Coping with Spouse's Frequent Business Travel

My husband travels fairly frequently for work, and is usually gone at least one week a month. I work full-time and we have a preschooler and a dog at home. 

After a few years of this, I’ve hit the point of complete exhaustion. Even with a somewhat flexible job that lets me work from home when needed, and family nearby to help, I find myself resenting my husband every time he goes out of town for work and leaves me to hold down the fort. I know business travel is not a vacation, and he is always very apologetic about not being home to help, but it still drives me crazy to hear him talk about how “tired” he is after a day at a conference, when I’ve been doing ALL the school drop-offs and pick-ups, cooking (or, more likely, takeout ordering), cleaning, dog-walking (we don’t have a yard), and other grunt work at home, while also trying to do my job that pays my share of the bills. Since I don’t travel for work, he’s never in my shoes so I’m not sure he realizes just how hard, and time-consuming, and stressful it can be. (I don’t know how single working parents do it, I honestly don’t!) My husband has had the same job since our pre-baby days, and I actually used to kind of enjoy having a bit of time alone when he traveled. Now, I dread it.

For those with spouses / partners who frequently travel for work, what have you found to be useful in managing while they are gone? By “managing,” I mean both taking care of everything that needs to be done, and also taking care of yourself. And, how do you keep from acting like a martyr, or being resentful? I would appreciate any suggestions for how to cope from those who have been in similar situations. Thank you! 

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My husband travels a lot (maybe 250 days last year). I've always worked full time and we have three kids. It was horrible until the youngest was about 2, so if you aren't there yet, just hang on a little longer. If your kid is already that old and it is still awful, know it does get better as your kid gets older and can do more things for him-/herself.

We didn't (don't) have a dog. I think that would have just pushed me over the top, but here are some tips about what got me through when they were little. (Now they are all in elementary school so it isn't as bad).

My husband is never allowed to say that he is tired while he is gone. "You were up until midnight at a conference dinner and then you had to get up at 6:30 to meet with someone before the conference started? I don't care. I was up working for a work deadline until 2am and then I slept in brief spurts until the baby woke up for the day at 4:12." Yeah, while the kids are little, his day is pretty much never going to be as bad as yours.

He is never allowed to walk in the door after being gone and complain that the house is messy. Ever.

I find long trips the hardest. If my husband is gone for an extended period, I take a vacation day about every 2 weeks just so I can get some sleep and run some errands in peace. Or a sick day since if I don't, I wind up getting sick anyway from lack of sleep. On the weekend mornings I shameless plop the kids in front of DVD movies so I can catch up on sleep. Teach your kid how to work the DVD player. That extra sleep is gold.

Have your husband make a dinner you can just pop in the microwave or oven, even if just for a night or two. Perfect some quick easy dinners, like rice and bean burritos (microwave rice from Trader Joes for 3 min. while can of black beans is cooking. When rice is done, put a tortilla with cheese on it in the microwave for 20-35 seconds to melt cheese and soften tortilla. When done, fill with rice and beans.), baked marinated tofu with rice and broccoli (marinate tofu in some sort of sauce then bake at 350 for 20 minutes), macaroni and cheese, etc. Not having to get take out makes life calmer. (Though I understand why you do! I hated getting home and having to even think about dinner.) When I'm cleaning up from dinner, I put food in the little tubs you can get from Target so that lunch for the next day is already made. If there is enough for 2 or 3 days of lunch, so much the better. Your kid doesn't care if s/he gets the same thing for lunch day after day.

Don't worry about cleaning the house while your husband is gone. You might need to do laundry (don't fold anything except for your stuff that will wrinkle) but everything else can wait.

You said you have family nearby who can help. Can you get them to do something regularly? Like pick up kid from preschool every Wednesday and do something with him/her then drop kid off at home with the dinner they made/bought for you? Take kid to preschool every Tuesday morning so you don't stress about being late for the 9am meeting you have that day? Take the dog on a long ramble a couple of days/week so you don't have to? Figure out what is the worst for you and ask them to help.

Before your husband leaves make sure you have all the groceries you need for the week. Get a cleaning person. Find someone to walk your dog sometimes.

I am the traveler in our family. We have an au pair, and when I'm gone, we increase the time in preschool/afterschool, then use the au pair's time to help more on evenings and weekends.

In general, I'd suggest getting yourself some support if you can manage it financially on the things that need to be done so that you are able to take care of yourself.

I've been where you are and relate to your growing resentment. I'm sorry. 

This too shall pass. I got through it realizing that these high maintenance years pass quickly. I minimized efforts while partner traveled. Which made his re-entry more challenging, but that's another story. 

For now, find a weekend retreat where you can get away alone. Leave partner and kid to develop their own rhythm without you. I made a point if disappearing Sunday mornings to swim at the Y. Build in your rejuvenation and restoration time into the family schedule. It may not always be possible, but take what you can get. I avoided pets -- too much giving effort.  

I feel you -- I've been dealing with this for 15 of our daughter's 17 years. My husband has typically been away 50-80% of the whole time she's been growing up. I now believe this was a very, very bad idea for reasons too complicated to go into in depth here - suffice to say that daughter hates her father now and has significant mental health and addiction issues which were certainly not ameliorated by him not being present. I used to refer to him as "Happy Fun Clown Daddy" because he would swoop in for fun weekends and then be gone again, leaving me to not only run the whole household but also to parent like a single mom most of the time (I worked about 30 hours a week most of the time, too, and it was my salary that paid for daycare and preschool).  Same thing for a BFF of mine, she has 3 kids, and the eldest one has also become a real problem child. She has a lot more financial resources than I do, and one difference I can see between us is that she was able to hire more and better help - house cleaners, nannies, etc., which did take some of the load off (but not all - you really don't want your au pair driving your kids around).  I have come to resent my husband for all this, and I'm not sure our marriage will continue much past getting our daughter off to college (and it certainly will end if she boomerangs back quickly). He doesn't help himself by posting online pictures of the strolls he takes through exotic locales after "a long day of meetings", nor of the gourmet meals he consumes, nor of the deluxe hotel rooms. I'm with you on that - yes, they work hard, but NO JOB is as hard as full time parenting.

So what are some practical tips to help you survive this without losing your sanity?
1. As best you can, encourage your husband to find a job with less travel, even if it means less money.

2. If you can afford to, hire someone to clean your house weekly or every other week - this really frees up some time for you. Also a dog-walker.

3. Hire a baby-sitter for an evening while he's away and go meet friends for dinner or a movie or even just a walk in the park by yourself. Make time for it - in fact, make time for yourself no matter what - get a massage or take a yoga class. Or take the dog for a long hike somewhere pretty.

4. Make him do more of the work when he is home and feel no guilt about it.

And take it from someone who's been doing this a long time: he'll never "get it", he'll always think what you're doing is easier than what he is. Silver lining (?): at this point, I actually prefer my spouse away - less conflict in the home and I can do more of my own thing. 

My situation is a little different from yours, but I feel your pain. My husband does not travel for work, but his work is extremely consuming and when he gets off work (too late to pick up our kid from daycare), he comes home only to keep working, leaving me to do almost everything else - dropping off and picking up my 14 month old, feeding him, bathing him, putting him to bed, making dinner, etc. etc. I even leave work early to do all of that. Our poor dog is totally neglected, but at least we have a yard. I feel resentful sometimes, and one thing that really helps is to talk about it with him. It can be super uncomfortable to admit that you are feeling resentful, but I have noticed that putting it out there can sometimes help clear the air and open up a dialog so that you can both start seeing things from the other perspective. Besides, usually he can tell that I'm resentful even if I don't say anything and try to hide it, so I try to have the intention to tell him when I am feeling overburdened by his having to work all the freaking time. I know that he is very stressed out too, and that helps put things in perspective. Having a support network of friends and family helps too - even if it is just to have someone to complain or cry to. I wouldn't say that I am managing my situation the way I would like to (I am still working on carving out dedicated self-care time), but when I am feeling that pain my usual tendency is to call a friend, or talk to my neighbor on the bus ride home, or something like that. I still feel like I am just surviving, but it does help. Good luck!

I understand how you feel, as I've lived it myself. I'm sorry that I don't have any silver bullets to offer, but thought I'd throw in something else to consider.

I realize that part of my resentment toward my husband's demanding job and travel have to do with something other than feelings of exhaustion, loneliness, etc. I understand how tiring it is for my husband to work as hard as he does and I appreciate his effort and commitment to work and family. But while we are both giving  our all, the difference is that for my husband, his efforts result in travel opportunities, networking connections, respect and admiration from colleagues in his profession and higher pay, whereas for me, my efforts result in a well-run house, paid bills, a well-cared for child and lower pay. Except for my husband's appreciation, there is no external validation. I resent living the role of a 1950s housewife, but with the added responsibility of also working full time. But the biggest irritant is the fact that my husband doesn't really understand the root of my resentment. In his mind, if we are both giving 100%, it's a 50-50 split. He just doesn't really get it. I realize every couple has to make their own agreements, but it still seems as if it's a man's world in many ways, especially once children get involved. I'm not sure how this helps you, but in my case, once I understood what was at the root of some of my anger and resentment, it has become easier to let it go.

Good luck.

Martinis. Seriously.

I lived for years with a spouse that traveled out of town  sometimes up to 3 weeks a month. I had 3 small kids all boys.  The only thing that kept me sane was hiring someone to play with the kids so I could get a break.  Sometimes it was  a teenager, usually it was a casual arrangement but I just HAD to have at least one good break a week, even if it was just to go for a walk or go to the library.  You have to have SOME alone, me, quiet time or you will really begin to resent your situation, imo.

These are the exhausting years. My husband had a similar travel pattern when our kids were little (daycare-preschool, 2 kids 15 months apart). I don't think our relationship thrived during those years, but we managed. Luckily, my commute wasn't a killer and I was always responsible for the transportation so I set the schedule. 1. Household cleaning and repairs will be deferred, unless the roof is leaking or vermin invade. 2. Media time for kids is expanded to give mom time to make dinner. 3. Kids in bed by nine or before. 4. Dinner can be Kraft mac, or take-out when time and ingredients are in short supply. We had a cat, certainly less needy than a dog. I used a nighttime shower as my time; if I was able to read a section of the newspaper, it was bonus; wine mellowed my mood. Quality vs quantity.  Try not to let resentment seep in, it's corroding. Looking back, if we could have afforded it, I might have engaged a housecleaner, and even though we had two children, multiples can entertain each other if only to beat one another over the head with a pillow. Hang in there - it gets better and you're so capable, enjoy that feeling.

I dealt with all this too, when I was married. Not because my husband travelled, but because of his work schedule and because that's how he rolled. I was resentful and unhappy about it a lot of the time. Then I got divorced and had to do all that and more. Even though it was taxing, it felt like no sweat at all because I was so much happier. I'm not suggesting that you get a divorce, but it might be a good idea to take a look at the big picture to see if the traveling is exacerbating feelings of resentment that are actually stemming from many places.

I can complete understand your position.  I was in a job which required me to travel 50% of the time.  And at the time we had three kids.  Travel is not easy, and it really sucks right now.  Doing this for a couple of years I'm sure you are tired of it and it will only get worse for you.  You have to decide what's important in your life?  Your happiness, money, good marriage?   Since it sounds like you are doping two jobs and are not happy, can you get by with one income?  (That's what we did.)   Could he change jobs?  Or could it be he likes the travel to get away and leaves the mundane tasks for you?  Can you do things it make your life easier/less complicated?  Get rid of the dog?  Hire a housecleaner?  a cook?  Someone to help you with the kid?  Or can you let somethings go, like clean or shop less often?  Or cooking meals that will feed for several days?
It sounds like you have reached a breaking point which is why you your asking for advice.
​My wife quit her job, and I changed mine.  We didn't have the same income, but then again my wife was much happier and less stressed.  This also allowed her to have some free time to visit with her friends,  go shopping or ???  Do something before this drives you "crazy" and ruins your life.  It's not easy, but you are taking the first step in working towards a solution. 

With the way traffic is in the Bay Area I have been turning down jobs were my income would double because of the commute.  Makes no sense to me to commute for 4 hours a day when I work 8.  A two hour commute each way is like taking a 50% reduction in pay.

​Best of luck.

My spouse has traveled frequently for work for my now teenage children's entire lives. During that time, I have worked full time, part time, been a full time student and not worked outside the home. I sympathize with your exhaustion, which I shared when my children were younger.  It does get easier as the children grow, because they are able to do more for themselves.

If you can afford to hire help with any or all of childcare, cleaning, food shopping/cooking and pet care, it will help.  Some people also get help from grandparents, friends or other family.

If you have a husband who is willing to help, he could cook and freeze dinners before leaving, and take care of periodic cleaning tasks like bathrooms, floors and changing bedding before he leaves, so you are left only with the daily dishes, dog walking and picking up.

I was lucky to have the financial resources to hire some help, as there was no other source. My husband was always too busy first preparing for his trips, and then catching up on work when he returned.  I was resentful, but have mellowed a little.  I am extremely grateful to have a wonderful relationship with my terrific children.

I can relate. We are a two-parent household, but from the time our kids were born, my husband has run a catering business, so he was at work all the time whenever people booked him for events (meaning: day, night, weekends); and because of his booking schedule, it was difficult for us to make plans even a day ahead, because his schedule would be changing all the time. I was at home with the kids and our dog a lot, and until my older kid was 10 years old, I can say I was angry and resentful for having to shoulder the majority of the childcare and house maintenance, and for having to be "on call" all the time, not to mention that I missed out on a lot of school-related social events (like fancy parents-only wine-and-cheese fundraisers) because I'm an introvert and didn't feel comfortable attending the events without a date. It got a lot easier once as my kids got older and more self-sufficient, and once I accepted that this was my life, and my normal.

What helped me get through it was a regular exercise regimen, and a support group of sympathetic moms. When my kids were in diapers, I joined a mothers' group at my church (which offered free childcare during our weekly meetings) and that helped A LOT just in keeping me checked in reality, and also in making some good friendships with other moms. Also, I was grateful for my dog because he made me get out of the house for walks, kept me company during day naps, and calmed me down in a therapy-dog kind of way.

I didn't enjoy being the sole parent responsible for stuff like organizing birthday parties for my kids, or having to learn how to drive in a Tahoe snowstorm to take my kids on ski trips, or schlepping baby seats through airports on airplanes to take my kids on trips to see out-of-town family, but after many years of this, my kids and I developed a good routine for these kinds of things, to a point that on the occasion that my husband is able to accompany us, he's somewhat resentful that we have a logistical system that can function without him.

We can't afford a housekeeper or nanny (never had one), so my kids had to learn how to cook on their own--which helps even now as they're teenagers because they share the load of cooking dinner with me, and now that my older kid is out of the house, I don't worry about how he's going to cook for himself. And our house is just not going to be as clean and tidy or well-decorated as some others I know; I accept that.

Because of all the time I spent with my kids, I know each of them well, and can say I have a GREAT relationship with each of them, something my husband is somewhat envious of, since his relationship with the kids while loving, is not as close.