Have you ever gone away from home for a few days, leaving your spouse to ‘hold the fort’, and on returning home, feeling all smiles and joy, you were greeted with a gruff, resentful partner? You were on the road, working hard to provide for your family, but your partner thinks you’ve been on vacation, skipping out on all the home responsibilities.
You might feel the disconnect that only a day or two makes in your relationship, and wonder, where in the world did that come from? What the heck just happened?
You are not alone. Re-entries home can be rough on both our moods and our intimate relationships. When your partner goes away there may be feelings of abandonment: the empty space beside you in bed and at the table, the extra chores you have to do alone; the feelings of oppressive responsibility for kids and home and no one to fall back on. No wonder there may be some smoldering resentments just waiting to express themselves right after the cursory hug and kiss of reunion!
It can go the other way, too: when your partner leaves home, and you have the house all to yourself, living without compromise, spending time with friends, not having to live up to your partner’s expectations. You quickly get used to having your space all to yourself, and then here he comes: all the fun you were having suddenly collapses as you are expected to take care of his needs. He senses your deflation, and feels threatened that you had such a great time without him, thinking: maybe you don’t even want me around anymore?
It can all go south after just a few minutes. This has happened many times between me and my partner, and we know it can happen by default. So the last time my wife went away for a few days to visit our daughter, and I stayed home to work, it was the perfect setup for another rough re-entry.
But this time I prepared to do things differently. I designed a re-entry protocol that we used to reconnect and dispel the usual hurts and resentments that have so often accompanied one of us returning home.
Re-entry protocol? Huh? Sound pretty formal and scripted? Perhaps so, yet I know that it worked for us, really really well. After we did our protocol together, we felt closely connected, listened to, and supported. I felt appreciated for what I’d done in my few days alone, my wife felt listened to, and we both say this has been an easier, better transition home than we can remember for years.
After arriving home, my wife was tired, so we did not use our protocol for a couple of hours while she rested. I was a little worried that it might not work with the delay, but there was no problem. I’ll share with you the essentials of what we did here, and you can use these ideas to tailor your own re-entry protocol. It is important to take at least a few uninterrupted minutes to share where each of you are physically and emotionally. Trust your partner to respond in a good way; there is no need to control.
The essentials of a re-entry protocol are to be together and take a moment to create the atmosphere for you to be in relationship, regardless of what emotions are up in you or your partner. Turn phones and other distractions off. Each should ask, “How was it for you while I was (you were) gone?” and listen attentively to the answer. Repeating back the gist of what you heard is helpful to the speaker to feel completely heard, and for the listener to get it right. After each takes a turn, the next step is to communicate to each other any wants or needs you currently have. Saying “I want you to cuddle with me” is much better than “I need you to show me more affection.” The first is in the moment and actionable now. The second statement is more controlling, telling the listener how to be, and does not necessarily get you an immediate response. The listener can respond to these requests with a simple “Yes”, “No” or offer something else instead. Don’t make a counter offer conditional if at all possible (I’ll do that for you if you do this for me). Fulfilling requests is not a transaction. Give what is from your heart rather than what is from the calculating part of you. Finally, acknowledge one another, taking turns to make a statement of appreciation, such as, “I appreciate you for the hard work you did while away to provide for me and the family”, or “I acknowledge you for being so caring and attentive for our daughters while I was gone”. To each appreciation and acknowledgment, let it land for you, feel it in your body, and then say “thank you.” When you both feel complete, blow out the candle and end the session, maybe with a hug and a kiss (or more), or just a loving smile, whatever comes from your heart in the moment.
Here is the protocol we used, followed by some suggestions for things you can use as well:
H= one who has remained at home A= One who was away
H: “Welcome home!” (offers to help bring in belongings).
A: “Thank you.”
Both sit down facing each other. H lights a candle or incense to create the space.
H: I am glad you are home.
A: responds to H., then asks: “How was it for you while I was gone?”
H: answers the question, including H’s current physical/emotional state.
A: “What do you feel is needed now?”
H: answers with a request, if there is one
A: responds to request with “yes”, “no”, or a counteroffer. A asks if there is more, until H. is complete.
H: asks “How was it for you while you were away?”
A: answers the question, including A’s current physical/emotional state.
H: asks, “what do you feel is needed now?”
A: responds with any requests and H answers with yes/no/counter
A: then gives acknowledgment or appreciation to H. “I want to acknowledge you for… (specific action, impact on self and others, feelings”
H: “Thank you”
This is repeated until complete. Then roles are reversed.
H: thanks A for listening.
A: thanks H for caring.
Both may blow out candle, do namaskar, or otherwise close out the session in a good way. END.
Other things that might be included in your protocol:
I feel disappointed. I hoped you would ask me…
Was it hard for you?
I assumed we would…
Try it, and let me know what you did and what your experience was. I’d love to learn from you.