Managing time apart
Keeping your relationships going when you aren't physically present
What is time apart?
Time apart from your loved ones could be due to an unaccompanied posting, time away for operations or exercises, or time apart after a new relationship has started due to your posting location.
Time apart from our loved ones is okay for all of us at times and is in fact healthy, as it enables you to do the things you love. But if the time apart does not meet your expectations or your need for connection with your significant other may result in you feeling sad, down or struggling with your work. It could also impact on your children if you are a family unit.
When is time apart a problem for us and the team?
If your time apart is impacting on your overall wellbeing it could mean you aren’t focused on your role 100%. It could also mean that you don’t feel yourself or well supported.
These things are likely to increase our safety risks at work and at home. We may be unable to work for a period. We may be overusing alcohol or other potentially risky substances or be doing risky behaviours which result in disciplinary matters.
Making time apart work for you both
Decide how to connect
Agree the level of contact you will have with each other before you go away (it may be daily or weekly or less). This needs to be negotiated by both of you.
Agree on how you will connect (e.g., phone/facetime/messaging apps/writing letters*). Remember you will get advice on what you can use on operations from the Deployment service officers.
Research shows that getting good old fashioned snail mail letters have a positive impact on your emotions and wellbeing. This is because you place emotional significance and added meaning on the effort taken by the person writing the letter.
Agree with each other if you can’t make the agreed time/place/frequency of the connection that this does not mean you don’t care. It is likely something has come up for one of you and you couldn’t make the connection. Remember that sometimes unexpected stuff comes up for those in NZDF and it may be outside their control.
Always assume the best
Accept that it will be an effort to fix things over a distance and your best efforts may fall short. It is easy to misinterpret a text or email, as 80% of our in-person communication is navigated by non-verbal cues. Assume the best and don’t send angry texts or emails when someone can’t be there in person to navigate those communications. You might also consider reserving the ‘big stuff’ for the next time you are both together unless you absolutely can’t avoid it.
Manage your expectations
If you are having challenges with your time apart, be honest but also bear in mind the person who is away may not be able to do anything other than listen, they may not be able to change anything for you both. When discussing difficult topics, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. They may have been really looking forward to connecting with you and if the only things you talk about are negative or hard stuff they may be less likely to want to engage next time. Practice empathy and allow them space to surface their own thoughts and topics of conversation.
Connect with intention
When you connect, make sure you are fully present by listening and responding to the other person’s emotional calls. We all have a need to feel supported. By being aware of your loved one’s needs and weaving them into your day, you’ll show that you’re there for them, despite the distance. If you are running out of things to connect on focus on looking forwards. What are the goals you both have? What are you both looking forward to? What values are important for both of you?
Find the silver linings
Rather than wallowing in self-isolation while apart, why not seek out things that can bring a positive angle to the separation? Think about things you can do by yourself that you enjoy, whether it’s indulging in a book, spending more time with mates, writing, learning something new, or watching a movie or TV series that you enjoy.
Tips and tools
- Talk about the values that are important to you in your relationship before you are apart.
- Make a plan when you are together on agreed level of connection when you are apart.
- Agree what will not be helpful to talk about if you are apart, e.g. when the person away can’t do anything to help other than listen. Do you both want to be able to share these things?
- Think about practicalities: Will you both have access to online social media? Or phones?
- Old fashioned snail mail has benefits. Our perception about the effort taken to create mail reinforces positive emotions.
- Make plans for the next time you meet up in person—what is on the table or off the table when you first get back together?
- Don’t make assumptions about texts or posts if you haven’t spoken with each other.
- If you are frustrated, try to wait a day or so before you talk with each other.
- Focus on the positives - things you are looking forward to together, shared values and qualities you cherish in one another.