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Bridging the Distance in a Commuter Marriage

Strategies for staying connected -- and sane -- when you have an absentee spouse.

Advantages of Having an Absentee Spouse

"A friend got me thinking of this when she said I have the most romantic marriage," Buckholtz says. "I think it's because we don't take each other for granted. We really don't fight because both of us see the bigger picture. It's a cliche, but we treasure every moment together. That phrase, 'Don't sweat the small stuff,' applies."

Tessina echoes the pluses of commuter marriage.

"It's surprisingly good for couples to get a break from each other. Done right, each coming together heightens your appreciation of each other -- it's like a mini honeymoon. Being on your own enhances the autonomy of each partner and prevents taking each other for granted. Surprisingly, it often improves communication because you have to be clear when you're at a distance."

Tessina also says there are many opportunities for growth for couples in commuter marriages. Individually, spouses may develop increased self-reliance, self-determination, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-motivation, and self-nurturing.

"As partners settle into a routine and gain greater confidence and competence," she says, "they may find they each benefit from the experience."

What about children? Are there any benefits for kids with absent parents? Though it's hard for her to frame time apart from their dad positively, Buckholtz says she thinks they are developing a "sense of patience."

Making Separation Successful

"I don't like having him here, 24/7, and he doesn't like being around me 24/7 -- that's the straight scoop," Katharine Parks of Chillicothe, Ohio, says matter-of-factly. She has been married to John, an IT entrepreneur for 32 years. Empty-nesters, he is gone about 70% of the time.

"[Absence] teaches you self-sufficiency," she says. "And reunions can be pretty special. Someone who will make me feel that I am center of their universe -- that makes up for a lot."

Buckholtz says reunions can "supercharge a relationship. Even six years into my marriage, my heart still beats faster every time I think about a reunion."

Time to oneself is also valuable.

"We each need our own time and we have that while he's at work," Kuzma says. "That's something we wouldn't ever want to lose in a relationship anyway. It's not healthy to be completely dependent on someone else."

"Your commuter marriage will teach you many subjects," Tessina says. "If you keep in mind that you are a student and the problems exist to teach you something, getting through the hard parts becomes easier and more efficient, and the new things you learn are a great reward."

Buckholtz sums up the key to her separation success. "[This] lifestyle doesn't necessarily suit our relationship. But it's given us a perspective that people who see each other day in and day out might not have. I believe we are better for it."

Adds Kuzma's husband, David, "We really rely on the saying, 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder,' and I'm convinced that it's true."

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