Traveling for Work and the High Costs to Family

A close-up shows a man's hand holding a travel ticket while waiting in line.With the advent of easy plane travel, many larger businesses have grown to include regional, national, and even international customers and work sites. People who work at the higher levels of industries often find their jobs are not done just at their desks, no matter how well connected they are electronically. Business relationships, decisions, and inspections can’t all be done without physically being on-site, and long-distance and extended travel are part of the job.

You may look upon that lifestyle with envy. Well, don’t. Having worked with dozens of families and couples who have held jobs like this, I can tell you, from their experience, that these jobs can take a very heavy toll on satisfying family relationships. Before you make that big job your goal, I hope you’ll first consider what it can demand from your life.

  1. Physical toll: Traveling is exhausting no matter what class of seat you have on a plane. When you travel, your body is in a constant state of adjustment to different food, water, accommodations, climate, work expectations, and time zones. Any kind of steady, healthy patterns of sleep, exercise, nutrition, and relationships are interrupted, and it’s rough to try to keep up with good health habits somewhere else.
  2. Exit/reentry transitions: Life keeps moving on in your home, despite the traveler’s schedule. When you’re trying to pack, with your mind on the journey ahead, the family may feel your absence even while you are still home. Arriving home can be worse, as you’d love to be welcomed home with excitement, while the one who has been at home may want nothing more than to be relieved of the additional responsibilities he or she has been shouldering.
  3. Parenting patterns: When one parent in a family travels for work, the remaining parent has to temporarily become a single parent. Leadership around finances, yard work, car repairs, play dates, and school assignments have to shift to the parent who is home. Children can get accustomed to the traveling parent being the “fun” one who comes home with gifts and days off, leaving the at-home parent as the disciplinarian and enforcer, who becomes used to making parenting decisions solo.
  4. Emotional isolation: After spending enough days of the month away from home, it becomes very easy to live two lives: one on the road and the other at home. Even with regular phone, text, email, and Skype connections to those at home, the relationships that develop with those who share the travel with you can become more real to you than the ones you leave behind. Isolation, prestige, repetition, or intensity of the shared work adds to that other-worldliness. It’s at this level of isolation that I have seen long-term affairs, addictions, mood disorders, and health issues surface. These issues are not easily or often repaired.

Human relationships need physical proximity, regular conversation, shared patterns of caregiving, humor, health, and equality to thrive. Trying to have all these while traveling for a job is like trying to juggle three balls when all you’ve ever managed were two. If you are struggling with any or all of these issues as a family or couple, I encourage you to reach out to a family therapist in your area, who can help you manage the human challenges of traveling this much. While it’s not impossible to thrive, it is tough. Best buckle up. The captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign.

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynne Silva-Breen, MDiv, MA, LMFT, therapist in Burnsville, Minnesota

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Christie

    May 17th, 2012 at 3:36 PM

    I love it now that we all have face time with our ipods because that gives us a way to keep in real touch even when my husband has to be out of town all the time. There have been times when I know he feels like he misses so much but this allows us to be a little closer than his travel would otherwise allow.

  • TOBY

    May 18th, 2012 at 12:03 AM

    No matter how great it might seem or how much money it offers,no job or title is worth sacrificing your family life and relationships for.Butthis seems to be becoming an old-fashioned idea now and more and more youngsters including my peers consider their jobs and work to be more important than anything else.I guess that is the reason why all kinds of problems including the ones mentioned here are only increasing.

  • rose

    October 21st, 2016 at 12:50 AM

    I wish more people shared this value.

  • donald

    May 18th, 2012 at 4:16 AM

    It surprises me that there are still so many companies that require that much actual travel because of the sheer cost that plane tickets, food, etc cost today. Plus add to that that there are far more productive ways that you can meet now. Between video cams and conference calls and webinars, is there really any need to have so many face to face meetings anymore? You would think that for any company looking for ways to cut back on expenses would have to consider this.

  • dEB

    May 18th, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    We give too little thought to the women (mostly) left at home to do all of the dirty work when their spouses have to travel all the time. I did not sign up to be a single mom, but that’s what this kind of travel by one member of the marriage can cause you to become, and no amount of money will make me accept that.

  • rose

    October 21st, 2016 at 12:52 AM

    I agree, my husband shows a complete lack of respect to what I go through. He will have worked 10 months this year, inc all the school holidays and now the christmas period. I feel its an infringement of my human rights, I have not consented to the latest optional job all over xmas. I wish I could legally stop him. My poor kids.

  • Kendall

    May 19th, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    I have been in this kind marriage before, and believe me, it is tough to maintain a real relationship when one or the other has to travel a lot for their job. My husband and I both had jobs that required a whole lot of travel, and from the evry beginning it became a huge issue for us. It was strange because we had had the very same jobs before we got married, but then it seemed ok, like we loved each other more when we got to come home and be together. But somehow all of that changed when we got married. I suppose that the pressures of having a home kind of did us in, but I think that really we both came to resent one another over things that really were beyond our control if we honestly wanted to keep our jobs. We are separated now and until some of the work travel stops then I don’t think that we will clear this hurdle.

  • Lynne Silva-Breen, LMFT

    Lynne Silva-Breen, LMFT

    May 19th, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Thanks to you all for your thoughtful comments, each of you reinforcing my experience in trying to help couples sort out the real costs of the Big Job.

    I wish that those who think this is the pinnacle of their career would have an honest conversation with those who have held the job before.

    There are high human costs to being out of the home for that much time each month, even when there are no children to raise. Adult attachment relationships need proximity, care-giving behaviors, shared experiences and a sense of “team” for them to function as we all hope they will.

  • Chrystal

    September 8th, 2016 at 10:39 AM

    My husband travels a fair amount for work and for the most part, I am fine with it. What really bothers me is when he has been gone for the week and as soon as he gets home he wants to leave to go hunting for the day OR if he stays home he sits in his office to work until 11am-12pm and then works again in the evening. I can’t quite get him to understand how this affects me and the children. It is frustrating.

  • rose

    October 21st, 2016 at 12:54 AM

    I think our husbands are twins. I no longer able to tolerate it, 7 years of being the parent left with all the jobs has put pay to this. :(

  • Vern

    May 20th, 2012 at 6:03 AM

    I can’t tell you the physical toll that traveling year after year in my job took on me.

    I was tired all of the time, irritable, and even when I was at home I know I was so moody that it is not a wonder that my family didn’t really want to spend that time with me.

    I missed out on a lot of things that I never can have beack, but it just took me too long to see that what I was working for was actually working against me in the ways that should really matter.

  • jason

    May 21st, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    time away, dinners missed, games missed, life with family missed. none of this sounds appealing to me.

  • Reese Smithson

    May 21st, 2012 at 5:19 PM

    There are many families who would jump at the chance to have a great job that paid great money, even if it meant that they had to be away from time to time. If it gives you a way to support your family, then you would have to jump at that opportunity How could you NOT take that job?

  • JL Patino

    January 30th, 2013 at 7:52 PM

    I know, ultimately, it is a personal decision. But what would you call excessive travel? 50%? 75%?

  • rose

    October 21st, 2016 at 12:56 AM

    I think 50% plus is hard for all concerned. I just about coped as the parent at home on this basis and now I am expected to do over 80%, with no thought or allowances. I have two very small kids.

  • Janine

    September 1st, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    My husband travels about 75-80% of the time (he’s a mechanic for a road racing team). It doesn’t pay much and the non-monetary costs of his not being home have really strained our marriage. I make a lot more money then he does but he just loves his job. I’ve tried so hard to support his racing career for several years. Unfortunately Its gotten to the point where our marriage is suffering. Traveling as much as he does – I feel like a single mom and that I have a separate life when he isn’t home. I’m just downright resentful and I can’t stuff away my frustration anymore. When he came home this week I told him that I couldn’t do it anymore…it’s really ruining our marriage. I asked for him to work to find a solution that wouldn’t require so much travel, but he is telling me it’s all or nothing in racing. He can’t work for the team and travel less – so we are at a scary crossroads. He is viewing this as an ultimatum – I hadn’t wanted it to go there. I’m really hoping he chooses me and the kids over his career, but if he does, I’m concerned that he will resent me for years because I couldn’t support him any longer. If he doesn’t choose me and the kids then I’m afraid it may finally just end the relationship (which I really don’t want). I love him. It’s really hard.

  • Jessica

    May 21st, 2015 at 12:31 PM

    My husband and I do not have children. We have been married for 2 years and together for six. Last year he took a job that makes him travel at least 2 weeks out of the month (most of the time 3). I too am very resentful because he was making a decent living prior and only took a small raise for this new job. He refuses to find another job because he thinks it is a good career path. He wants to have kids soon, but I refuse to be a single mom! We are in our late 20s/early 30s. I do want kids, but I may have to leave him in order to have them if he doesn’t start looking for a new job. I feel like I am single but have the restrictions of being married. I am coming close to not being able to stay any longer, which would be terrible because I do love him.

  • Lisa

    July 3rd, 2015 at 8:20 AM

    My husband travels for work extensively after accepting a new job 5 years ago. Our marriage has suffered greatly since then and is on the verge of total collapse. Kids are grown and gone and this is supposed to be our time. Instead I find myself alone on weekends, holidays, birthdays and anniversaries… This is the third year in a row my husband is not hear to celebrate my birthday. His work takes him to many resorts and casinos and he has lots of down time. He travels with his “crew”, none of whom I haver ever met and many of them female. He has developed close friendships with them over the years and they spend more time with him than I do. Lots of dinners, drinks… I feel totally excluded from his life and “other family ” . I have asked him repeatedly over the years to find another job where he is home more. He keeps telling me to be ” patient”, the right job will come along. He is afraid of the financial costs of leaving his job. I am afraid I have been patient long enough and I feel the emotional costs are greater. The last 5 years have taken its toll on me both emotionally and physically. I am ready to give that ultimatum. Our marriage or the job. At this point so much damage has been caused to our marriage I’m afraid I know the answer. Very sad as we were “soul mates” and extremely happily married before my husband took his “dream job”. Please tell your readers to really consider the emotional toll a job that requires extensive travel has on your spouse and family before you make that move!

  • John

    August 22nd, 2015 at 2:59 PM

    I’ve traveled for work prior to marriage and it was great experience. I traveled for work while I was married. I lost my wife and family. I traveled when I was dating a woman, which was the first serious relationship after my marriage. I was home every night, but I worked 3 hours away. Both found it easy to occupy their time with another man. (At least 2 a piece) My summary, for the experience, or pure necessity when proximity is gone, so goes a reliably monogamous relationship. It works both ways. Distance isn’t the issue, and we will rationalize the importance of the departure, human nature will always prevail. Advice, if your assertive enough to say why its makes sense, need or otherwise, to leave, be ready to have a real conversation about your needs as you depart. Either way, be ready to suffer the consequence.

  • sad mary

    September 8th, 2015 at 6:05 AM

    My partner travels about average 2 and a half weeks a month. He is home weekends but unless I cut grass do heavy hard work plus do house work and stay up all night working on my art business we don’t to anything enjoyable together. He has job offers that pay more and he would not travel but he loves the variety. He says a phonecall to me is enough to make him content. As long as he knows he has me waiting he isn’t lonely. I have told him living simple with less is a happier option than what we have now. Last week I decided I would not be just a phone call for him. I will not be the welcome home committee from now on.I refuse to cook meals all weekend for him to take cause he hates eattinh out. I will not do any more of the hard work on our property. I cry every day because I am so lonely and exhausted. Is any job worth destroying someone you are supposed to love ? I am 57 and all I think about is how to die.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    September 8th, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    Hi Mary,
    Thank you for your comment. You are in our thoughts! If you are experiencing a crisis situation or may be in danger of hurting yourself or others, you can find immediate help and resources on this page: http://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html A therapist may be able to help you work though some of the issues you’re describing. You can look for a therapist near you on the GoodTherapy.org directory, here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html

    Wishing you the very best!
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • John

    September 8th, 2015 at 11:34 AM

    Mary, giving up is too easy. I’ve been there a few times, having family, friends, or even someone with the church to really talk to is priceless. I believe that we’ve lived too long and gained a lot of experience, and giving up is not what we’ve accepted in the past and why start now. When we are at our lowest is when we have the opportunity to show what we are made of. Other than sugar and spice Mary, we are given the opportunity to dream and know that there is more, and great part about life is that we have the opportunity to experience it, over and over. Don’t deprive someone else of your story on how you’ve dealt with a difficult situation. Remember the beautiful things that you enjoy doing and want to do. Do them… Don’t let the bushes and shrubs grow around you, and hide the strength you have inside. You control your emotions and your feelings and don’t allow a situation that exist today cloud the great and awesome situation waiting for you tomorrow. Men are sometimes cavemen, and think hunting and gathering is their lot in life and home is satisfied with their being on the road.. Boy, don’t we have a lot to learn. Let the caveman know.. how you feel and that it must end. On a personal note, I saw a pretty women the other day, she smiled at me.. I couldn’t sleep that night.. If I would have tossed the towel in years ago, I would have missed out on that smile. So, Mary, get ready to smile again. It will keep either your husband or some guy up all night, and make his year..
    :>)

  • sad mary

    September 8th, 2015 at 9:56 PM

    I never knew what a real loving could be. I grew up with abuse and married it. I sometimes think I had the one chance and missed it. Perhaps I did not earn it. Either way I am feeling the fight to a live a dream is not so important as the rest. You write such nice words but I am so sad I don’t even care to have anything more than to lie down shut my eyes and settle quietly and find peace.I believe I did earn that.

  • John

    September 9th, 2015 at 9:36 PM

    Thank you very much for your response. I was thinking about you. I understand the feelings your having. The limitation of this forum doesn’t allow for the personal interaction you require, I think that family, or a good friend will go a long way in helping you through this difficult period. Believe it will pass and you will be in a better space. I really really hope that you have someone you can reach out to, I’m not religious, but I would use the ear of a priest, or minister during my moment of need. A therapist is an option as well, nothings better than a caring heart.

  • melissa

    January 12th, 2016 at 12:32 PM

    I love my husband so much. But this is so hard. We have an unique situation.. I’m 25, he’s 41. About 2 years ago we got sole custody of his two daughters (now ages 11 and 13) Their mother abandoned them cause she’s schizophrenic and on drugs.
    My husband is also a commercial diver who has been working stints in Alaska for up to a month at a time.
    It’s been so hard to say the least.
    I’m trying to do things for myself more and will be starting college in the spring but the loneliness of being without the love of my life is killing me.
    And yet there is someone else drawing my attention to them and I’m not sure what to do..

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    January 12th, 2016 at 1:50 PM

    Dear Melissa,

    If you would like to talk about this or any other concern with a qualified mental health professional, we encourage you to return to our homepage, http://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    We wish you the best.

    Kind regards,

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Lucy

    January 28th, 2016 at 5:11 AM

    My husband travels with his work. When we first met he used to tell me how this was a perk of his job, fitting in plenty of tourist time in nice destinations. He was a single father. I took on his child. Now he travels with work and I at home looking after his child. He tries to make out that he’s ‘working’ only, but he forgets that I’ve already heard about the other side of it. I get jealous and angry. Why am I here looking after his child while he’s swanning off around the world. I don’t want to hear from him while he’s away, I don’t want to hear what a great time he’s having. It makes me feel like a mug. I don’t know what to do. I have a strong urge to book solo trips for myself and to take off as soon as he gets home. It’s taking a toll on our marriage. I feel like walking away whnever he announces another work trip. It spoils the time leading up to it too. I wish I could find a way to make this more positive and to stop the anger and resentment. i do love him.

  • susan

    April 18th, 2016 at 2:07 AM

    Well not really because we tend to want to talk to them, miss them, we want that energy to flow continuously because that’s the major impact that keeps the relationship or marriage going, and this actually happened to me. in my situation i have a 2 year old daughter when he used to take trips and i asked him why he was always away he acted like it wasn’t a big deal, there was a time i called his work to find out he wasn’t in and these happened more than twice, then i had someone tell me about a certain computer engineer with degrees who i met with as he was in the states at that time, he helped me discover my husband’s secret- i didn’t want to do this at first but i thought of my daughter and happiness in our life so i did a check up on his device i only wanted to see his messages at that time until i got more information from nick telling me he’s got more evidence for me i had his GPS, whatsapp and proof that he was involved in a past relationship before we met. I have no shame telling you my experience and i’m proud i confronted him with the help of his younger brother and he begged for my forgiveness and we’re good, well i’m just saying we can check on our husbands if we feel something suspicious or negative attached to it

  • mary

    April 18th, 2016 at 11:07 AM

    Hi Susan. I sure had a tough time for months after I left my comments. I finally realized that the need to be with someone made me miserable. I found I have to use myself to achieve happiness. I wrote my DH a letter telling him that I had been silly in my attempts to make his travel job work. Everything I was doing made me miserable and in turn when he was home was relentless in my efforts to make him see my sacrifices. I think if I had kept it up we would have split up. I am still alone while he travels but I have started business, I don’t cook 8 meals on weekend’s for him, if there is something to do like a concert it used to be we never planned for these things cause he might be gone…well i do and I go without him. I chose to live and not be chained to his career. I am happier and we get along better. It is funny how things work out. My spouse does what has to be done when he is home and he is content. He says he never expected me to do what I was doing. It seems that he is doing more extra things and wants to be with me every moment. He says that my changes makes him want to do more just so he can see my smile.I hope you might find your way to be happy and things get better for you.

  • Kim

    April 27th, 2016 at 9:28 AM

    My husband travels for work about 40-50% of the time. He has busy seasons, spring and fall where he can be away from Monday – Thursday week after week. I work full time and we have a 3 year old. There is no family around to help out and every year it comes to the point where I reach my breaking point – juggling it all, dealing with the various childhood stages alone, keeping the home and our life together. He likes his job but it eventually wears me down and I cannot even consider having anymore children unless something changes. When I’m tired and stressed it’s not fair to any of us, especially our daughter. But he feels stuck, like he’ll never find another good job he likes. I reached my breaking point this morning when I was exhausted from no sleep, and yelled at our daughter, was slamming doors. He just doesn’t really seem to get it. It’s been like this for years. He even started traveling when she was 5 weeks home and I was alone during the week – although he’s always home on weekends. Not sure if I’m just weak, but I’m exhausted and hate how life is unfolding at this stage.

  • Sommer

    July 11th, 2016 at 9:22 AM

    I’m glad I found this page. At least o don’t feel so alone. I met my boyfriend 11 months ago and he travels extensively for work. I found this to seem very glamorous at first, especially after feeling suffocated in my last marriage. But I soon realized how much I miss him when he’s gone and how lonely I am at home. I thought in the beginning that this would easier as I adjusted to this lifestyle with time but that hasn’t been the case. I travel along with him as often as my parenting schedule allows when my children are with their father. And in also a full time student. It’s like Christmas when I get an entire with with my boyfriend. Even though he’s working during our trips it’s the only time I get an entire week of going to sleep and waking up next to him. He travels on average 85-90% of the time. I’m lucky if I get 2 whole days a week with him. I feel as if I’ve gone from one extreme to the next in my relationships. Smothered and controlled to lonely. He’s the most incredible man and I have no intentions of giving up on our relationship. I’ve never been treated with such respect and adornment in my life as I am by him. He spoils me to no end. The job has many perks such as airline miles and hotel points making vacationing a breeze and he income is excellent. I just need to find a way to kill this loneliness. It’s eats me up.

  • mary

    September 8th, 2016 at 4:23 PM

    Hi Sommer
    I was in the exact situation as you. A boyfriend who had a his own business and traveled. He was wealthy and I went with him at times. He was so generous and boy were we in love. Then I wanted more…marriage. He could not make that major step and time proved that his being gone is how our relationship survived ( for him). I grew more lonely and he could not understand why his attention, gifts and romantic times. Honestly, our time together was so passionate and wonderful. His homecoming were always intense. I soon wanted more. I wanted marriage but Harald could not. Our relationship survived because he loved the departures to be free and the highly anticipated homecoming s. Eventually he ended it because he could not make that commitment. I mourned for 2 years. Ironiclly I am now married to a man that travels. I know he loves me. He is overly caring and attentive but he thrives on those departures and homecoming s. He won’t have it any other way. We have had our share of fights about his job. I finally realized I would loose him if he had to change his life with a different job. It took steps for building myself up to the point that I do not need him to keep lonliness at bay. I have found my way to be content with filling my time with things I enjoy. There are things I hate like the heavy yard work but there are times when I don’t feel guilty for doing absolutely nothing and it’s nice when I have no schedule but the one I make. I do believe that the most important thing in a relationship is that we have made a commitment to each other. I learned to accept his job choice because it is what he wants to do to provide for me. Our commitment to each other also allows us to trust each other and allows each of us to love and respect the person each of us needs to be.

  • rose

    October 21st, 2016 at 1:04 AM

    Really glad I found this. No one understands how hard it is, unless you’ve been the at home spouse/parent. I feel nearly at breaking point, this year I have done 9 months on my own with two small children. My husband promised that December would be a family month, my kids have missed every school holiday, birthdays and special days. Now he has taken an optional job and I feel violated, I have not consented to it, but he is doing it anyway. I am always the bad guy, he twists it round if I get upset. He also has cheated on my several times since being together. I actually feel like crying most days. x

  • Art

    January 15th, 2017 at 5:54 PM

    A lot of relatable stories here! My traveling has definitely put its toll on my family and myself. Drinking got out of hand my wife became resentful and couldn’t control the children and I absolutely was selfish about everything. Although I think it may work for some it’s not for the true family orientated people. Listen! If it starting to bother you or your spouse then make changes. This is not worth your happiness or your family structure. I did it at 47 yrs old after 25 plus years of traveling and I couldn’t be happier or my family’s lives being happier. Choose family/wife/children over money or making someone else rich.

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