Why do pilots cheat? How airline pilots can have successful relationships? And is it even possible to have a successful relationship in aviation?
These were some of the pre-programed queries presented to me as I began to explore the pilot marriage statistics in the aviation industry. According to a variety of sources, some more credible than others, I found a range of divorce rates anywhere between 10.68% to 75% for aviation professionals.
Having been in an ‘aviation’ relationship myself for over 14 years, I have experienced many of the challenges discussed on forums, blogs, and in articles, however as a therapist, I have grasped and counseled on ways to cope and move beyond these trials.
In generality, a conventional relationship holds specific roles and values that lead the partners to act and behave in certain ways. One of the most common roles is exemplified in ‘man as breadwinner’ and ‘woman as caregiver’.
In today’s society, gender roles are shifting and partnerships are not exclusive to hetero-normative culture, though we still take on the roles in our partnership to identify who is responsible for what and how, creating what is called an ‘interdependent’ relationship.
An interdependent relationship is defined as a collective amount of give and take, dependence and independence, and is the ideal we therapists strive to create in relationship therapy, creating a sense of balance and equity. But what happens when our status quo is shaken up by one partner entering into the aviation world?
While I can assume a certain amount of my relationship’s success has come from both of us being part of the aviation world when our partnership began, I have known too many others whose partnership began prior, and once a part of this world, either the relationship or the job had to dissolve.
The fantasy job quickly becomes the main stressor, while each partner’s roles become redefined and more elusive and suddenly there is no more stability in a schedule.
With the airline being the decision-maker in whether or not my partner will be home today or tomorrow, if we can celebrate holidays together (on the actual holiday), or if they will be able to attend family events or be there to support me in emergencies.
With a starting average of only 10 days off per month, chances are low they will be present, and much higher that I have to become more ‘independent’.
In a long distance relationship with a pilot resentments build on both sides as one partner is responsible for day to day success at home while the other ‘visits’ briefly and disrupts the new balance created in their absence.
Adjusting to these new roles will be hard but are certainly possible with willingness and work. The best way to go about redefining the conventional relationship is to have as much open, honest communication as possible from the beginning.
Feeling comfortable being vulnerable with each other is crucial, as it allows us to express our frustrations, fears, and ever-changing needs. Practice assertive communication, shame-resiliency, and accountability.
Seek out advice from others who have been here before, and create a network of support who express understanding. Find a therapist who understands the aviation world and can help ease the redefinition of the conventional relationship, thus setting the foundation for becoming the long-lasting statistic.