The Long-Distance Marriage

Sometimes, two employed spouses can't find work in the same city, and they must live apart temporarily, maintaining two households but still cooperating on money management and all other aspects of married life from a distance. The primary motivation for living apart while married is financial, with either short-or long-term benefits at stake for the couple. The most common reasons for the choice are career advancement, education (often graduate school), and military deployment.

Interestingly, the problems of couples in long-distance relationships are not so different than couples living together, and neither are the solutions. The greatest challenges are keeping up communication between partners and maintaining a balance between work and the relationship.


Couples living apart represented 2.9 percent of all U.S. marriages, or 3.6 million people in 2005. This number grew by 30 percent since 2000 with most of the increase attributable to the growth in women's career opportunities putting more couples in the position of having to make a geographic compromise.

According to a 2004 study of 200 married couples living apart done by Purdue University's Center for the Study of Long-Distance Relationships, the average couple in this representative sample lived apart for 14 months and saw each other one and a half times a month. They reported speaking on the phone with their partners every 2.7 days.

Interestingly, this study showed that partners in marriages living apart were not more likely to have extramarital affairs, and these marriages showed no difference in divorce rates.

Other challenges faced by couples in a long-distance marriage include:

  • Maintaining interrelatedness (the feeling of being a couple)

  • Tendency to avoid difficult topics for discussion during brief periods of togetherness

  • The limitations of phone communication (that is, without visual cues) make nuances harder to grasp and arguments harder to resolve

  • Limited times for sexual intimacy; different comfort levels with “phone sex” and the tendency to make times together more like a vacation than “real life”

With the complexities and myriad demands of modern life affecting all marriages, there are lessons to be learned in the special challenges faced by those in long-distance marriages. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it bears noting that, above all else, the quality of communication between partners is the make-or-break element that determines whether these relationships succeed or fail.

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