If you prefer to listen: here is our podcast on Commuter Marriages
Many couples, for a variety of reasons, have to live apart for a time. This experience is sometimes called a long distance relationship or commuter marriage. Jobs, military deployments, sick relatives etc. make it necessary for spouses to spend months apart. I have yet to experience this in my own marriage, and so I can only imagine all the emotions that are at work here.
We have written about commuter marriages in the past. This post is on how to keep the spark alive while couples live apart from each other. I have avoided the topic as I didn’t want to speak to something I know so little about. I have done my research and talked to those who know, but please read these suggestions with grace. And if you are in this situation and would like to share your experience, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
As I explained above, many couples need to live apart for a variety of reasons. This experience can be very taxing to all parties involved. Well meaning people will tell you, “I don’t know how you do it! I’d fall apart without my spouse!” not knowing you feel as though you are falling apart. Other less charitable people may judge and assume something is wrong in your relationship. These external forces only serve to heighten the internal turmoil. Where once you had a partner, you now have a phone and a voice.
Now, everyone’s experience will be different (some may be content with the arrangement, others may hate it). But the ultimate question for every long distance relationship is “how can we maintain and build intimacy when we are not physically around each other?” Let’s discuss some ideas and tips for building intimacy in a commuter marriage. As always, take the suggestions you like and leave what you don’t. The hope is that this post will inspire your own creativity to find what works for the two of you!
Long Distance Intimacy
The first step is always open communication. Even though you are apart, intimacy requires clear expectations. Discuss what you expect from your spouse, and be explicit. When and how often are you going to talk? What other ways will you stay connected (letters, texts, video chats etc)? Can we afford to wait to have harder conversations, or will our time apart require those tricky talks to happen virtually? As cheesy as it sounds, this may also be the time to dust off that love languages quiz. Would your spouse love to receive gifts and packages? Love notes throughout the week? Facetimes where you both go about your day, but together? It’s important to understand what your spouse is expecting from you, and explore what you are expecting from them.
Intimacy can be sorted into three categories; emotional, sexual, and spiritual. It is important to stay connected in all three areas.
Even though you are physically apart, it is important to stay emotionally connected. You do this by sharing problems and successes with each other!
I have never been in a commuter marriage, but I did spend a summer with a long distance boyfriend who is now my husband. He lived in Arizona working at a wilderness therapy program, meaning he was away from technology and cell service for 5 days at a time. When he would get back and call me, I found I would end up dumping a ton of problems and heavy topics on him. I would be so excited to finally get to talk to him again, but then switch to anxious and sad by the time we talked. I discovered that I was really missing having a person to share my load with, but it wasn’t fair to him to dump everything on him fresh off the trail. We had to set expectations. We would have a short check-in when he got off the trail of our success and to say how much we loved each other. The harder conversations happened after he had caught up on sleep and we had enough time to work it out and still end on a good note.
In your marriage, work to find the balance. Share funny stories and happy happenings. Also find time to discuss finances, family problems, and other issues you need support on. Balance is key, especially when your time to talk is limited. This is also an area to utilize other forms of communication. Maybe after a hard conversation, you up the lovey texts or send a care package to affirm your love for each other.
Even though you aren’t together physically, you still have a sexual relationship! However, it can be so hard to build sexual intimacy when you aren’t around each other. It is so important to have open and honest conversations about what you are both comfortable with. Things like dirty talk, sexy story telling, sending provocative pictures, and sexting could be great tools to help foster sexual intimacy while you two are separated. (Pro tip: check out our How to Talk Dirty guide!) However, both spouse’s need to feel comfortable with what tool is being used and when (for example: a husband may not want to receive dirty pictures while he is at work but would love to receive them at night).
Remember that this doesn’t have to be overtly sexual if you are not comfortable with that! Sexual intimacy is about so much more than sex. It’s about feeling wanted and desired by our spouse. It’s about someone seeing your truest self and appreciating you for who you are. Sexual intimacy could look like sincere compliments and vulnerable moments. It looks like little flirts and being excited about the day you do get to be back together. If your separation is going to be a long one, it may even be painful to have too many reminders of sex. Find what works for you in your unique situation!
Lastly, all marriages need a level of spiritual intimacy. This is an area we often forget, especially when we are apart. However, it can help you both feel connected to each other, and enlist the Spirit to help both of you through this hard time of separation. You can read scriptures together, pray together and for each other, share your insights from the week etc. Ask God what else you two can do to stay connected and to strengthen your marriage. He knows perfectly what will be best for you.
Commuter marriages can be very difficult. Without being around each other, it can feel impossible to build intimacy. However, it can be done. Read over these suggestions with your spouse and talk about what will help you two stay emotionally, sexually, and spiritually connected.
Written by Amanda Severson with Get Your Marriage On!