Many of us may take our day in and day out routine with our partner for granted. We wake up next to them, share a cup of coffee in the morning, discuss our plan for the day, and kiss each other good night. But what happens when our partner is sometimes here, sometimes not?
While this perspective is certainly applicable to all relationships in which one or both partners travel, I am coming at this from the unique perspective of being a therapist and knowing what it feels like to love someone in aviation.
Romance movies always seem to have an emotional goodbye scene at the airport, with the party left behind feeling lovelorn and despairing, pining desperately for the moment their loved one returns. With certainty, I can say this has not been my experience. Often, I am waiting for the moment my partner gets on the airplane to go work, desperately wanting to get back into my solo routine. This is no way means that there is anything wrong with the relationship or we’ve reached the end of the relationship stages
There are benefits to relationships that have space, including developing our own identities and interests outside of the relationship, but there are psychological drawbacks as well.
The toll this takes on a relationship can greatly increase the termination point of any partnership, as feelings of anger, insecurity, and abandonment show up and take over leading to such outcomes of infidelity and relationship betrayal.
From a personal perspective, and certainly not true for all, I will admit my feelings of abandonment show up at least one day before my partner is scheduled to leave. The part of me that intercedes at this moment becomes critical, judgmental, and argumentative, which then leads to a fight with both of us parting on tumultuous terms. The insecure part of me triggers the insecure part in my partner, which in extreme circumstances, can and will lead sometime to ‘soothe’ the hurt the best way they know how.
Infidelity is rampant in the aviation industry, and with cause. If we continue to send our partners off to work with anger and resentment, we cannot claim no fault to shame-based reactions that take over.
Over my time in aviation as well as with the clients I serve, I have found deep trust and vulnerability paramount in this context.
We do not have luxury of kissing our partner good morning or good night every day, we do not know where they may be from moment to moment nor do we have the option to get ahold of them readily, and we do not know with whom they are associating.
As these uncertainties become a weekly reality, saying goodbye becomes more weighted.
Please know, while yes there are stressors, this is by no means a hopeless situation. I have found the best course of action is to incorporate the following techniques.
Here is how to navigate a relationship in the aviation industry:
1. Communicate fears and insecurities
Allowing our partner to hear why our insecurities show up, as well as what may trigger them gives them the opportunity to support us. Not only by being vulnerable are we further cementing mutual trust, we are also giving them the chance to succeed and be the support we need. This also important to progress to advanced stages of a relationship.
2. Know your emotions are valid
Often guilt and shame show up when it’s time to say goodbye, and this is perfectly ok. Guilt may arise when we are excited to see them go, because we want to get back into our routine.
Shame is activated when we feel let down or abandoned, leading to greater disconnection and barriers between us.
Feeling these emotions in no way shows that you’ve reached the last stages of a relationship.
Please know that these feelings are real and the more we accept our humanness, the more we can become vulnerable, which is the antidote to shame and the constructor of trust.
3. Create a ritual
Treat coming home and leaving as events worth celebrating. This by no means has to be elaborate, but make a point to incorporate a ritual to set the stage for the coming duration, whether together or apart. This is unique to each couple but can include such things as taking 30 minutes without electronic devices to catch up, doing an activity that brings joy prior to parting, or eating the same meal prior to each departure. With structure, we prepare for things to come, and with a partner constantly coming and going, structure may become lacking.
By incorporating just a few tips, we can maintain the joy and reinforce the trust needed to succeed in a long-term, semi- long-distance relationship no matter which relationship stage you’re in. Saying goodbye is never easy, but it also does not have be so painful. It may also be beneficial to find a couple’s therapist that specializes in and understands the unique needs of an aviation family. How do you and your partner make saying goodbye easier to navigate?