Philosopher Aaron Ben-Zeev reported to "Psychology Today" in 2013 that over 3.5 million Americans live in so-called commuter marriages. Many families are separated by military obligations or incarceration, but the majority live apart due to their career needs. Ben-Zeev noted that, although married couples who live apart are not at higher risk for infidelity or other problems than couples who live together, it is important to create patterns that build closeness and intimacy.
Communication is vital in any relationship, but it takes on particular importance for couples who live apart. Because you are not physically present in each other's lives, you must rely on words to fill each other in on what happens from day to day. Psychologist Suzanne Phillips stresses that partners need to partner even when they are apart. Make plans, hang out with friends on social networks and work out solutions to problems. Communicate frequently about your living situation, ensuring that you are on the same page about the length of separation and plans for reunification.
People in traditional, in-person relationships develop small rituals that help them feel connected, from watching a favorite TV show together to going out for dinner once a week. When miles separate you, these bonding rituals are important to maintain intimacy. Watch a movie at the same time and discuss it afterwards, debate politics or play chess by email. Find creative ways to share your mutual interests, even when you are apart.
In-person visits go a long way toward maintaining intimacy. Ben-Zeev notes that many couples who live apart actually see each visit as a sort of extended date. You will likely be excited to see other, so take advantage of the situation. Put on your best clothes and dance the night away, or hang out in your pajamas and order pizza. Make the most of your time together to enhance your bond.
Technology provides many options for staying close. Try changing things up now and then to keep the relationship fresh and exciting. For example, if you meet online every night, try sending a random and unexpected text message during the day. Forward funny emails or silly photos. Be careful not to set unrealistic expectations for high-tech communications, however. It is easy to expect an instant response to a text message, but your spouse might not get the message for several hours. Be patient and loving rather than panicked and needy. Don’t forget low-tech options, too. For many people, a handwritten love letter is a rare treat.
Workaholics and Demanding Jobs
Some couples live together, but job demands keep them from seeing each other very often. In other marriages, some partners intentionally work long hours, even when they are not required to do so. If you are in this situation, communication is key. Keep each other informed about your work schedules, and let each other know if you will be delayed. Plan and keep dates with each other during your time off. Although you may not have much time to spend together, make the quality as good as it can be.