Couples Living Apart for the Sake of a Paycheck
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, March 2009
The term "geographic single" is often used to describe persons who live apart from those they love. Families are experiencing strains that did not exist for them before, forcing them to make all sorts of changes and adjustments. They become "commuter marrieds" for the sake of a paycheck. The global economy has built in expectations that people can live far from where they work, and technology makes it possible.
Some people are taking opportunities in places where they don't want to move their family, or they don't want to uproot their children and their social and support networks. Others may not be able to afford to have their spouses give up their income. In addition, buying or selling a house may just not be feasible in this market. In "the olden days" people often lived apart because it was often the best way to earn money to support their families. Many immigrants still live this way. One or two family members live in "the country of opportunity" and support the rest of the clan from afar with the hope of making enough money to return to their country and live a better life. Alternatively, they work toward the time that they will send for their families to join them here. However most people in the USA are used to a model of living together on a regular basis. They rely on regular interaction and participating in activities such as eating meals, daily routines, sharing family oriented activities, household responsibilities and decision-making together.
If you and your partner face a situation of living apart, it is a good idea to have an open discussion of the upcoming separation and how you will cope. Discuss your concerns and fears honestly. Share your expectations about being apart from each other so there are fewer opportunities for misunderstandings. Discuss your expectations for visits and vacations. Develop a plan for establishing areas of responsibilities and decision-making when you are separated.
Good communication is essential to keeping your couple and family relationship healthy, especially during separations. Be mindful of how you will stay connected over the miles; how you will "keep it going." Set up a communication system and know how you will be in touch on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. International phone calls, video teleconferencing through computer, SKYPE, international mail services, and electronic transmissions of words, cards, music, photos, and video keep you connected to your loved ones through cyberspace. LIFE IS STILL IN THE DETAILS so keep that in mind when you find ways to enrich your relationships even if you are on the other side of the world.
During this time, plan for chunks of time together, not just an occasional weekend. Think in terms of several days. When you are together, plan alone time where you will not talk about the "business" of work and family. Be sure to focus on fun, dreams, romance, and just "being".
When the family is together, do 'family" activities. The spouse who lives out of the house can feel as if he or she is an outsider in their own home or family. They can feel as if they are "missing" something.. Rejoining the family in fun activities allows the everyone to acclimate to one another and pick up the rhythm of the family and household.
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