Tips for Successful Commuter Couplehood


by By Lisa Cannon /

Posted on March 26, 2009 at 9:50 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:53 PM

About the Author

Lisa Cannon has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. She writes about everything from the health benefits of journal writing to the best ways to recycle computer hardware. She lives in beautiful Portland, Ore.

According to the 2006 U.S. Census, commuter marriages in America have risen from 1.7 million in 1990 to 3.6 million in 2006. More and more people are pairing up--and then living apart. Experts say a major reason is the increase in dual-career marriages. Our changing culture is also playing a role: When women have their own careers, it's no longer a given that where he goes, she goes.

Travel is also cheaper now, and flying home for weekends is an affordable option for some. And with technology enabling communication and connection no matter where you are, it's becoming more common for couples to spend some part of their lives in different cities.

But these shifts in our society don't solve all the potential problems that separate togetherness can have. Just ask Jeni and James Lee. His job moved him from Portland to Seattle for several months, and he continues to make extended business trips there.

"The hardest thing about him working in another city is that when something unexpected happened, there was no way to call for backup," says Jeni. "I also had some very uncomfortable moments when I took care of things like our taxes and realized how little I knew. Our accountant needed answers that I just didn't have."

On the bright side, it's caused her to be more informed about their finances--a good idea for everyone, not just commuter couples. According to Jeni, "When James goes out of town now, I make sure I have more than enough knowledge about what's going on so I can explain it to others--without depending on him."

If you're involved in a long-distance relationship, here are five tips for a successful couplehood, whether your heart's desire is down the road or across the globe.

  • Set good communication guidelines: If one of you likes to IM constantly but the other finds it annoying, it can put a strain on your relationship. Set up some ground rules and stick to them. Schedule a communication plan with a minimum and maximum amount of calls/chats. That doesn't mean you shouldn't spontaneously email your loved one ... but you should be sure you're both OK with how often you connect. When you do talk, separate the conversations based on subject matter.
  • Have an email exchange about finances or household issues: later, schedule a call to talk about the kids. It keeps everything clear, and it makes it easier to deal with issues one at a time. Consider upgrading your computer and cell phone technology so you can keep connected more easily. With a fast Internet connection and a web cam, you can have real-time, face-to-face conversations. And with a good cell phone, you can send a video of the puppies playing tug-of-war to the absent spouse. It will help them feel a part of your everyday life.
  • Don't put your life on hold: We all do it - postponing everything until one very important thing happens. You think, "I'll figure out what career I really want after I save enough money to quit my job," or "Once we're living together again, we can start thinking about buying a house." Make plans now, and move forward with them. Having a significant other far away might make you feel like someone has pushed the pause button on your life, but it's up to you to keep it in motion.
  • Keep your significant other involved: Intimacy is built through shared experiences. And it's not just the big things, like a promotion or baby's first step. It also means the little things, like a shared laugh over a funny-looking eggplant at the market, or a joke you just heard in the elevator. Keep a blog or a journal, and share it with your other half. Take a photo of that cloud that looks like a giraffe and send it with a note that lets them know you're thinking of them. And when important decisions need to be made, reach out and make sure they know what's going on.
  • Ask for help: If your significant other is having to move a significant distance away, it's time to call for reinforcements. Years ago, your friends might have wondered if your relationship is on the rocks if you told them you were living apart. But as commuter couples become more common, it won't seem odd to loved ones to hear you say, "My wife is moving to New York, but I'm staying in Philadelphia for the rest of the year."
  • Let those closest to you know what your plans are: That way, they'll be available to help you. And you may need some help! If you're moving to a new city, your friends might have contacts you can reach out to, so you won't feel so alone. If you're staying behind, you can ask your friends to be more proactive about involving you in their plans. Consider inviting groups over to your house for dinner one night a week, so you can have a regular social event to look forward to.
  • Set realistic expectations for your time together: When you only see your sweetie one weekend a month, it's hard not to put a lot of expectation on that brief time. But that can create its own kind of stress. Every visit will have ups and downs. If you have a bad time, or a big argument, don't worry too much. It's natural to have high expectations, but two days can never make up for a whole month apart! However, if every visit together turns into a blow-up, it's time to take long look at the pressure that distance is putting on your relationship. You may want to talk to a counselor--together or separately--to get help.

According to the Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships, commuters aren't any more likely to break up than those who live together. In fact, commuter relationships often provide greater space, privacy, and much-needed alone time than their geographically close counterparts. But it's also important to recognize challenges, and not to wait to act on them. Being back together won't necessarily solve everything, so act on issues as they arise.

Bonus tip: Be sure to cash in those frequent-flyer miles for a second honeymoon!