Tips for commuter couples

Q: My husband had to move across the country for a new job, so we’ve found ourselves in a long distance relationship. Right now it’s uncertain if this will be a temporary or permanent position. He comes back when he can on the weekend but it’s still a big change from what we’re used to. How can we weather this transition and stay connected to one another? 

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You’ve become a “commuter couple,” an increasing demographic given the prevalence of dual-career families and the inevitable fluctuations that come with being a modern day professional. Commuter marriages are on the rise, with one  estimate from 2007 citing over 3 million Americans living and working in different locations from their spouses. Rather than thinking of this as a holding pattern in which you grit your teeth and tread water, let’s look at how this can bring growth to your relationship.

For starters, you may find there’s truth in the old adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” 

It’s quite possible you’ll notice a newfound longing for your husband now that you don’t see him every day. Because let’s face it, day to day life living together doesn’t always feel terribly romantic when you factor in busy schedules, domestic tasks and the needs of children. In fact, there’s even a whole movement based on couples who are married/committed partners yet mutually choose to live in nearby separate homes, called Living Apart Together (LAT). These tend to be adults who were married in the past, have already raised their children and now appreciate having their own space. These individuals feel they have the best of all worlds: getting the benefits of a committed, exclusive companion while also having independence and personal fulfillment. In your situation, be open minded that emotional closeness is often but not necessarily associated with physical closeness. Having this time apart can create renewed appreciation and novelty for one another. It may lead you to see this familiar face with mystery and a reignited spark of desire! In the very least I predict you’ll be less likely to take one another for granted.

Another advantage is that although you might not have the quantity of time you shared before, you now have designated quality time together.  I recommend planning one special activity for each of your visits. Engage in things you might not have otherwise prioritized if you were still living together.  Don’t overbook yourselves though — you want to be sure to have some time to nest and feel cozy at home.

You mention he comes back on the weekends “when he can.” I’m guessing you’ve evaluated whether it makes sense for you to move to his location. If it’s not an option to move there, do you have flexibility in your life to spend long weekends or larger chunks of time visiting him? Granted, if you have children then all that travel can be extra expensive and exhausting. Plus, if your husband’s job may not be permanent you don’t want to uproot yourself or the kids from their school and community. Assuming you can’t move to him due to professional or personal reasons, I recommend implementing a regular visit schedule, such as every-other-weekend. This helps you find a rhythm and have something to look forward to.

Since you’re the one remaining in the primary home, inevitably you’ll deal with more of the day-to-day chores and errands. Neither of you should expect the other to magically know how to re-integrate back into the flow of the household without good communication about what happened while you were apart. Fortunately there are many ways to stay connected thanks to the help of technology. Set a Skype or FaceTime “date” and utilize email, texting, or audio texting to relay updates throughout the week. 

Sure, it’s never easy to take on more of the domestic responsibilities (especially if your husband really pitched-in) but remember this circumstance is impermanent.  No matter what, things will shift, become more familiar and you will find your new normal.

Long distance relationships come with their own unique set of challenges. However research has also shown that long distance romantic couples (including both married and partnered couples) generally enjoy equal or even higher levels of stability, satisfaction, commitment and trust than comparable geographically closer couples. Once you find a new groove, my hope is you can feel this is an opportunity to reinvigorate the relationship, including the one with yourself! Relish in having some space for you. Savor those moments when you can take up the whole bed, let your dirty clothes pile on the floor, eat cereal for dinner and feel like a bachelorette again.

Dr. Rachel Allyn is a licensed psychologist in private practice. Learn more about her unique style of therapy at DrRachelAllyn.com. Send questions to Rachel@DrRachelAllyn.com.