Couples share how they cope with long-distance marriage
By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
John Valenti and his wife, Pam, have been together since high school. Now 38 years into their marriage, calls to minister in different locations mean they may only get to see each other once every two-to-four weeks.
When Pam’s birthday rolled around earlier this month, John, the diocesan coordinator of Lifelong Faith and Lay Ministry Formation, wasn’t able to spend the day with his wife in person, but he pulled out all the stops to make sure she felt special on her big day. He arranged for flowers to be delivered to her doorstep, called three times and wrote Pam sweet text messages, e-mails and Facebook notes.
“Whether we’re in the same house or across the country from each other, John has always been a considerate guy,” Pam gushed. I do get blue sometimes (when we are apart), but nine roses delivered? He just knows how to do those things to make me happy.”
Sometimes — because of work, military obligations or other life situations — married Catholic couples are not able to see each other on a daily basis. While it might not be easy, these families find ways to adapt and lean on their faith to make sure the relationship can grow and thrive through the difficult times.
Army Reserve Captain Justin Johnson, a member of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish-Muscatine, is a company commander of a combat engineer unit. While he serves as a science teacher at Muscatine High School most of the year, his position with the Army Reserve requires him to leave home annually for a month-long training mission. This means being apart from wife Beth and their 2-year-old son, Leo. Depending on the mission, regular communication is not always possible.
“The most important aspect (of keeping a relationship strong) is trust,” Justin said. “As a company commander I see far too many relationships fail, even during those one-month excursions, let alone a 12-month deployment.”
It means trusting Beth to make decisions at home in his absence, and being accepting if she doesn’t do things exactly as he would have done them. It means trusting in the fidelity of the relationship. It means finding ways to communicate even if sporadic. “It’s the little reminders that you receive from each other, maybe not on a daily basis, but just that little piece of mail, that e-mail; little things that help you stay connected are what help you foster that relationship.”
Upon returning from the missions, Justin said it is important for him and Beth to get up-to-speed on what’s happened in their respective lives. “You expect to be in the same place as when you left, but the home person is at a different place. Communication is essential for knowing where to meet when you get back,” Justin said.
“Regardless of whether we’re under the same roof or not, Justin always has ‘my 6’ (‘my back,’ in military lingo) and we’ve got one another and our faith to carry us through this busy season in our lives,” Beth said. Prayer, patience, a shared commitment to service and a strong support group of family and friends help to fill their relationship with understanding and hope.
The Valentis have spent a majority of their married years living under the same roof; this is the second time they’ve been apart. Pam works in her preferred mission field — early childhood education — in St. Louis while John has lived in Davenport since assuming his position earlier this year. John felt strongly called to take the position, and Pam felt it was the right thing for him to do. They feel that the separate residences are a worthy sacrifice for being able to serve God through their work. They hope Pam may be able to move to Davenport sometime next year.
Pam says she misses John most when she goes to church or eats out, as those are activities married couples traditionally do together. Constant communication and a good sense of humor makes the situation easier to cope with, as does the feeling that they are serving God in their respective homes. Pam calls John during her commutes to and from work, and they always talk on the phone before falling asleep at night.
When they are able to spend a weekend together, they try to make the most of that time. John said they often make it a point to fall asleep holding hands. “Absence does make the heart grow fonder.”
Tips for couples
Fr. Jake Greiner, a chaplain for the Iowa Army National Guard and administrator of parishes in Knoxville and Melcher, often works with military couples who are coping with deployment. He said trust and communication are essential in making a long-distance relationship work. “Communicate when you can and be honest about your struggles … when you aren’t face to face, it’s hard to fully assess what is going on otherwise.”
Online resources for couples enduring a long-distance relationship include:
• http://www.prayers-for-special-help.com/prayer-for-a-long-distance-relationship.html (prayer for a long distance relationship)