Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My boyfriend and I have been together for a couple of years now. We moved in together pretty early on and have always enjoyed spending a lot of time together, but lately it's been hard. We have both had changes in our jobs. For him, that means spending a few weeks at a time on the Slope, and for me, it means traveling out of state more. To add to that, I'm in school getting my master's and it feels like the few evenings I do have, I have to spend studying or there's no way I would keep up.
In the last few months, we have literally just spent a few days together. It's stressful for us both and sometimes it seems like when we do have quality time to share, we end up bickering, which is new territory for us. We've always been pretty easygoing.
The end is in sight: I'll be done with school this fall, and his Slope work is supposedly temporary. However, my traveling is likely to continue. We haven't figured out our rhythm with this "new normal" and I guess I'd like any advice on how to get through this together.
I think a lot of Alaskans will relate to your letter. It's pretty common in our state that at least one half of the relationship duo spends extended time away, whether it be on the Slope, a fishing boat, an oil platform, a field research team — you name it. And it's definitely hard. We commit to being with someone because we love them and love being around them, not because we prefer to be separated.
The good news for you is it sounds like where you are now is as bad as it's going to get, and you've been semi-successfully navigating your way through it. If you can just tread water for a few more months, well — the shore is in sight. Better yet, maybe you can incorporate some tips and tricks to be stronger swimmers in the meantime.
First off, it's unfortunate that the distance is so stressful that the tension is seeping into your precious few shared moments. Try to tackle that. Talk together about how you want to really spend those occasional interludes so that they feel positive and really matter. Maybe it's as simple as hopping into bed or binging on a favorite Netflix series or having an indulgent date night out. The activity itself matters less than the agreement you've mutually reached on how you're going to spend that time, and if you're doing something that you value, you're more likely to relax and enjoy yourselves.
Here's another idea: Have you heard of mini-games? Successful businesses use these to motivate employees. For example, they might promise bonuses if a short-term financial goal is reached. How about you two create some mini-games? Say you'll make it a goal to text each other every morning when you wake up, even if it's just a quick "thinking of you" or a cheesy emoji, and if you can hit that goal for a week, you have to give each other half-hour massages upon next meeting. Or make it a goal to send at least two meaningful emails a week that share deeper details about what's going on at work, with a dinner out at a fancy restaurant if you each hit the targets. These kinds of benchmarks can feel clinical and forced, but if you throw in a reward, it could be really fun and give you both some tangible targets to shoot for so that you feel like you're both on the same page and connected.
There's a steep price to being an overachieving superstar — right, Wanda?
However, this couple's "new normal" is really just "good old-fashioned normal" for countless other couples. Working for constant growth, self-improvement and better careers can be so demanding — physically and emotionally — and literally pull us in so many directions that it's often tough to feel grounded, connected or even supported. With all this work come big rewards and fulfillment, but also sacrifice, loneliness and frustration, which can easily turn into that unnecessary fighting you guys have going on.
That's where a strong partnership comes in. You both need your partner, your home base, your anchor. If you are there for one another, understanding and encouraging at every step, it makes the journey so much easier.
Now, take a step back and see your situation clearly. Even if your boyfriend worked in town full-time, you still wouldn't see him much with your work travel and your classes and studying. And even if you were just working a normal job and dropped school, you still wouldn't see him for weeks at a time because of his Slope schedule. So unless you're both willing to change your jobs and dial back your ambitions, it's time to accept that life is never going to be "normal." And the best you can do is commit to being there for one another, no matter the distance, and enjoy every second of the time you do have together, no matter how fleeting it is.
If you think the demands and challenges are tough on you two now, imagine if you have kids someday. Even more reason for setting and resetting the solid foundation of your partnership now so that you always know that your partner, and best friend, has your back.
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