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Absence makes the heart…

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Both partners are young, recently married, healthy…but both are miles apart. Not in the emotional separation that signals a problem marriage, but in the sheer physical distance that sometimes separates couples who have to live in different cities due to their jobs being at different locations. This can be such a tough situation to handle that it ranks high on the list of stress factors for marriage. And yet, many thousands of couples have to endure separation before they can somehow set up home together again.Whether it is a couple where the husband has decided to work in the Gulf leaving wife and child behind at home, or a couple in two transferable government jobs struggling to move authorities for a common posting, or a couple of software engineers who are often working on projects at distant locations – the phenomenon of the absent spouse does affect many marriages around us. Some jobs, like being in the merchant navy, also mean that a husband will be away at sea for long periods, while others in the armed forces mean not only that a partner will be away, but his or her personal safety will also be continuously at risk.

“I had been married just eighteen months before Prasad had to leave for an overseas assignment where I could not join him,” recalls Bhavana, who works in the nutrition department of a big hospital. “Though it was a matter of just three months, I found it so difficult. After you have lived together, any absence is really hard to bear.” What Bhavana points out is an important difference. A partner’s absence after marriage is different from being far from him or her before marriage. “While love letters and phone calls can console you and keep you going when you are engaged, you really miss the person you are married to much more deeply,” she says.

A physical absence also means that there are difficulties in taking the marriage to the next stage of commitment – that of parenting and children. It is hard for the couple to plan and conceive a child if they are meeting only once in a few months. Often, the decision to have a child is put off because neither partner wants to put the wife through the difficulty of pregnancy and parenting all by herself. Among my earlier Tarot clients was a couple who used to come to ask when it would be likely for their son and daughter-in-law to reunite. The young couple was separated by several hours of flight time within the US, and the boy’s parents were worried about when it would be possible for them to be grandparents!

Sometimes a husband’s absence for long periods means that a wife becomes so self-sufficient and independent that she has problems re-adjusting and giving him the ‘head of the house’ title on his return. “I have been used to my husband’s long periods at sea,” says Hema, 54. “In his absence I handled everything – money, planning our finances, looking after the house, taking care of our son and handling his teachers and school. When my husband used to return it always took me some time to again get used to his way of doing things. We stopped short of arguments, but just about! I found it hard to give up my independence when he was around once more to shoulder responsibilities.”

True, absence can make the heart grow fonder… the person we miss, that presence, its endearing qualities, all the things we said and did together, are bound to have an impact on us, making us much more appreciative of the one who is not there with us.

But absence can also weaken the bonds of marriage or relationship, by the challenges it throws in our paths. Much maturity and a genuine love and commitment towards our partners is needed to face such challenges.

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