As the plane taxis down the runway, I feel my heart catch in my chest. I take a deep breath. It will only be two weeks before I see him again. I know what to tell myself. I know how to stay ahead of it in my mind. That’s the trick isn’t it though, to have the next trip booked before we part? Just like I know what to say to people who ask about our untraditional marriage and just like I know how long is too long to be away from the kids. There is a lot I can tell myself. There is a lot to be grateful for. It just doesn’t stop the pounding in my chest, as I keep watching the plane with my husband on it, as it takes off into the clouds and disappears, yet again.
What we are doing isn’t extremely out of the ordinary. In fact, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2013 there were 3.6 million people in a commuter marriage in the United States alone. Most people site the career of one or both spouses as the reason for doing it. I am sure there are a handful of couples, like us, who are in second marriages and the kids are the driving component for a contemporary living arrangement. Not that I am boastful about paving the modern way. I have just come to accept that for the next few years, this will be the norm for our family and that while truthfully, at times it’s really hard, I hope that by blogging about it I can share some of the things that I have learned work for us and connect with other people who have similar experiences.
Cue Rewind: How did it ever come to this?
This is a question I have asked myself a lot over the past few years when open to but not necessarily looking for it, the love story that movies are made of entered from stage left. Contrast leaving Chicago on an early morning flight during weather that was negative six degrees to landing in beautiful, arid Palm Springs in February with a shadow of a premonition that something about this work conference was going to change my life. (I brushed this notion aside, not thinking it was possible, so let’s give thanks that I wasn’t fully in charge of the plans.) In the course of two days, as the sunshine warmed it’s way into my vitamin D depleted skin, so did the connection of a previously barely known industry colleague warm his way into my heart.
Talking like we had known each other forever, I literally felt the earth shift at one point and that we were the only two people alive. Even so, we were very cautious. We talked on the phone every night for a month before we finally went on our first date. Looking back, he says, “We did everything right.” Sarah, in my office said, “He had game,” which is funny if you know him, a Type A-minus (minus only because he is not as outwardly aggressive as some) with more integrity than anyone I’ve ever met. From there we fell in love, got married and now share our time between homes in the oddly different yet similar states of Texas and Wisconsin.
Our life is full. Together we have three kids, ex-spouses and shared parenting. There was a career change for both of us not too long ago. We both travel, spend weekends at our son’s baseball games, go to award shows for our daughters and make time for friends. People ask us how we do it. The core of it is easy when it’s stacked up with love and trust. That is the most important part, but here are some other tips that we’ve learned along the way:
1. Have your elevator pitch. That’s right; for casual conversations and new acquaintances, it’s often easier to have two or three statements that will cut to the chase and shut down any unwanted pity or questions. I often use the stat mentioned above, that in the US there are 3.6 million people living in a commuter marriage.
2. Talk to one another A LOT. Although the kids roll their eyes at how many times our phones ring some days when we are not together, communication is absolutely the key to staying active in one another’s daily lives.
3. Work on a project together. Choose something like a common goal, renovation or mutually planned family vacation.
4. Always have your next flight/trip booked. We find this essential. Not only does planning ahead help cut down airfare costs, but we are never in limbo about the next time we’ll see one another.
5. Plan adult time. Date night is essential for all couples but it’s especially essential to carve out time for intimacy and reconnection after an absence.
6. Write down long-term mutual relationship goals. This helps keep us on the same page and helps to define that there is a date in site when the ‘commuter’ part of the marriage will end.
7. Know what friends and family you can count on. There will be times when you are feeling alone or just out of balance with the back and forth. Having someone to talk to who is supportive outside of the marriage will be helpful on those days.
8. Support one another. This one may seem self-evident, but while sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in our own separate day, we practice consciously reminding each other that we are one another’s full court cheerleader. (He is letting me blog about him after all.)
9. Follow through on all commitments. This helps make an outwardly unstable relationship steady. According to Dr. J. Richard Cookerly, ” The biggest issue for LAT couples actually is the same one that exists for all couples, though for LAT lovers it may be bigger. That issue is ‘how well will you actually do your love’ as a couple. Love must be demonstrated, received and enacted, not just felt or thought about for it to succeed.”
10. Embrace your alone time. Take advantage of the time that you are apart to do the things you love and keep you feeling healthy and centered. For him, this means a 30-mile weekend bike ride with a long time friend. For me, I paint and write (or off-handedly create a blog).
11. Know what your boundaries are: what you will and won’t give up. This one took a while to figure out. While I gave up my job because we need the flexibility of being with one another, I won’t give up my career (just altering it a bit) and he wouldn’t want me to.
12. Create a mix of celebrations and down time. Keep life full but keep it balanced too. We often host or go to dinner with family and friends but sometimes it’s best to stay in for movie night or game night with the kids to foster relationship intimacy.
13. Be as present as you can in each situation. This means things like going on field trips when you are not together but with the kids or making each other lunch when you are together and working side by side. Not taking things for granted is definitely a positive aspect of the commuter marriage.
14. You can’t make everyone happy all of the time. Any parent knows this. Any working Mom especially does. Just like sometimes in life you have to choose your battles, it is equally true that you have to prioritize commitments. For us, this means being as fair as we can with our time for one another and the kids.
15. Know you are not alone. While our relationship is certainly unique, I constantly come across couples who face long distance due to one doing contract work or travelling often for business. Having grown up with a father who was sometimes away for up to a month at a time gave me confidence in the fact that this could be done and now I am part of the proof that it can.
Are you in a commuter marriage or long distance relationship? Comment below and let me know what has worked well for you.