He hates to fly; she can’t imagine driving 13 hours with a young child. What to do?

Share story

Dear Carolyn

Hi, Carolyn:

My husband and I will be traveling to attend my mom’s wedding. It’s either a 13-hour drive (now that we have a child, it would probably actually eat up an entire day) or a 1½-hour flight, plus brief transportation at each end. My husband hates to fly — mostly because he is frugal and dislikes being shuffled around by airlines, but also has slight confinement anxiety. He has a prescription for this when he absolutely has to fly, and it works well.

Meanwhile, I enjoy flying, don’t mind paying for the convenience, and seriously do NOT want to sign on for a gruesome road trip with a toddler, who is pretty well-behaved on a plane.

This difference between us makes it hard to plan not only this trip, but also hypothetical future travel. I proposed that I fly with the toddler, which would give me more time to spend with family, and that he drive, if that’s his preference. It infuriated him that I would consider “abandoning” him to drive alone. He seems to think the only answer is that we BOTH do the road trip thing, which I do not think makes sense.

Most Read Stories

Sale! Get 90% off digital access.

What do we do in this case, and when this inevitably comes up again?

— Spouse

DEAR SPOUSE: Why just deal with stubbornness and anxiety when you can have a boundary issue, too?

You have my sympathies. It’s one thing to have a partner who is irrational on a particular issue — we all have our stuff, after all — but another for a “furious” partner to expect everyone to live in service of that irrationality.

You do have two advantages, though — time and distance. As in, this isn’t a problem of culture or perception, like deciding whether gender roles are appropriate or how much one defers to Grandma. This hinges on how long it takes you to travel how far. Useful simplicity.

That means you can actually quantify what he’s asking of you and draw the line where you think he’s asking too much.

Let’s say a drive is seven hours, where flying instead would involve 30 minutes to the airport, a 90-minute cushion for parking and security, a one-hour flight and another hour on the ground at your destination — so, four hours. Call it five to be generous and allow for delays and other hassles of air travel.

That means the cost of indulging your husband is two or three hours. Are you OK with that, yes or no? You decide for yourself, of course, but that doesn’t sound too awful to me.

Now take the trip you’re contemplating. The flight and ground transportation look to be about a four-hour commitment, compared with a 13-hour drive, which pegs your indulge-the-spouse cost at 9 hours. In a car with a toddler. Instead of with family.

Again — you decide what’s right for you, but if I were doing that I’d want a prescription assist of my own.

So do the math, figure out what your pain limit is for extra driving, then explain it as such to your husband. Make it clear — you will gladly accommodate him up to X hours, and after that you hope he will accommodate you by either traveling separately as you suggest, or adopting your pain limit as his “absolutely has to fly” threshold.

You can’t make him agree to this, of course. You can, however, stick to your own limit by not agreeing to gruesome car trips, even flying solo against his wishes if you must. While it isn’t ideal, it’s a valid response to accusations of “abandoning him,” which are controlling and highly manipulative.

If that’s his default, and not just a flight-anxiety-specific bit of emotional slumming, then make sure good marriage counseling comes next. Do that alone, too, if you must.