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Bridging the Distance in a Commuter Marriage

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

Empathy for the Absent Spouse

Many couples didn't plan for extended absences or long-distance relationships; others knew what they were getting into from the start. Regardless, the same stresses are at play in all commuter marriages: anger, insecurity, anxiety, loneliness, exhaustion, lack of support.

"Spouses left at home have to deal with all the household problems: plumbing that doesn't work, financial decisions, child rearing, and chores usually shared by two," Tessina says. "Spouses not at home are lonely, isolated, and out of touch with family."

Liz Kuzma, a public relations specialist in Houston, is married to David, a commercial airline pilot, who spends four days away from home each week. "That amounts to about 16 days and nights a month without seeing each other at all," she says in an email.

Though it's been hard to be "left behind," Kuzma recognizes that she maintains a sense of stability and comfort from being at their shared home. Still, she experiences frustration.

"I have to admit that I have a hard time watching other peoples' husbands come home at night -- even if they work late, they still sleep at home, which is something that I'd love. It's hard when friends or work give me a hard time about not doing anything the nights he comes home, but that's an important day of the week for us, and I wish they would be more understanding."

David, her husband, shares the flip side of separation.

"It's difficult because I don't have a normal daily routine. I'm in different cities each night, and I don't sleep in my own bed or eat dinner half the time with my wife, which is tough."

Tessina says that having empathy is critical to staying connected. "At-home partners need to understand it's not all glamour for the traveler, that flights and hotels are lonely when they're done routinely."

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."

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