Tighten Your Relationships

Long-distance relationships require different tactics and daily attention.

Relationships, like parts on a truck, need steady maintenance to prevent breakdowns, downtime or major disasters. In fact, many successful trucking families say their bonds are stronger because of the time apart; you just have to know how to make it work for you.

The reality of a marriage with a spouse away from home most of the time is that big chunks of time are reduced to telephone conversations. Don’t be discouraged by that, or by memories of times when you or your spouse ended up screaming or slamming the phone down on the other.
Instead, agree upon rules that can help both of you navigate through the tricky art of phone communication and make daily contributions to building a strong marriage. April Masini,
relationship expert and author of Dating Out of Your League, offers these tips:

  • Have a pre-established time you TALK EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, even if it means fighting or you don’t feel like talking.
  • KEEP A RUNNING LIST of things you need to tell your partner – both by phone and when you get home.
  • Make a point to SHARE GOOD THINGS, as well as the bad things, that happen in your day.
  • LISTEN to what your partner is saying and respond to what he or she is feeling. Sometimes no reaction is the best reaction; learn the art of saying “hmm.”
  • Agree to NEVER HANG UP on one another. You’re not always going to come to a consensus, and fighting until you do can prove futile.

“Sometimes we just agree to disagree. Life is too short and too unpredictable to hang up mad,” says Kelly Livingstone of Winnipeg, Canada. She says she always ends her phone conversations with her husband Randy by saying, “I love you.” Livingstone, mother of three young children and married for 14 years, says it’s important to hear him out when he’s been on the road with no one to talk to and too much time to think. He may need to get out some frustrations or joys, and he needs you to listen.

Then there’s the opposite problem for married team drivers – getting too much of one another. “We still fight, but you just have to separate work from personal,” says owner-operator David Mayberry of Fleetwood, N.C., who drives with his wife Tanya. “But 90 percent of what we argue about has to do with business.”

In those cases, a little time can be healing, Tanya says. “We may just stop talking about it and start back up after a few hours, after we cool off,” she says.

Think about your marriage as a long-distance trip. If you were to hit a few potholes in a section of highway, you wouldn’t abandon the journey. Likewise, there may be very upsetting discussions along the way in your marriage, but keep your eyes on the long-range goals.

Being apart can be so tough on trucker couples that it’s easy to be insensitive to one another during the process of coming home.

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Kim Blackwell of Seneca, Pa., says she waits up for her husband Bradley and greets him with lots of hugs and kisses. “Some truckers probably need their space to unwind when they come home, but Bradley needs me when he gets home. We miss each other, and we try to make up for lost time with lots of hugs and cuddling and lots of telling each other how we missed each other,” she says.

That re-entry period can be awkward, says Tina Tessina, psychotherapist and author of How To Be a Couple and Still Be Free. Each spouse has established boundaries as individuals, and they need to respect those boundaries while re-establishing their bond as a couple. Tessina recommends couples follow these steps – in sequence – after being apart:

GREET EACH OTHER WARMLY. Say how good it is to be back together and how much you were looking forward to the reunion. This is the most important part of the process.

SHARE YOUR FEELINGS. Ask how the time apart went for each other. Were you particularly lonely? Did you feel well? Were you anxious or worried?

UPDATE EACH OTHER. After personal sharing is done, talk about the things that happened while you were away. Even if nothing big happened, it’s important to focus on what each other says.

If one spouse launches into problems too soon, the partner could feel hurt or not valued because his or her feelings appear not to count.

PLAN YOUR HOME TIME. Remember to take time to be a couple first; the rest of the chores and details will fall into place. Don’t plan the other person’s time until you talk about it.

Re-entry is easier when you stay in frequent touch during the trip. You should already know much of what’s happened while you were gone and can spend home time reconnecting physically and emotionally.

Statistics suggest that 40 percent of married women and 60 percent of married men say they have had an affair.

What causes a partner to stray? What can you do if you find out your partner has had an affair? These questions plague many trucking couples who want to know how to avoid becoming another divorce statistic.

One thing all affairs have in common is opportunity. Trucking, like other occupations that require long-distance travel, offers plenty of opportunity for spouses to get involved with other partners.

“I keep myself away from temptation,” says Alvin Schindler, an independent trucker from Akron, Ohio, who has been married for 40 years and trucking for 25 of them. Schindler’s secret to a happy marriage is to stay faithful and treat his family right. “Don’t put yourself in a position to be tempted and stay away from trouble,” he says.

When an affair happens, it’s often less about sex and more about the desire to be noticed and the charged-up feelings that come with romantic love.

“Relationships of any kind are never affair-proof. A strong, healthy and loving relationship is the key,” says trucker wife Kelly Livingstone of Canada. “Hard work, lots of love at home, and strong beliefs in fidelity are what keep a marriage affair-free.”

Loneliness is one of many reasons for affairs. The best way to fight that is to communicate. Frequently talk on the phone, send e-mails, chat online and even send postcards or letters.

Many marriages have survived an affair and even gone on to become stronger. Marilyn Gramon, psychotherapist and author of How to be Cherished: A Guide to Having the Love You Desire, says that the cheating spouse can expect his or her partner to feel vulnerable for quite a while.

“It will be necessary to be patient in the healing process as the person who was cheated on will, most likely, ask a lot of questions and not trust you,” she says.

Gramon says you can help your partner by answering questions and being willing to go out of your way to make him or her comfortable.

“Relationships can survive the cheating, but it takes love, patience and willingness to look at what was going on in the relationship beforehand that contributed to the infidelity,” she says.

Should you have to deal with an affair, it helps to identify its root cause. Emily Brown, director of Key Bridge Therapy & Mediation Center in Arlington, Va., and author of Patterns of Infidelity and Their Treatment, identifies five types of affairs she sees in her practice:

CONFLICT AVOIDANCE. Conflict avoiders are too nice to ever confront a problem when conflict will result. Because they don’t stand up for themselves, the marriage erodes. Slipping into an affair gives them a way to hide from the conflict in their marriage.

INTIMACY AVOIDANCE. These couples are the opposites of conflict avoiders. They thrive on conflict because it keeps the barriers up between them. That way nobody has to get too close, so nobody gets hurt in a deep way. One partner might use an affair as another way to strengthen the barriers.

SEXUAL ADDICTION. Sex addicts use sex to numb themselves to their inner pain. These addicts often have multiple affairs and are more often men.

SPLIT-SELF. This is usually a long-term affair where the cheating spouse feels split between wanting to keep the family together and his or her passion for the other person.

EXIT EXCUSE. A spouse who has decided to leave the marriage uses the affair to help break it down. The affair becomes the “justification.”

Here are some websites for help and information about affairs:

Whether it’s on the phone or in person, men and women communicate differently.

Men are natural “fixers,” but sometimes that’s where the trouble starts, says Scott Haltzman, a psychiatrist who specializes in men and marriage. Dr. Haltzman says it’s a normal reflex for a man to think he’s doing his wife a favor by recommending a course of action when she expresses a problem.

“Sometimes she’s not looking for an answer because just talking about it may be all she really wants or needs,” he says. “When you offer her a solution, she may interpret that as a wish to shut her up. She needs to talk as a process of feeling better.”

One of the most frequent laments Dr. Haltzman hears from men is, “I don’t know what she wants from me.” Nothing’s as frustrating as listening to your wife list her grievances when you know you’ll never solve them to her satisfaction.

Here are his tips to help you through the rough spots of communication:

  • Think about your wife’s complaints as a call for support.
  • Ask your wife what she would like from you before she starts to talk to you.
  • Listen to learn. Rather than thinking about how to answer, try to understand the issue and your wife’s feelings about it.
  • Understand that women don’t avoid intense emotions the way men do.
  • Never drink when you and your wife discuss relationship issues.

For more information, go to www.secretsofmarriedmen.com.

Truckers, like other long-distance parents, have to be creative when connecting with their children.

Bill Ater, an owner-operator from Arlington, Texas, says he stays in touch with his 5-year-old son Josh by frequent cell phone calls, postcards and photos of his loads. This is his second time around for both marriage and children, and he’s determined to do a better job. “I put my family and God first, and the rest falls into place.”

Armin Brott, a leading authority on fatherhood, suggests ways to stay in touch:

BABIES. Frequent calling gives baby a chance to hear your voice. Your wife can show a photo of you while you talk.

TODDLERS. Phone calls are important, and you can begin to send postcards and photos. Make a video or audio recording of you reading a favorite bed-time story.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. Send postcards. Talk with your child on the phone each day and plan things you will do together. Bring home small souvenirs.

MIDDLE SCHOOL. Keep a running joke going or read a book together and discuss over the phone or e-mail. Play Internet games together, send instant messages, send photos from your runs, or check homework via e-mail.

HIGH SCHOOL. Make a date with your teen, such as bowling, a movie or a video at home. Know the names of their friends. Pay your teen for doing odd jobs on your truck.