!)

If you’ve been drifting and growing apart–pick it up to stop the drift NOW!

Let me know in the comments: have you had a season of your marriage where you were growing apart? What did you do about it?

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