Love, Strife, and the Great Outdoors

By Michael Cravens

Accusations of being a little intense, maybe even obsessive, have followed me my entire life. I certainly can’t deny it; I’ve always taken my interests to the extreme. Growing up, these interests varied, but really only within the context of the outdoors and the wild animals found there. As a child, while other kids played sports, I was out catching snakes and hunting squirrels in the fields and forests near my Ozark home. Later on, once freed of the watchful eye of my mother, I would go on to search for wildlife and adventure throughout this country and abroad.

Nature and all that comes with it has been an all-encompassing journey throughout my entire life and little has changed today. Well, “little” might be an understatement. Somehow, between all my tromping around in the wilderness, I managed to meet the woman of my dreams. This woman, despite her being completely normal and un-obsessive, became my wife. Together, we made the two most amazing little children I could have ever imagined. How I lucked into this amazing family will forever be a mystery to me and I can honestly say that a day doesn’t go by that I am not in awe of it all. In fact, the intense love I have for my family is the only thing that has ever rivaled my love of the great outdoors.

So, here I am, living my dream life. It’s true, but it’s not without some serious conflict. You see, while I am absolutely crazy about my family, I never really shook that pesky obsession with the great outdoors. Let’s just say that my time spent pursuing wild game and fish is very important to me. Of course, this is real life, grown-up life, the rat race. We have bills to pay, children to feed, and a relationship to nurture. How does one do it all and still find the time that’s necessary to fill the freezer? If you find out, please let me know because I’m really struggling here. In the meantime, though, here’s a few things I’ve learned that might help smooth the way with the family and maximize your time in the outdoors.

COMMUNICATION

It never fails. I’ll be driving home from a multiday hunt, call my wife, and, in the excitement of telling her all about it, I’ll get carried away and start planning my next hunt. I’ve always done this. I get so high on the experience that I can’t help but to start looking forward to the next one. 

To me, this is just harmless excitement. To my wife, this sends a very different message. All she hears is that rather than being excited to come home and be with her and our children, all I care about is the next time I can get back to the mountains and away from them. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. My wife and my children are always on my mind when I’m away; I miss them dearly. Fortunately, one thing we do well, despite my occasional thoughtlessness, is communicate well. Without this, I wouldn’t get to spend half of the time hunting and angling that I do.

We talk about our feelings freely and often. This comes naturally to us; it usually doesn’t take too long to smooth out a thoughtless, misplaced comment. For others who might not so freely air out their grievances, thoughtful communication is all the more important. A thoughtless and misplaced comment could fester for a long time and cause much resentment between your partner, you, and your time outdoors. Make it a point to work on your communication with your partner. Think about what you want to say before saying it. Think about how it will be received. This sounds easy enough, but it’s really not. Good communication takes practice and thought. Learn to communicate well and often and you might not just end up with more time outdoors but also maybe a better relationship to boot.

PLANNING

My wife would laugh at me if she knew I was offering advice on planning to others. She has lovingly described me as dog-like in the sense that I live in the moment. I don’t dwell much on what happened yesterday, and I don’t worry much about what’s happening tomorrow. While there are some obvious responsibility repercussions that come with this, she at least appreciates that I’m generally happy… much like a dog.

I’m a generalist hunter, meaning I get equally excited about hunting squirrels as I do elk as I do ducks. When summer rolls around, there are trout waiting to have a fly cast to them. That’s not only a lot to fit into a calendar, it’s also a lot to ask of a partner. One thing that helps is to make good plans and communicate them to your partner (there’s that communication thing again). My wife and I both work full time and have two small children. While I’d love to drop everything and run to the mountains every time a buddy calls or I get excited about another opener, it’s simply not realistic or, for that matter, fair, to my wife. While you may not get to take every trip you want to, planning your season out to the best of your abilities with your partner’s needs in mind will unquestionably get you into the woods much more often.

LOVE LANGUAGE

In full disclosure, I’m stealing this directly from the book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman. If you haven’t already, get this book and read it with your partner. It’s positive implications to your relationship will go far beyond benefiting your hunting and angling time. In short, learn what your partner’s love language is and make sure you’re speaking it. My wife’s love language is quality time spent together. In contrast, my love language is physical touch. All I need is a hug and a kiss and I’m good to go for a week alone in the wilderness. For my wife, this is far from the case. When first presented with this scenario, I mistakenly thought that since we shared the same roof, we spent all the time together that was necessary. It took a deeper dive and deeper thought for me to understand that spending undistracted quality time with her was how she felt loved.

Fortunately, I like my wife. Spending time with her isn’t hard, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy for me to get out of my own head and put my focus directly on her. This takes effort and is something that I have to stay continually mindful of. When your partner feels fully and completely loved, your time away from them all of the sudden becomes free of jealous, hurt, or otherwise bad feelings that lead to strife and unrest in your relationship.

IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR

I had children for one reason: to create little partners to share outdoor adventures with. I’m kidding, but this isn’t completely untrue. Sharing my love of wild places and wildlife was one of my most exciting thoughts when thinking of having children. As it turns out, I had a lot to be excited about.

My boy (seven) and my girl (five) have turned out to be better partners in the field and on the water than I ever dreamt. Of course, they never really stood a chance as I’ve been dragging them around the countryside since they were babies. My little boy will fish all day without even a bite and not lose interest. My little girl will hike with me all day long following around our German short-haired pointer in search of birds. My wife, while not sharing my interest in hunting and angling, is a very enthusiastic hiker, backpacker, and camper and is at her happiest when we are all together as a family in the outdoors. All of this presents limitless opportunities for me to include my family in my outdoor pursuits.

Of course, while there are times when I still value the solitude that only a solo multi-day backpack hunt can provide, I have come to equally enjoy trips with my family in tow. We might have to go a little slower, and I might have to spend more time than I care to untangling flies from tree branches and bushes, but somehow, it’s all okay. There’s some strange magic at work here that can’t be put to words and can only be understood through the experience. While hunting and fishing trips can cause a lot of friction in a relationship through time spent apart, under the right circumstances, they can also provide the setting to build and strengthen those same relationships. Heck, my wife and I have even pulled off a romantic overnight backpacking ‘date night’ that doubled as a scouting trip.

This is not meant to come across as a set of instructions that have been proven by someone who’s figured it all out. Also, this is not meant as a technique to manipulate your partner. This is about mutual respect and comes from years of struggle and communication with my wife. Still, my relentless desire to be out hunting or angling every chance I get is still our biggest argument. The difference is, what once was a severe point of contention and damaging to our relationship is now just an argument that can be worked through with communication and respect for each other’s feelings.

Everyone’s situation is going to be different. Some really struggle with communication and sharing their feelings; some, like me, are just terrible planners, some have no idea how to speak their partner’s love language, and some partners and children simply abhor everything about the outdoors. Still, by being mindful of and working at the ideas laid out here, there is a good chance you’ll end up with more time in the field and, even if you don’t, I promise you’ll find yourself in a healthier and happier relationship.