As part of the Women’s Cruising Series that I’m currently hosting/participating in, one of the questions I asked was “What impact has the cruising life had on your relationships?” This is what inspired this blog post.
A year ago (the day after Thanksgiving 2015), we packed up our trailer and our van and left some of our adult children, our friends and our home behind to move onto a sailboat in Florida. That was an amazingly difficult tranistion. No one was expecting it to be ‘easy’ or uneventful (but we were looking forward to the enforced “Life Cleanse” aspect of it all!), but the effect it had on my relationship with my husband? I wasn’t expecting that. At All.
“Living the “Dream” Nearly Destroyed my Marriage.” I know that title sounds dramatic as hell, but honestly, it feels dramatic as hell. Now before someone gets upset and thinks that this is a post warning people not to move onto a boat, just take a step back and breathe. That’s not what this is about.
This is not a “Boat Life Sucks” post. Not even close. This is a “Wow, this aspect of the liveaboard/traveling life caught me off guard and I wish I’d have been better prepared to deal with it” and even more… its just me, relating my own story, ONE SMALL PART of our story, just to share. For those who might be struggling with the same thing. Because I started this blog with a desire to be ‘real’ about the good the bad and the ugly… and this has been part of our experience. That’s all there is to it.
This is a video I made just 5 years ago. We were having some hard times in life, but our marriage, the “Us” was solid.
Patrick and I have been married for over two decades. That is a long time and a LOT of changes, experiences and just living. We have had our ups and downs, we’ve been through all sorts of shit together and come out the other side. Sometimes a bit battered emotionally, sometimes for the better and sometimes barely hanging on. I have almost always been able to look back on our life together as being far more of a good thing than a bad thing. A very good, positive, loving marriage.
We’ve raised five children together (and still are, as our youngest is still 16) and anyone who has children knows that adds extra pressure to a marriage. Not that its all good or all bad, but it definitely adds… things. More humans in the mix always adds something! We’ve moved a LOT (We’ve lived in 13 different homes since we got married, not counting the boat) lived in three states, we lived on a bus and traveled the US together, working together and dragging along all five children.
We dealt with a lot of hard things, some of the same things a lot of people go through, some were unique to us, some huge issues, some smaller things.
When we got married, I don’t really think ANYONE who knew us expected us to last for any length of time. We were young, broke and I was in such an emotionally/mentally unstable place in my life, I’m not even sure *I* thought we would make it.
Regardless, here we are 23 years later and we’re still married. Still committed to each other… but not without our problems.
The problems we’re having aren’t new. They’re just no longer… avoidable, thanks to the boat life (and I do believe this is a GOOD thing! Avoiding problems isn’t the answer.)
I wrote a post near the beginning of this journey about our struggles with loneliness and depression. That certainly plays a role in our marital issues, but its not the core of it.
For us, the thing about being on a boat that made our marriage truly falter is actually the thing I was looking forward to the most… time together to deal with our issues. We have pretty much always had a pretty solid marriage. We didn’t fight much, really. We obviously loved each other a lot. Our marriage was looked upon by many as the ‘dream marriage’ and in many ways it was. Patrick has always been a very devoted husband, all he wants is for me to be happy. He loves me and tells me daily. He has supported me through the bad (dealing with my childhood trauma being the main one) and the good (producing, directing and building sets for many community theater productions; helping me to organize and put on prom for the large homeschooling community; building my organizational design projects for our many homes, homeschooling, and just a loooong list.)
In spite of all of those things, we’ve been struggling to find a balance for the last several years. A balance that supports his dreams and mine. A balance that supports his NEEDS and mine.
The crux of the issue all comes down to needs, love languages, whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t even seem like it should be a big deal, and I ALWAYS blamed this lack in our marriage on the fact that we always had to spend so much time apart because he pretty much always worked long hours… add to that having 5 kids and there just isn’t a lot of time to devote to working through deep, long term issues.
That being said, I was SO looking forward to the boat life as far as our marriage went. I thought we’d have all the time in the world to sit and have deep discussions about our feelings and our lives and really reconnect on a deep, emotional and spiritual level.
SURPRISE. It wasn’t the lack of time that caused the problem. It was the lack of… well… it was the lack of the ABILITY to emotionally connect.
Add to that some extra issues like unexpected financial problems, nicotine withdrawl (and the accompanying emotional rollercoaster that we ALL had to deal with in close quarters) and for me, the emotional impact of being away from my kids… and it was a recipe for disaster.
We are both very laid back about certain things, we both have a crazy/silly sense of humor and laugh and live like kids sometimes… But the problem comes in because one of us is the ‘talker’/ ‘fighter’ (I bet you can guess which one!) and the other is the quiet, solitude loving, stoic “I was raised to keep emotional things to myself” person.
I am a deeply feeling, emotional being. I like to hash out things and get to the root of the problem. I like to discuss uncomfortable things and dig down and figure out WHY things are the way they are, WHY I react to things the way I do, what the root of the argument really is, etc. Having the hard discussions, even the arguments is cathartic to me. I get passionate and even when I get really angry about something, I feel a million times better when its all out in the open. I thought this was going to be really handy on the boat, since now we’d have all the time in the world to discuss things. My love language is quality time. (Patrick’s, by the way is Acts of Service, doing things for people. So when I say I’m not feeling loved or wanted, he tends to go DO things for me instead.) For me, I have a strong need to feel wanted, needed and I feel loved when people spend quality time with me.
Quality Time is my major love language and that, for me, means deep conversations. Discussing everything about life, feelings choices, etc. I have that kind of relationship with all of my kids. We discuss e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. Even Jaedin, who is a LOT like his father, personality wise and not the biggest “let’s talk” kind of guy still talks to me about… well, just about everything in his life. I’m used to spending hours a day in discussion between all the kids, friends (usually online) and whatnot and I was THRILLED at the idea of being with Patrick so much, because I envisioned a lot of intimate, emotional conversations. Hashing out our little old issues and becoming ridiculously close and intimate again like we used to be.
But I was WRONG, MISTER.
I know this is a double negative, but bare with me, We didn’t NOT have conversations because Patrick was gone or exhausted all the time because of work. We didn’t have deep emotional conversations because Patrick is pretty much incapable of having said conversations without becoming totally and completely depressed. He doesn’t have ANY need for long discussions. He doesn’t feel the need to dig into his ‘feelings’ about things. He doesn’t recognize it when *I* need it, because he has never seen the need for it himself. It pretty much leaves him reeling with total and complete confusion over what just happened. He just doesn’t see things the same way I do. At all.
It didn’t help at ALL that because of our traveling lifestyle, I was sudden separated from my other kids and friends that often took the brunt of the ‘burden’ of conversation off of him.
It REALLY didn’t help that I suddenly had hours upon hours of time to THINK and dig and explore my own feelings without the distractions of work/kids/facebook (that I then wanted to discuss).
It didn’t help that we really had a lot of heavy, unpleasant shit to wade through because we’d always pushed it off to the side when work/life/kids got in the way… in addition to some shit that really just doesn’t have an answer/solution.
Before this past year, Patrick and I had only ever been apart for up to two weeks at a time. And that was RARE. This year? We will end one calendar year having spent 20 of the 52 weeks apart. That is a HUGE change in addition to the already huge change of lifestyle.
For Patrick, coming back to land was eye opening in a huge way that made it crystal clear to him that he has ZERO desire to ever step foot back in the US in the forseeable future. He is a boat person, through and through. He LOVES being out on the ocean and nothing will deter his love of the ocean.
For ME? Coming back to land just… well, let me first say that when I was on the boat, I had NO desire to come back to land EXCEPT to see my kids and to get out of the unrelenting heat. That was really the only reason I wanted to come back. However, once I was back on land… I really had little desire to get back to the boat in any kind of hurry, except to be back with Abyni. I thought I would be here for a month, maybe 6 weeks and then head back ‘home’. Instead… I found that being back here with my other kids and my friends was refreshing, it was uplifting in a way I didn’t expect. My daughter Sprite has a 3 month old baby and a 2 1/2 year old. She and her husband were worn out, exhausted and stressed out. I was able to take a lot of that weight off by babysitting for them once a week. Spending time together with Sprite made it apparent that she had really missed me and she (and her husband) REALLY appreciated my help. My grandson is now old enough to remember “Grandma Byn” and we already have favorite books together.
My son Kainan and I have spent hours discussing life, relationships and even politics (the ONLY person that I can stand talking politics with and we don’t even agree on all of it) he brings up the fact that he’s really missed me a lot in a very meaningful way. I was able to be here for a very close friend who came out to her family and needed a lot of support and it meant SO much to me to be able to be here for that as well. Now Paris is back on land, too. She and I, though, we can talk/chat over any medium. We don’t ‘need’ to be in person to connect. The rest of my relationships, though, it just isn’t the same.
I look back over the last year and see where my presence would have made a big difference for them. All of these things are… they aren’t things that… ugh. They aren’t the type of ‘deal breaker’ by any means, they are just on the list of reasons that I feel fulfilled and NEEDED here. Yes, my kids are adults and they can live without me being here. But they do appreciate me being here and they are (I believe) benefiting from my presence. Do they need me here 24/7, all year round? Of course not. The only point I’m trying to make (I think) is that they appreciate me, they make me feel needed and appreciated. They love having long conversations about pretty much anything and everything. Just realizing how happy it was making me to feel so needed, so wanted… to have deep conversations with so many people, THAT made me realize how very vital it is to my happiness. For the first time in my life, I really hit a spot where I decided that yes, its okay to NEED this and more importantly, I DESERVE to be happy. (This has been a long time coming, as I’ve really struggled to feel like I actually deserve to be happy or to do things for myself.) There are a lot of others things in play as to the changes I want to make in my life for my own happiness, but I’m trying to stick to one topic at this point.
It also brought to light a glaring hole in the fabric of my marriage. My husband doesn’t need those same things. He doesn’t need that same connection. He just needs me in his life, preferably in the same home, sharing his adventures and he wants me to be happy. In our discussions on this topic, it has become apparent that although he would do anything for me, he just might not even be capable of filling this need. He tries. He IS trying. But when the conversations themselves tear him up and leave him feeling depressed and shattered, I’m not really sure that this is going to be one of those things that we’ll be able to solve or figure out right now. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that this is going to have to be (at least for the near future), something that we are going to have to work AROUND instead of through, at least until the point at which enough individual healing/growth has happened to make things easier in this regard.
There are, of COURSE, many other things, little things, big things… all that need to be dealt with as well (disparate life goals and dreams is another pretty big issue), but that’s the crux of the issue. I could write pages and pages of words talking about All The Things, but then this would be a book instead of a blog post (and its probably already way too long for most peoples).
So, basically, he long and the short of it is that this isn’t strife caused BY the boat, but just that it came up because of all the free time and solitude and life changes that becoming a cruiser creates. It isn’t issues caused because either of us are not committed to this marriage or because we don’t love each other. Its not because either one of us is a bad person. Its just a situation that we’ve been distracted from for over 20 years. In SPITE of the fact that we love each other and we’re deeply committed to making marriage work… there are some pretty deep down, core issues that have been brought screaming into our awareness simply because of the boat life, we finally have had the time to SEE them for what they really are. I am sharing this not to be negative, but just to… to point out something that I pretty much never hear anyone talk about. The reality of the cruising life can be REALLY hard on relationships. I think that our problems can be dealt with, but I also think it would have been nice to hear about things like this from other people… so maybe we didn’t feel so completely crazy. So, not that this happens to everyone, but its something to think about.
Will things work out? Will we figure out and be able to agree on and live with a solution that meets our needs enough that we can be happy together? Can we get THIS back?
Time will Tell. For now, maybe I’m being unrealistic, but I think that the answer is YES. Yes, we are discussing different options and solutions to make this work. We’ve certainly been through harder things together and we’ve come out the other side.
No, we’re not giving up on the boat life.
No, I’m not giving up on my dreams.
I’m not giving up on my marriage, either.
This is real life, relationships are HARD. Sometimes they’re hard as hell, but sometimes they’re the easiest thing in the world. Sometimes they are the GREATEST things in the world. I can’t imagine my life without Patrick and honestly, I don’t even want to try. Also, as I’ve said many many times, just writing things out is very cathartic for me. It helps me pull together all the thoughts swirling in my head and put them into some semblance of order (still chaotic to most people, I’m sure, but you should see inside my brain!) Hell, just looking through old photos and memories for this post gives me hope. We have something awesome in there… we just need to find it again. I’m just tired of pretending that everything is sunshine and rainbows. So there you have it.
Meanwhile, the boat, along with Patrick, Jaedin and Abyni is heading to Puerto Rico as I type this. I’m scheduled to head back to the boat in mid December with a friend. I plan to stock up on quality time while I’m still here with friends and the rest of my family… and I’ll figure the rest out as I go.