There was a post in one of my Facebook “town mom’s groups” from a woman looking to rent a bedroom one or two nights each week. Why? Her husband just got a new job, and their family was relocating 100 miles away. But she loves her job in town and so is shifting her schedule so that she can continue to work two or three days per week—assuming that she can find someplace to stay that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
I also have a friend who commuted from Rhode Island to Seattle every week so that he could pursue his career and not displace his family.
I know assorted independent consultants on long-term assignments who spend a night or two a week in a hotel or an apartment in order to maintain their home life while going where the work is. Of course, long-haul truckers, top corporate executives and celebrities have been living split lives for years.
In fact, my husband and I had a commuter marriage for a few years while he pursued career opportunities across the country. It took some effort, but it worked.
Having a relationship across the miles is not easy…and many of those relationships fail.
It seems, however, that creative relationships are becoming more the norm and that the definition of a “normal” marriage (or relationship) is changing. In today’s mobile environment and competitive marketplace, it takes some creativity and effort to balance marital and family stability with career growth.
Bottom Line Personal published an article a while back with Michele Weiner-Davis that gave some great advice on making a long-distance relationship work…
1. Set up ground rules. Before one partner leaves town, be sure that you are in sync about communication and the freedom for each partner to pursue his/her independent life. Most critical: Trust is key, and jealousy shouldn’t creep in when someone has dinner with a business associate or goes to the movies with a friend.
2. Communicate often. This seems obvious, but with busy schedules and differences in communication styles, lengthy phone calls may sometimes be a challenge. Each person’s needs should be satisfied—sometimes a longer phone call…sometimes a shorter one. Most important is that you make time for discussion of issues—both big and small—so that you continue to function as a team.
3. Little love touches. There are many ways to offer small touches of love. Now that our kids are older, when my husband and I were apart, we regularly exchanged photos of our dog, links to articles of interest and little “love texts.” Another idea: Just hang out on FaceTime. Cook dinner or watch a movie together-but-apart at little or no cost, thanks to Wi-Fi. While no touching is involved, at least you’re there for those little comments you just want to share with your BFF.
4. Schedule visits as often as money and time allow. It’s far easier to deal with the downside of the distance when you know how soon you will be together again. Lay out a number of visits in the future so that you don’t have to wonder when you will see each other again. And when you are together, make the most of that time by scheduling fun activities as well as handling the mundane tasks that must be done.
5. Check in on the plan. Keep your eyes and heart open to be sure that things are going as planned with regard to communication and connection. Assess if things are working as they are…or if something needs to be adjusted.
While the distance may be difficult, it’s not all bad if you reframe your perspective. Having time apart allows each person to pursue their individual activities without feeling guilty about ignoring his/her partner or being out too many nights in a row. Whether you are up to your eyeballs in new job responsibilities or you decide to take dance lessons or train for a marathon, there’s something to be said for simply being free to focus on your own wishes, wants and desires. This way, when you’re together there is no resentment that you have not been able to pursue your own activities.
One other point about the new world of relationships—keep your opinions to yourselves. Family members and friends should silence their assumptions and judgment about a couple’s choices. A friend’s daughter has had to suffer with repeated questions from all corners as to why she didn’t relocate from the job and city that she loves to follow her guy when he graduated from business school and got an amazing job offer…1,000 miles away. They are totally grounded in their decision and their commitment to each other. Sure, it’s not their first choice at the moment, but they’re doing what they need to do for long-term success as individuals and as a couple.
Thanks to a combination of technology, a great attitude and some loving effort, it’s a whole lot easier to stay connected and keep the spark alive no matter what your living situation. And, thanks to the ever-evolving structure of our world, the options are greater than ever.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.