Now we use text messaging, Vonage, Skype, Google Video chat, FaceTime and Tango, besides old-fashioned emails and cell-phones, to keep us in touch.
"In touch." Hmm, that's funny.
Because "touch" is exactly what we do not have, even with all these digits and wires.
You want to stay in touch with your family and friends, but is that really the term you want to use in a marriage? "How are you and John?" "Oh, we're really in touch."
Anyway, this is what we have and this is how we use it.
We get to talk on the phone every day and do video calls several times a week. For the first few weeks I only put the camera on Ayla while we talked, but then I thought he should probably be able to see his wife, even if my hair is a mess. I mean, we have been married for six years and he watched me have a baby, I think he can handle a little frizz. (Okay, a lot of frizz)
I am SO grateful for this technology. (I literally cannot state that any more emphatically, as I used all the basic editing features blogger gives us.) I know many couples with one spouse away don't have the luxury of reliable/constant communication we have, in years past and even today. However, being separate does present challenges to a marriage that can't be ignored without affecting the long-term health of the relationship, and can't be solved merely by using digital communication.
Here are a few main challenges we've encountered in our years of long-distancing (yep, just made that term up) and the work we try to do to stay in front of them:
1) Challenge: Bringing the other person into your world without overburdening them with too much detail or leaving them with not enough information.
Work: Understanding we are living separate lives for the time being and respecting the other person's immersion in their world. I understand that John is working for most of the day and for the few precious moments we talk, that's not what he wants to talk about. He understands that I want to know how he is beyond "good," or "tired," so he tries to think of elements of his work life that would be interesting to me. He'll tell me about the people he works with, the office dynamics, how he feels about a project he's spearheading, and so on. He understands that most of my day is filled with Ayla, and most of what I have to talk about revolves around her. I try to think of more than just her diapers or naps to tell him about. I work to communicate about her in a way that he can stay connected without adding to the weight he's already bearing by being away. We don't have a formula for this, I'm telling you, it's hard work!
2) Challenge: Making the time on the phone/video-chat count.
Work: Letting each day be what it is. Some days, we just don't have much to say, so we just say Hi, I miss you, I love you, talk to you tomorrow. Some days we have to discuss "business" (house stuff, money stuff, car stuff, etc.), so we put that up front. It's not all romantic and deep thoughts. But we have learned that we need those deep talks, too, so we plan and prepare for them. If we have serious relationship issues to discuss, we have to first see if it's something that would be better in person and if it will wait, we table it. If it can't wait, I try to give him heads up that this is something I'd like to talk about in the next few days and see if he'd like to work it out in email or on the phone. I think the key here is being intentional and flexible, and applying lots of grace and consideration for the other person.
3) Challenge: Staying connected spiritually.
Work: Being connected to the Source. I believe we are covered in so much grace for this, but it's still a work on our parts to be submitted to God, live as a citizen of His Kingdom in our respective days and to listen to His voice. This is the hardest challenge, by far, and the most necessary to work at. We try to share about what we're learning from what we're reading or listening to, burdens for prayer, questions we're asking, or stuff we're struggling with. Of course, we can't do any of that if we're not practicing any type of spiritual discipline, which is challenging for everyone (and why it's called a discipline!). I know that I can't do his spiritual work for him, but if I do mine, it benefits him because I'm a healthier person.
I'm sure you've realized the same thing I have in discussing these challenges, that they're the same in same-place marriages! I believe this work is essential for health in any marriage, and we absolutely have to put these things into practice wherever we are.
For people in our situation, though, the need is amplified because we don't have the benefit of touch, of lounging on the couch after a long day's work, or the time together in the car or during a meal. It's not enough for us to just think how wonderful it is that we have Skype or that we get to talk every day, because those things can actually become burdens if we're not working on the relationship that these technologies help connect.
We haven't perfected this by any means. It's still hard and frustrating. It sucks to have to hit "End," and that really be it until the next conversation. But, I think even just being aware of these challenges keeps us proactive against sliding down the easier road of growing apart.
So, I was trying to think of something funny or light-hearted to close with because I feel I got a bit serious up there. (John, you'll just have to forgive me for this.) I have gotten a big kick out of seeing my incredibly strong, manly husband use text lingo like "omg, lol and !!!" these past few months. It seems, even in digits, marriage can be a delightful surprise!
(Next up: I am what I swore I'd never be)