Today Lee and I are celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary. It is also the 6th anniversary we have had while on the road and I thought it might be a good time to stop and take stock of how this lifestyle has impacted our marriage. Although I have touched on this issue many times, I have been hesitant to write a post solely dedicated to the subject. Which is weird because it was one of my main concerns when going on the road. I understood instinctively that we were playing with live ammo when it came to that and that level of change would be significant, for good or ill.
So why have I shied away from talking about it? Well, it’s highly personal, for one thing and I didn’t want to open myself up to judgement. Also everyone’s marriage is very different and I hesitated to draw conclusions in case they were misunderstood. At this point though I feel confident that the folks who read this blog can make the distinction between my life and theirs. And I am extremely lucky that my readers mostly keep their judgements to themselves 🙂 So draw whatever conclusions you wish to from this post and I will do my best to be as honest as I can stand.
Those who have been reading for awhile know that I like to look at patterns and timelines, so let me go back to the beginning and see where that takes us. My very first post about this subject was in Feb 2015 and it was creatively titled First Anniversary on the Road. I wrote a nice summary of our life together and then wrote, “…if it wasn’t for Lee this wouldn’t be my life. I would never have had the vision or the courage to completely turn things upside down and start this adventure. He brings those things to our marriage and I am so incredibly grateful to him for it. Plus he can still kiss me in a way which makes me tingle which is a really good thing 🙂 And he makes me laugh…oh, how he makes me laugh…”
This was written during our first three months on the road and although there was lots of change and stress around that change, Lee and I were a bit giddy and more passionate in our relationship than we had been since we were kids. I can’t speak to other people’s passion, but I can attest to numerous people I know getting very giddy from their newfound freedom right after they start full timing. It is definitely a rush with lots of excitement and for us at least some of that emotion translated into passion. It was also the first time in 25 years we had no children in the house which didn’t hurt either!
Unfortunately for us those early feelings didn’t last and as more time passed in the lifestyle, that side of things calmed down. In April I wrote a post called Changing Relationships that talked about what was happening in our marriage. I wrote, “There are lots of reasons people start full-time RVing. The desire for adventure, wanting to live with less rules, the need for simplicity in their life, there are a myriad of reasons. But for me the absolute number one reason was a desire to strengthen my marriage….It has been hard on our relationship these last few months but it’s also been great for our relationship. We are talking more to each other than we have since we were young together and trying to figure it all out. We are challenging each other to be better. And most importantly we are loving each other more deeply.”
Even that early on I recognized that something very important was happening. I used the blog as a means of writing about those feelings and to help me understand what was happening. Looking back I am pretty proud of how much time we spent on our marriage during this time period and how we kept it front and center during the transition. This changed as I grappled with whether or not to quit my corporate job and I spent more time thinking about myself and the marriage took a back seat. I talked about these struggles in Changing the Way I Define Myself and Identity Crisis. My work was a huge part of how I defined myself and giving that up had a huge impact that took me a few years to deal with.
During this time period when we were trying different jobs and figuring out how to support our lifestyle working low level positions, I really struggled. At times I would fall into the trap of blaming Lee for the path our lives had taken and would have to pull myself out of that mindset because I knew we had made the decisions together every step of the way. In some ways it didn’t help that things were so uneven. What I mean by that is some jobs were just fine and our time off was great, but when we had a miserable job it was miserable. In those times, it was hard not to be resentful that I had left a perfectly good job and the benefits of the lifestyle didn’t always outweigh the challenges.
One thing I realized pretty early on is I needed more in my life. This caused some friction with Lee. He was largely very content with our life and the jobs we had and didn’t understand why it wasn’t enough for me. I knew I was hurting his feelings, which wasn’t my intent, but I was trying on a new suit of clothes and everything felt too tight. I missed the respect and mental challenge that I experienced in my old job and needed some outlet for my creativity. Lee has always been a person who finds ways to be creative in everything he does, but for me that ability came late in life and I sorely missed it. To meet that need I became more involved in the blog (which eventually led to my book) and I started cooking more. Lee often felt that those activities were ways to avoid being with him, but it really was about me trying to steady myself.
And to be honest it was a tough transition to spend so much time together. We went from both working long hours and my traveling to us working and living together all the time. For both of us this was a transition, because the kids had been a buffer of sorts for many years and now it was just the two of us. This is a pretty common phenomenon as people go through empty nest, but few people simultaneously are living together for the first time in a 400 square feet of rolling space. In retrospect I think it would have been good to work through some empty nest issues prior to going on the road, but at the time we thought the adventure would help us.
And it did in some ways. The constant change of scenery was a welcome distraction and we always did better when we were in new places, but you take who you are with you wherever you go and unless you are willing to constantly travel sooner or later you will be in a place long enough for those distractions to not be enough. I want to be really clear here this was simply our experience and everyone is different. For us though a new place was very much a shiny new toy and since we didn’t want to ruin the experience we often kicked our marriage issues down the road….literally.
One of the reasons I was really struggling was for the first time in years I didn’t feel self-sufficient. I wrote a post called Solo Strategy that summed up my dilemma if something should happen to Lee. I wrote, ” Our lives are completely entangled in each other now, in a good way, but what I never really thought about was how vulnerable that would make me. I spent years working myself into a position of independence. Not because I didn’t love Lee, but because I needed to know I could stand on my own two feet. Over the last three years I have intentionally given most of that away. ” The combination of not making enough money to support myself and living in an environment that I couldn’t manage on my own really got to me. I know I am certainly not the only person in the lifestyle to worry about this but I also know that this is not a problem for many people. As hard as I tried I couldn’t think my way out of these feelings and my unhappiness was really impacting our marriage.
In January 2019, after a particularly disappointing Work Kamping Job, I decided to seriously pursue consulting work. Lee was willing to let me try anything that would make me happy but there were several restrictions around the type of job I could take. Those restrictions coupled with a “hole” in my resume made the task much more difficult than I thought it would be. It didn’t help that we were gate guarding and I was working 4pm – 4am shifts and scheduling phone interviews when trucks were rolling by was not easy. When I wrote our five year summary in January I mentioned our 30 year anniversary and stated, “It didn’t help that in the middle of all this we had our 30th anniversary and even though we luckily had a few days off work we didn’t do anything to celebrate it. Milestones are important to me, but not so much for Lee, and generally we manage to find some middle ground on celebrating them. This time though nothing we could do felt right and we ended up doing nothing which really bothered me. I knew I was unhappy with the way things were going and it became obvious that Lee felt the same way. I had been so focused on myself and my own feelings I didn’t see that he was also struggling.”
I didn’t really understand at the time how bad things had gotten, because I was really focusing almost solely on myself at that point. Things were not fine from Lee’s side of things, but it wasn’t until the anniversary that I really realized how bad things were. Since we were going right back to working opposite gate guarding shifts until our break in April, I didn’t think there was much we could do about it and then in March, Lee had a heart attack . This was a major catalyst event in our marriage for several reasons. From my perspective some of my worst fears were finally realized and I was traumatized by the fact he had almost died in front of me when we were alone in a remote area. He woke up knowing just how precious his life was and committed to no longer living in a way that did not make him happy.
The next year was one of the toughest of our entire marriage. We weren’t communicating, we both were dealing with individual PTSD and our attempts at counseling in Oregon did not go well. The one positive event in this year was we became grandparents and that event did help remind us of why we were together. In September, I was finally able to get a corporate job and for me at least it was a major step in getting myself back together. Our marriage though was in trouble, but oddly the thing that probably helped us was COVID. For one thing it forced us to stay in one place for 7 months and since we were with friends we had to maintain a certain level of politeness with each other. It also provided an opportunity for us to find a virtual therapist. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy, but I am not sure we would have gotten serious about therapy unless we were forced to stay in one place for such a long period of time.
It’s worth noting that the therapy has progressed much slower than I expected. Seeing people virtually has its challenges and it took awhile for her to really understand our lifestyle. More importantly the damage that had been done on both sides was more severe than either of us realized and 32 years of stuff can take awhile to get through. We are making progress though and now that some of the financial pressure is off I think we both feel a bit better. Things will probably never be the same as they were before the heart attack though, and for both of us that’s a good thing. I often miss what we were, but as Lee reminds me I do tend to look back with rose colored glasses.
You know I started this post by talking about how the lifestyle impacted our marriage and I have to say that I am not completely sure that things wouldn’t have worked out the same regardless of where we lived. Certainly the lifestyle makes it harder to hide from each other, and for what it’s worth promotes a certain level of practical co-dependency. For example, we have to talk when we are getting ready to move, or arriving somewhere, because mostly that’s a two person job. We have to sleep in the same bed, because we literally do not have anywhere else comfortable to sleep. We have to be sensitive on how we are sharing space because there is so little of it.
So I guess, yes, it has changed our path. No way all those things couldn’t impact our marriage. Long term how it will turn out, who knows? I am past the hubris of believing our marriage can survive anything. I will say it has survived a lot, and despite it all we still love each other. More importantly we enjoy traveling together. But for me at least it can’t just be about heading to the next shiny thing and I don’t think that is enough for Lee either. The core of who were are is independent of our lifestyle. That’s what we need to mend.
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