My husband of 44 years, whom you may well know, was not a trucker when I married him, but gradually worked himself into a trucking career around the quarter-century mark of our marriage. Not surprisingly, he went from company driver to owner-operator relatively quickly, given he had owned his own business (in a different industry) from the time he was in high school. Over the next years, his career had the typical ups and downs as he figured out how to survive and eventually thrive as an owner-operator in trucking.
Four years ago, he retired from driving the truck, and I no longer wait and watch out the kitchen window, listening for the drone of his Freightliner’s engine and the crunch of those big tires on our gravel lane. I like having him home all the time (most of the time!), and something he said recently made me think of all the truckers that aren’t home, and what I would like to say to them.
Every month, Gary sits down at our table in the family room to spend three hours on the radio with K.C. Phillips on the Road Dog satellite channel, a part of Phillips’ program called “Shifting Gears with Gary Buchs.” I walked by the table right in time to hear him say, “You know, my wife is the secret to my success.” My initial reaction was pleasure at his affirming remark. Every wife likes to think she has something to do with her mate’s success in life.
But given his audience on the other end of the line and the radio, while that was a nice thing to say about our relationship, I wondered how that was at all helpful to the truckers out there listening -- particularly those who either couldn’t say that about their marriage, had failed/failing marriages, or were single.
Being married to an OTR trucker is not an easy undertaking for either the trucker or the spouse at home. Being out of each others' physical presence for days at a time creates special barriers to a stable relationship, so special care should be taken to remain connected. Cell phones with unlimited talk and text minutes were a huge boon to mine and Gary's relationship. (Yes, we are in fact so old that we remember counting long-distance minutes and limiting those calls to certain times of the day to keep our phone bill down!)
There’s no excuse these days for not talking, texting or video-chatting with each other several times a day. For safety, drivers need to know how to kindly say, “Bad time right now, in the middle of traffic, will call you back,” but then follow through with a return when it’s safe to do so. I was often horrified when Gary would tell me he talked to another trucker who reported they hadn’t talked to their spouse for a couple-three days.
There’s lots of problems with that kind of pattern, but most of all I think it allows each partner to go days at time imagining themselves as unattached and alone. If it begins to feel like you are not in the relationship together, it becomes human nature to seek out connection and comfort elsewhere. Lack of frequent communication is a recipe for disaster in any marriage, so for most couples, communication is key to avoiding wandering eyes on the part of both partners.
I suggest, if it’s possible, setting up a couple times a day to touch base when you both know you are available. Both should be prepared not only to talk about their day, but actively listen to their partner’s day. When you aren’t the one in the middle of a flood in the basement, or a cranky toddler’s meltdown in the middle of the grocery store, or a traffic jam with a near miss in rush-hour Chicago traffic, it’s easy to forget that life is happening on the other end of the line that needs your attention, too.
That simple attention is important, even if you can’t be there physically to help deal with it.
Gary and I religiously adhered to this rule, too: home time was our time. When he was home, we always made time for us. Yes, there were things on the honey-do list that I expected him to attend to -- and, of course, the kids needed attention -- but we always tried very hard to carve out time to ourselves, if nothing more than an hour or two to have a quiet dinner together. Or: go to bed early, and shut the door.
The time to get back in the truck comes soon enough. Make sure as you leave the house you have no regrets about lost opportunities to connect and enjoy each other’s company.
Another thing to remember about home time: A driver who is away more than they are home should be very careful to avoid the attractive trap of wanting to take over household decision-making when they return. You might very well have great ideas about how to make the household run more efficiently, or how to manage the children, or how to better arrange the clothes in the closet or the dishes in the cupboard, but if you aren’t the one dealing with the day-to-day operations, it’s probably best to avoid making any changes to household routines without a very gentle conversation with your spouse first.
Marriage experts will tell you that one of the hotspots that cause married couples the most trouble is disagreements about money. If you married a spouse that has no concept of money, of budgeting, of how to balance a checkbook, you have some work to do as a couple if you intend to avoid this particular pitfall. Often it isn’t just the spouse at home having trouble managing money. Gary has shared with me the difficulty some company drivers experience when transitioning to owner-operator businesses -- the move from living on a predictable paycheck to having to handle settlements from which expenses, taxes and repairs must be deducted and set-aside for.
Time, knowledge, and attention to detail on the part of both partners can help.
If your spouse is financially challenged, don’t expect that they will become expert money managers just because you are dumping a chunk of change into the family coffers every week. If you’re the one with the financial smarts, then as much as you might like to turn that aspect of your business over to your spouse, you may have to set up an account just for the home and be responsible for transferring into it a certain amount of money for personal and family needs. Or you pay the bills, while helping the spouse understand the business of being an owner-operator.
If neither of you are great money managers, get the help you need from a financial advisor. It may very well prevent a bankruptcy -- and a divorce, too!
For you single drivers out there, whether divorced or never married, one of the best things you can do if you are looking for a mate in life is be aware of what kinds of partners you are attracted to. Interestingly enough, Gary will tell you that one reason he was attracted to me was because I was a fairly independent woman. He says at 24 years old, when we were married, he was still having trouble taking care of himself, and knew he didn’t need a high-maintenance partner. But there are people who are attracted to a dependent mate, and that dependency can be a magnet for those who like to feel in charge of a relationship and have someone to take care of.
You can imagine the problems a driver would have with a spouse who likes to have decisions made for them, requiring a lot of attention every day. Part of the success of any marriage is the initial selection. Being an OTR trucker is a difficult-enough lifestyle without a mate that is not a good match for all the alone time that may entail. Gary and I often joke about how the chemicals of initial attraction go away, and if they are not replaced by some good ol’ steady love and respect day in and day out, the marriage will be doomed.
Successful marriage, in any case, is hard work and requires a stick-to-it-iveness, so to speak, that always puts the other person first. If Gary says I am the secret to his success, I’d say that is because I feel that I come first in his life. And when I feel that way, I want to do everything I can to hold him up and help him succeed in whatever he attempts in his life. It’s definitely a two-way street, and you truckers should know how that beats a one-way street any day!