In 2014, my newlywed husband, Dan, and I took a huge leap in our marriage. I say huge because most couples (aside from being in the military) would have never considered living 900-miles apart to be a wise decision.
Too much risk, fear, and opportunity for things not to work out abound. Or, so that’s what we heard. Even though his kids are grown and have lives of their own, and mine were in college and high school, outsiders were still nervous about our decision. Heck, two of our neighbors even took bets on how long our marriage would last. Nice?!
But Dan and I aren’t your typical couple. We’re risk takers. We see change as an opportunity to learn and grow. And we have deep trust and commitment to one another, as well as our career goals.
So I stayed back in Wisconsin while Dan moved to southwest Arkansas for a corporate finance position with an international manufacturer. Within the first year his responsibilities increased to include overseeing plants in Texas and even one back in northern Wisconsin. And then he received a promotion and got transferred to Georgia and was responsible for a plant their as well as in Alabama, all while training his replacements at his previous plant locations.
From a career goal standpoint, it was a great opportunity and resume builder. And as his wife (and a certified life coach), I understood the importance of supporting his dream. Plus while he was focusing on his dream, I was able to focus on my coaching business.
Was it a transition from being together all the time to only being together every 30-45 days? Absolutely! Did I miss my husband? Immensely! Was I scared something bad would happen while we were apart? No, I honestly wasn’t. We had a rock solid connection and a relationship grounded in trust, respect, and love.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are 10 steps to maintaining a healthy long-distance marriage (as well as quell any potential drama – yours and others) while your spouse pursues their career dream:
1) This must be a decision made by both parties in the marriage, not just one person.
Dan and I discussed this option for about six months before we each agreed this was what we were going to do. Our kid’s ages weren’t an issue – my boys only lived at home part-time. I had also been a single-parent for 10 years before meeting Dan, so I was completely comfortable with managing the household solo. Our plan was for this to be a 2 ½ year arrangement, and once my youngest son graduated high school I’d move to where Dan was. I was also involved during his job search process and discussed the various potential opportunities.
2) Plan every aspect of the move together.
Be involved when searching for potential rentals online and, if possible, take a weekend trip to check them out in-person. Consider price, number of needed bedrooms, amenities, location, and ask to look at an actual apartment, not just the staged model. My husband picked cheaper rentals based solely on the apartment complex’s website pictures – the first apartment was okay, but the second was a total dive. Decide which household items will be purged from your home for the new rental, and make a list of those items you need to purchase. Know that anything you don’t wish to personally move cross-country can be purchased at the time of moving in.
3) Plan for the added expense of rent, utilities, and commuting costs.
Consider your spouse’s new apartment as a second home. Lay out an anticipated budget that shows double bills pulling from your household bank account(s) and discuss any necessary adjustments, such as dropping premium cable TV channels, like HBO or the NFL ticket for example. That being said, also be realistic about how often you (or others) may travel and stay for a visit with your spouse. Family and friends tend to say they’ll come and visit multiple times, but in reality they usually don’t. So maybe that 2 bedroom isn’t necessary after all.
4) Help your spouse move in and get their rental set up.
This is a huge transition for you as a couple, and individually. My husband and I drove him down to Arkansas and I helped him get everything set up in his new apartment. What we couldn’t pack into his SUV was purchased when we got there – a TV, kitchen items, and food. If possible decorate the new rental with pictures and things from home so your spouse can feel connected to home. Stay a few days and venture around to get familiar with the surroundings. It helps that you are familiar with the general surroundings as your spouse will be talking about where he’s been or going – it will help you feel more connected when you’re familiar with the area or landmarks when he talks about his daily activities.
5) Resume your daily routine when you’re back home.
It’s important that you allow yourself time to integrate back into your daily schedule and be mindful of the adjustment you’ll experience with your spouse not being there every day. In the beginning you can trick yourself into pretending he’s just gone on a long business trip, but after a few weeks, when reality sets in, you’ll feel the weight of managing the household on your own. If possible, plan in advance what tasks may need to be out-sourced (cutting the grass or clearing snow) or delegated to your older children (e.g., taking out the trash, picking up milk or bread at the grocery store). You may also need to adjust your schedule to allow time to go grocery shopping, make dinner, run your kids to activities, take care of your pet(s), etc.
6) Speak to your spouse every day, but be respectful of each other’s schedules.
Make a point to schedule your phone calls so you can plan your day. This also lessens the chance of confusion or unnecessary stress if you’re unable to connect. Dan and I spoke on the phone and texted multiple times a day, and would Skype every week (sometimes more). Our conversations included discussing our day-to-day schedules and activities. We exchanged stories about work experiences, and kept each other up-to-speed on family and friends. We also made it a priority to consult each other regarding family or household decisions – any large ticket purchases, repairs needed at the house, or issues with the kids, etc.
7) Let yourself have a life separate from your spouse….and vice versa.
Take time to connect or reconnect with friends and family, and make it a point to do things socially with them. Go out to dinner, a movie, meet up for drinks, or go workout with girlfriends. Take time to catch up and talk, and don’t be afraid to share if you’re missing your spouse or the any challenges you’re experiencing. Friends are a great at helping lift us up, and if they’re married, the husbands are usually willing to step in and help take care of minor unexpected household repairs. But don’t forget to also let yourself have solitude time where you can just do whatever you want, even if it means binge-watching Netflix for a night or going for a walk by yourself. Getting comfortable with not having lots of people around or an endless “to-do” list to keep you distracted will enable you to connect with yourself. On the flip side, encourage your spouse to make friends with coworkers or neighbors and do things with them outside of work too. My husband had the opportunity to go fishing and golfing with some coworkers and really enjoyed the male camaraderie. On weekends when your spouse has more downtime, invite him to go exploring and Skype or Facetime with you when he gets to cool destinations. In doing so, he’ll be able to share the experience with you.
8) Plan your travel schedule so you can have in-person time with your spouse.
Knowing when you’ll be seeing your spouse again helps make the time apart go faster. It also gives each of you something to look forward to. And if your husband travels a lot for work you can rack up the frequent flyer miles. Dan and I planned months in advance when we’d travel to see one another and took into account holidays, birthdays, and our wedding anniversary. We purchased tickets in advance or in bulk when there was an airline sale. Luckily, Dan was always able to be home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but we did spend New Year’s Eve apart. In addition, when my husband had to travel for work we’d incorporate my visits based on where he’d be. My schedule was more flexible where I could fly mid-week and at off-peak times which helped saved money. This allowed us to visit some great and interesting destinations: Atlanta, Savannah, Tybee Island & Augusta, GA; Houston & Texarkana, TX; Myrtle Beach, SC, Shreveport, LA; St. Louis, MO; Las Vegas, and Little Rock, AR.
9) Take this time apart to “date” your spouse again.
After you’ve been married awhile it’s easy for life to get in the way and forget that you’re more than parents/step-parents and best friends, but you’re also lovers too. Surprise your husband with “for-his-eyes-only” text messages or get a little dirty over Skype or Facetime. Buy special outfits or lingerie and let yourself fully enjoy your 1-on-1 time together. Let your husband make the plans when you’re visiting him, such as going out to dinner or having an adventure day. This can enable your spouse to feel like he’s showing (and teaching) you something new. Guys love that! One of our destination “dates” was meeting up in Las Vegas for a weekend get-away. We had a blast checking out the city, browsing through the casino’s, and even catching a few shows!
10) Don’t pretend you’re doing okay when you’re really not.
Missing your husband (and him missing you) is to be expected, even if you talk daily, are busy with work, and see each one another on a regular basis. When you’re feeling lonely or sad, tell your spouse….he needs to hear it! And your husband missing you is not a sign of weakness, but rather a clear indication of the love he feels for you. Being transparent about how you’re feeling will help you both practice supporting one another. Know that most times you’ll be trading off who is feeling lonely. Also it’s important to note that over time saying good-bye will get a bit easier and can even become routine, but don’t attribute that to the start of an emotional disconnection with your spouse. Getting more comfortable with departures simply means you’re adjusting and know how to handle the situation better….and that you’ll see one another again soon!
So if you’re considering living cross-country from your spouse – be it East to West or North to South – for a given amount of time, know that it IS possible to maintain a healthy and loving marriage. It’s a choice that’s grounded in trust, respect and love, and can offer amazing opportunities and new adventures!