How to stay connected when geography keeps you apart

As couples therapists in Bethesda, we know it is not uncommon for couples to date long-distance or be in a commuter marriage (i.e., a marriage between spouses who live apart).  In fact, data from the 2006 U.S. Census found that more than 3.5 million married couples live apart for reasons other than legal separation.  In addition, many individuals travel for work, so despite a shared residence, they may be out of town for several days or weeks at a time. Couples who live apart, or in the case of a traveling spouse, who are apart for several days or weeks out of the month, may find it hard to stay connected.  I can understand this struggle.  My fiancé and I have lived apart for almost half of our seven-year relationship.   In fact, just six months after we started dating, we both studied abroad in different countries: he moved to London, while I moved to Uganda!  Over the course of our relationship, we have developed some strategies for staying connected while apart. Communicate, communicate, communicate.  Is there ever a time when communication isn’t important?  Probably not.  But, when you live apart from your partner, and don’t have access to Bethesda couples counseling, communication is of the utmost importance.  Couples who live together, even those on opposite schedules, will eventually run into each other and exchange a few words.  When you live apart, you have to be more intentional about your relationship.  It is helpful to differentiate quality versus quantity communication.  Quality communication is time for you and your partner to focus on one another and the relationship – and nothing else.  This is not the time to hone your multi-tasking skills.  Alternatively, quantity communication (e.g., texting) demands less of your time and attention, but might be a nice way to check-in with your spouse throughout the day.  Remember that most relationships need both quality and quantity communication over the course of a day. Netflix, anyone?  Sharing activities is another great way to stay connected.  If you and your partner have a favorite TV show, you can binge watch it separately, but together (e.g., try agreeing to watch a set number of episodes by a certain date that way one person never gets too far ahead).  If you both like to cook, maybe you can choose a recipe together and cook it separately for dinner that week.  Check in on the weekend and see how the dish turned out.  Couples who are eager to share fitness routines can train separately for a 5K, and then, run the race together.  Try to find an activity that you are both interested in so it will be easy for both of you to follow through. Modify your expectations.  Sometimes, when my fiancé and I argue, I ask myself: how might we respond differently if we lived near one another?  If we were together, maybe we could give one another a hug or go for a walk.  If we were together, it might be easier to cool down.  It took a long time for me to realize that many people don’t feel comfortable communicating via phone or email; that the way they show care and concern is not through saying the right words, but giving a bear hug.  When you’ve had a bad day, and your spouse says, “I’m sorry,” it might not feel like enough support, comfort, or care.  But, maybe, that is all they can offer right now because of the physical distance.  Cut your relationship some slack and acknowledge that in a different time and place, they could probably offer you more of what you want. Are you in a long-distance relationship or commuter marriage?  What tips do you have for staying connected while apart?  Comment below! Lindsey Hoskins & Associates provides individual, couple, and family therapy services in Bethesda, MD. Contact us today to discuss how we can work together!