Monday, 20 January 2014

Married but Living Apart: Commuter Marriage

A Commuter Marriage is between spouses who live apart, usually because of the locations of their jobs, and who regularly travel to be together, as on weekends.
 A growing number of married couples are living apart. It’s called the Commuter Marriage and a large number of couples are doing it. The Commuter Marriage is not really that new. Travelling salesmen, migrant workers, the incarcerated soldiers on deployment have always been in long-distance relationships.

Commuter Marriages – Whether Chosen Or By Circumstance – Can Take One Of Many Forms:

-You’re living apart, temporarily or for a long time
-You spend days or weeks apart periodically or on a regular basis
-You both live full time in the same house but rarely see each other because of work schedules
-One or both of you is travelling frequently or occasionally, but not together
-One of you is forced to travel for long periods of time because of military service or other occupation.

Spending time apart is both a blessing and a problem. When you have time apart it can refresh your relationship and remind you what you love most about your partner. On the other hand, if you begin to resent the separation and don’t communicate well while you’re apart, your marriage has the potential to quickly unravel.

Reasons for Commuter Marriages

 1. Relaxing social norms around marriage and the prevalence of online dating which allows singles to cast a wider net, have likely contributed to the increasing number of couples who choose to, live apart, sociologists say.
2. Work or financial reasons: the biggest factor is economic. With the rise in dual-income households where both spouses are working – According to a couple who live apart, they believe “It’s the best of both worlds, I think; we got to spend our time together and then also apart. You appreciate the other person more when they come back”.
3. Some couples even claim they prefer living apart because they both have different living habits and nothing in common except they love each other and their children. As a result of these, they choose to live apart.

Most couples who live apart tend to be younger but that doesn’t mean only the young are choosing to live apart. The couples who are 50 years and older are increasingly living apart too. They believe the older you are when you do a long-distance relationship, the less it seems to matter because you are not changing as much.

The commuter marriage does challenge the social norm that says being a couple means sharing an address. And while living separately once meant the relationship was on the rocks, studies show these couples are no more likely to split than those who live together.

With the technology of today, unlimited cell phone calls, chats or video chats via Facebook or Skype mean being apart doesn’t have to feel so isolating anymore. It can keep you two together while you’re apart. But even the best technology is a poor substitute to being together.

I recommend that couples –

• Resist the urge to shelve unpleasant feelings out of fear of ruining the time you do spend together
• Keep in touch in old-fashioned ways like writing notes and letters
• Get creative, like watching same movie so you can talk about it
Living apart is not all chocolate and flowers and I-miss-yous. Having separate homes often means lonely weekends/days and having to show up solo to get-togethers with friends and family. And that can wear on relationships.

Types of Commuter Marriage

 1. The Young Professionals
2. The Relocatees
3. The Well-Established – Both have important and possibly even prestigious careers in different cities, when they wed, but they choose to continue their two-city lifestyle. Frequently, the well-established are also “well-heeled”, famous, and highly visible.
4. The Economically motivated – Younger couples struggle with ascendency conflicts, they wrestle with the dilemma of whose career should predominate.
The issue is not whether the wife shall have a career; the majority of men now state that they expect their wives to work. The issue is whose career is more important.

Reasons Why Older Couples Find Living Apart Easier Than The Younger Ones:

• The solidity of the relationship
• The faith that they can endure the demands of living apart
• The recognition that they are compensating for the wife’s past efforts on the hubby’s behalf

Factors Affecting Commuter Couples

- The Supermom/Dad, Super-success Factor (“Role Overload”) – Women tend to feel responsible for everything – practical and emotional. This depends on whether they want either a high standard of domestic living or high standard of career achievement.

- Fatigue Fallout Factor – Physical exhaustion, emphasis on good health; problem of stamina commuting requires. Not everyone makes it. Some couples agree that the drain on physical energy incurred by frequent travelling is a major issue. The commitment to work, especially for established couples, is so well fixed that dropping out seems unthinkable.

- Identity Factor – Internally generated conflicts about whether one is a ‘good’ husband/wife/person arising from cultural ideas of work and family as intrinsically masculine/feminine.

- The Motivational Factor– Why am I doing it? Married singles are expected to be promiscuous and because of this expectation, they are frequently subjected to sexual harassment. Peers, friends, co-workers and employees look at the partners in Commuter Marriages as footloose, fancy free & ready-to-play.

They assume that the Commuter is ‘separated’ or getting a divorce, that no serious relationship exists simply because the couple is not living together as convention requires.

Researchers insist that commuters do not have any more affairs than stay-at-home couples. So much concentration is poured into work & marriage that there is little energy left over for it. Couples living apart don’t have more sex but they enjoy sex more. They are generally highly monogamous and devoted to their sexual partners. The most important thing is really the care taken in shared time and these couples seem to take more care because time is so precious.

It is estimated that half of the commuter marriages are in the academic world where work schedules are flexible and jobs are very scarce. But the number is growing in business, politics, journalism, publishing and show business.
Solitude in itself doesn’t produce loneliness, it comes when expectations fail.

Making Living Apart Successful

Is there any truth to the adage; “Absence makes the heart grow fonder?”
Living separate lives isn’t what most couples have in mind when they marry. But shift work, job relocations, or demanding travel schedules can wreak havoc with domestic routines. When one partner is often absent how do you keep the romantic connection strong? What can couples do to make a commuter marriage work?

I met a woman who once told me; "I don’t like having him here 24/7, and he doesn’t like being around me 24/7…. That’s just the way it is”. She has been married to her husband, a mechanical engineer for 23 yrs. He is gone about 70% of the time. She believes “Absence teaches you self-sufficiency” and that “Reunions can be very special. Someone who’ll make me feel that I am the center of their universe – that makes up a lot” she says.

It’s the truth that reunions can super-change a relationship. Time to oneself is also valuable. We wouldn’t want to lose that in a relationship anyway. It’s not healthy to be completely dependent on someone else.

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

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 the household problems: plumbing that doesn’t work, financial decisions, child rearing and chores usually shared by two. Spouses not at home on the other hand are lonely, isolated and out of touch with family.

Lizzy, a Public Relations specialist in Lagos is married to Kunle, a commercial airline pilot who spends 4 days away from home each week. That amounts to about 16 days and nights a month without seeing each other at all. Though it’s been hard to be left behind, Lizzy recognizes that she maintains a sense of stability and comfort from being at their shared home.

Still, she experiences frustration. She admits that she has a hard time watching other people’s husbands come home at night even if they work late; they still sleep at home, which is something that she’d love. She feels it’s hard when friends and work give her a hard time about not doing anything with them the nights he comes home. That’s an important day of the week for them to spend with each other and catch up.

On the part of the travelling spouse i.e., Kunle, he feels it’s difficult because he doesn’t have a normal daily routine. He’s in different cities each night and doesn’t sleep in his own bed or eat dinner half the time with his wife, which is tough.

Having empathy is critical to staying connected. At home spouses need to understand it’s not all excitement for the traveller, that flights and hotels are lonely where they are done routinely and especially alone.

Advantages of having an Absentee Spouse

 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. Also, there are many opportunities for growth for couples in commuter marriages. Individual 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, they may find they each benefit from the experience.
What about the children? They in one way or the other develop a “sense of patience”.

How to Stay Connected In a Commuter Marriage

 Whether voluntarily or involuntarily, there are countless ways to address the challenges of spousal separation, keep intimacy alive, alleviate guilt, nurture support and minimize resentment.

-Be positive: Having a positive attitude – no blaming – is key. Your spouse doesn’t want to be away. He/she is not choosing work over his/her family.

-Take advantage of technology: A generation ago, couples had a much more difficult time staying in touch. With email, cell phones, digital pictures, web cams, it is much easier for spouses to stay in contact.

-Become the problem solver: If you are the spouse at home, it helps to go ahead and provide the absentee partner an update on ways you’re tackling at-home problems. He/she doesn’t need to be thousands of miles away worrying about you and the kids (where there are), frustrated.

-Outsource as needed: If necessary, hire a weekly housekeeper if not a house maid, so you have more time to devote to your kids. You may need free time or you are burned out and you need to relax. By doing this, you won’t get frustrated wishing your spouse were around to help.

-Cultivate your own hobbies: Having interest outside your marriage is the key to steering off isolation. Also, please accept that when he/she comes home your interests might not be the same. Be ready to adjust.

-Do something unexpected: Tuck notes, photos into the travelling partner’s suitcase/purse to serve as reminders of family left at home.

-Make the time you do have together count: Whether it’s a date night without the kids or a special dinner at home, make sure your partner knows he/she is appreciated.

I wish you all the best in your marriage.

Culled from: One Good Spouse Deserves Another by Bukola Oyetunji

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