Frequent Travel Takes Toll on Spouses

Chris Essex knows all about the resentment factor.

Her husband of 25 years is a million-mile flier on United Airlines. And it's not so much that she wishes she could be travelling with him — it's that she doesn't like it when he's away.

Essex may be something of an expert when it comes to coping with a traveling spouse, since she serves as co-director for the Center for Work and the Family in Rockville, Md., an organization that helps people bridge the gaps between life at work and life at home.

But like millions of other spouses whose partner's frequent business travel can leave behind an emotional and practical void, she still resents the extra burdens that with come with her husband's absence.

"It happened recently with my husband — he forgot something and he needed it FedExed to him," Essex explains. "For me the resentment factor was this instant flash point of 'That's not okay with me, because not only are you not here, which causes a loss of assistance — but now you require something from me to support you being away.'"

More people could be affected by the "resentment factor" than you might imagine.

Fourteen million Americans travel internationally on business each year, according to estimates by HTH Worldwide, a health insurance provider to international travelers. Five trips per year is the average, with an average stay of nearly two weeks.

And some experts say that the same problems may extend to the spouses of those who travel domestically each year. That's 34.2 million Americans, with the vast majority involving an overnight stay lasting an average of four nights, estimates the Travel Industry Association of America.

Ill Effects for Stay-at-home Spouse

In fact, the stress of spousal travel may actually be making some the stay-at-home partner sick.

Research into the effects of international travel on the spouse or partner has largely been anecdotal. But a recent study in the March issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine provides some documented proof that you don't need to be on the road to be weary.

The study, conducted by researchers from the World Bank, used medical insurance claims filed between 1997 and 1998 and found that spouses of frequent international business travelers were more likely to suffer mental health problems than spouses of non-travelers.

Spouses of travelers filed 16 percent more claims than did spouses of non-travelers. For psychological disorders as a whole, spouses of travelers were two times more likely to file claims than spouses of non-travelers.

And there was a tripling of claims for psychological stress related disorders among spouses of employees who traveled more than four times per year. Claims for treatment of skin and intestinal disorders were also higher compared to spouses of non-travelers.

While the actual percentage of people who felt bad enough to see a physician was small, it could be just the tip of the iceberg, since many of those feeling the effects of stress may not seek professional help, believes Dr. Lennart Dimberg, the study's lead author and senior occupational health specialist at the World Bank.

The Long and Short of It

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