I travel a lot. Some may say “too much”. Much of my travel is for my day job doing pharmaceutical market research. I fly around the country interviewing healthcare professionals and patients on behalf of my clients. I also travel for what I call my “passion portfolio”. This entails speaking for Marriage ROCKS workshops or other leadership and family seminars and conferences.
While both my wife, Dalia and I conduct many of our relationship workshops together, for most of my travel I am on the road alone.
In some ways I like to travel. I like visiting new cities, meeting new people, and eating at different restaurants. And, what traveler doesn’t like to see those frequent flier miles and free hotel nights accrue as your Elite Status is secured.
But, in other ways travel, particularly the work-related travel, can be quite mundane as you frequent the same cities repeatedly, become annoyed with flight delays and cancellations, hotel gaffes, and just generally losing track of important details happening with your family—especially if you have school-age children or grandchildren.
The road is also filled with a number of distractions and even temptations that spell danger for the unsuspecting traveler. USA Today published a a very insightful article on the perils of work-related travel on marital fidelity, “Infidelity is in the air for road warriors”. The message is clear that many feel a sense of entitlement or maybe lowered inhibitions regarding extra-marital romance when on the road. In fact, salespeople call it the the 1,000-mile rule. This “rule” noted in the USA Today article suggests that you “play by the rules and don’t fool around when you’re within 1,00 miles of your home. But, beyond this radius, do what you want.”
Amazingly, there are even websites devoted to providing clandestine accommodations for those seeking secrecy. For example, ABC News reveals the top hotels for having an affair. Really?
Protecting yourself and your family while you’re on the road is not just about marital infidelity.
There are children who are counting on you to be tirelessly engaged in their lives even when miles separate you. Of course, school age children have academic challenges and celebrations as well as a seemingly innumerable array of school-related activities for the engaged parent to monitor. And, this can be even more challenging when you are not the custodial parent.
For those with aging parents, there is also the concern for staying in touch with the needs of your parent(s) while you’re juggling the your travel itinerary along with the needs of your own spouse and children.
With these challenges in mind, it is important to stay vigilantly engaged with your family while you’re on the road. Why? You do not want physical distance apart to create a sense of relational or emotional distance. In fact, you want to feel even more intimate when you’re physically separated. This emotional intensification helps to guard you and your family members’ behavior when “no one is watching”. We’ve all heard the quip, “when the cat is away, the mouse will play.”
Well, I would like to offer five steps for you, the road warrior, to protect your family relationships while you are traveling.
Step 1: Leave Home Healthy
The reality is when your family relationships are strained you (and those you’ve left behind) are more susceptible to maladaptive behavior when you’re on the road. Spouses with pent up frustration towards one another are open to giving and receiving emotional and physical encouragement to co-workers and even strangers who they meet in a bar or on an airplane. Children who are disconnected from you while you are home feel even more alienated from you when you are on the road for long stretches.
It is important to have an attitude that you will “leave home healthy”. It is often tempting for the road warrior to just want to kick back and relax when you have an opportunity for a brief respite from the road. But, I encourage you to fit some time in to take the extra step to have positive (and even intimate) moments with your spouse and children when you are home. Spend time with them and do something special both as a couple and as a family, if you have children.
Do not go on the road angry or upset with one another. Even if you can’t iron out all the details, aggressively attempt to de-escalate any friction before you head out the door. And, re-affirm your love and commitment to your spouse and children.
Step 2: Stay Watchful of Home
One temptation for road warriors is to subscribe to the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. This is dangerous. Would you want your child to have this attitude towards you? Of course not. You want your child to hear your voice in their head at every decision-making juncture.
Personally, when my adult son says that he hears my voice barking some instruction in his head when he is about to make a poor decision, I’m ecstatic. I want my kids to ask themselves “what would dad say?” If I haven’t heard from my son who lives many hours away from us in a few days. I go onto Facebook to see what he’s posted lately. I’ll comment on one of his recent posts or I’ll text him about something just to let him know that I’m thinking about him.
If your child is using social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, or others, I encourage you to be on these sites too. Just don’t be too obvious that you’re stalking them!
When I ask my teenage daughter if she feels that I am disengaged with her or not paying enough attention to what is going on with her, she laughs and says “are you kidding?” It feels like you are always watching me. You always know what is going on.” She is particularly thinking as related to her school work. You know the secret to this? I regularly look online at her classwork and grades. When I see a grade below a B or missing, I ask her about it. I ask her if I need to contact her teacher. And, I follow through with the teacher so that my daughter knows that I’m serious. So, even when I’m not physically home, my daughter knows that I’m watching. If your school district has an online system for you to monitor grades, make sure you are signed up for it and that your child knows you regularly monitor it.
With my wife, I will often send her a quick text just to say “I love you” or “Hope you have a great day” or “How are you doing today?” just so she knows that I’m thinking about her.
The more challenges your marriage is facing the more important it is that you are communicating with your spouse regularly (daily if necessary). This doesn’t mean that you have to have a voice conversation every day. But, you can use texting or social media to stay meaningfully connected.
Part of staying watchful of home is to stay on top of events and milestones that are going on back at home. Use Google calendar or some other calendaring tool to keep track of activities that the family is involved in, important family milestones (e.g., birthdays, anniversaries). Send yourself reminders about these events.
Step 3: Talk about Home
When on the road, particularly for work-related travel it is easy to become subsumed with the work challenges that you face—often working late in the evenings. Oftentimes, you feel exhausted boarding the plane after a draining client experience. Sometimes, you are sitting in a restaurant or bar feeling mentally spent.
Other times, you’re feeling great because you had a great success. You want to celebrate and share the experience with others.
Whether your road experience feels draining or uplifting, it is important in social situations to talk about home (dropping a line about something regarding your wife and children) when you’re engaging with others—particularly if you’re speaking to someone of the opposite sex (or someone to whom you may be otherwise attracted).
Talking about home has several self-protective qualities. It sends a message to those with whom you are talking that you are married (hopefully happily), that you have kids (that are a priority), and that you have no interest (or willingness) to engage in any conversation or behavior that would jeopardize these relationships. This is all communicated without even saying it.
The other key is to NEVER NEVER remove your wedding band when in these social settings. Many, often unbeknownst to you, are watching. And, if they notice that no ring is there, some interpret that to mean you’re open to being approached romantically. While some people don’t care if you’re married, most people will give at least nominal respect to that—if they sense that it means something to you.
Finally, do not flirt—even jokingly. Some people are just naturally flirtatious—not really intending to make romantic suggestions. If you are this way, try to tone it down to the extent possible and talk about home even more.
Step 4: Respect Home
Hopefully, you’re gathering from these steps that protecting your home while you’re on the road, is largely about protecting yourself from temptation. When on the road it is important that you carefully monitor what you allow your mind to focus on. One way I check myself is to ask “would I be comfortable doing this if my wife (or my kid) was right here?” This helps me to maintain a respect for home.
For example, when you’re in the hotel room, it is easy to flip the TV to adult entertainment channels with heavily sexualized or pornographic content. This is risky behavior because it physiologically arouses you in a way that can threaten your commitment to your wife and family.
Even when engaged in social settings, do not say or otherwise infer anything that you wouldn’t do if your spouse or kids were sitting right beside.
Step 5: Prioritize Home
If you are struggling to protect your home as a road warrior, it behooves you to look for ways to change the frequency of your travel. Some families, particularly strained ones, cannot handle the rigors of travel.
Maintaining a healthy home requires tons of trust. If your family relationships are strained, you may best protect your family and lead your home by looking for ways to reduce your travel schedule. If you cannot do this while on your current job, then it is time for you to look for another job.
In the end, it is your family relationships not your work accomplishments that are going to give you the most satisfaction. At the end of your life, it is not your work accomplishments that are going to be most meaningful to you. You can never get a do-over or a mulligan for any day that you are on the road. You don’t get to re-do today.
What goes on the road doesn’t stay on the road. Rather, when done without integrity, it insidiously infiltrates your important relationships.
But, you have the power to lead your home by making it clear to your family, co-workers, and business associates that family is a priority for you. As you respect that, they will too. And, if they don’t, it is time to make a change.
By the way, if you’ve already experienced some marital failures due to infidelity, there are resources available to help. My friend, Nicole Cleveland has a helpful book, “So he cheated, now what?” and a pretty cool website that I’ve recently discovered on extramarital affairs is Dear Peggy. Check them out.
I’ve talked about a few of the things that this road warrior does to protect my home while I’m on the road. What about you? What suggestions do you have for your fellow travelers to protect their home?