The Rise of Commuter Marriages: Tips For Making Love Work Long Distance

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires at Bonnaroo in 2013 (David McClister)

A growing number of married couples are living apart. This type of union is known as a commuter marriage, and more than 3.5 million couples in the United States are doing it. That number has more than doubled since 1990, when the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 1.7 million married couples were living apart for reasons other than a legal separation.

In 2011, 3.5 million couples 18 and older were part of a commuter marriage, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's current population survey. That's up about 17 percent from 2001, when 3 million couples did.

Why are so many married Americans staying far away from each other? And how do they keep their relationship alive from opposite sides of the country or even the world? Some say relationships are harder when there's a distance, others say it strengthens their union.

To explore how people in long-distance relationships make it work, and why they often don't, The Takeaway is joined by Anna Sale, host of Death, Sex & Money.

Have you ever spent time apart from your partner? What kept you in different places, and what are your tips for staying connected? Leave a comment below or call us at 1-877-869-8253.


Anna Sale

Produced by:

Tim Einenkel


T.J. Raphael

Comments [15]

Doctor from Michigan

I think it's not possible to have your workplace and family in the same city. Instead, a husband and wife need to plan and sometimes compromise to leave their partner and live elsewhere. Growing no. of commuter marriages are due to demanding jobs which are a result of globalization and also the change in people mindset giving more importance to their careers.

dhiman matrimony

Sep. 12 2015 07:10 AM
Marcia Marvin from Portland

Twelve years ago my partner and I met in Oregon and have been in a long-distance relationship for most of those years. A few months after we got together, he found a job in California. We began traveling regularly, alternating who visited whom every two weeks. That continued for some years, when the job moved him to Colorado, at which point we changed our schedule to every three weeks. He is currently interviewing for a job in the Portland area. If he takes that job, the real work will begin.

May. 22 2014 01:26 PM
Karen Moller from San Francisco

We met at a job-related conference in the US in 2001 and fell head over heels in love. He had to return home for a job about a year later and then I took a sabbatical leave for a year to live with him there. After that we decided for job- and financial reasons that we would continue our relationship, but now trans-Atlantic and with 9 time zones separating us. And so we did -- we see each other in person about 50% of the year (thanks to generous Scandinavian vacations and my US academic schedule) and otherwise connect daily via Skype, Facebook and texting. We have been together for 12+ years now and just recently got married, however, we do not plan to change our jobs/living places anytime soon still for same reasons as stated above.
I wanted to share our positive experience that long distance relationships can work! We have no formula per se - but we feel strongly that where there's a will there's a way and at the end of the day we would both rather be together even like this, than not be in each other's lives at all.

May. 21 2014 05:15 PM
Johnny from San Jose CA

We dated for a year and had moved in together when we both decided to move across the country. She worked in a tiny town eight hours away, and her job had her in the field for days at a time. We would talk every night as she was working somewhere with cell phone service. We dated like this for three years until we just got tired of it. I proposed, she moved out here, and we've been married almost a year.

May. 21 2014 03:34 PM
DIANA MAXWELL from Louisville

I met the love of my life 6 weeks prior to moving back to Chicago. Long distance for 18 months and very frustrating with travel, job, etc...

He basically told me to move back or it was never going to work and I tried for 8 months to find a job in Louisville He was correct- it was not going to work unless we lived close to each other.

May. 21 2014 03:26 PM

When I was 15 I met a girl my age through online gaming.I lived in Texas, she lived in Ohio. After talking and becoming friends, we soon started a long distance relationship together. We talked a lot through video chat, so I knew she was who she said she was and we we're making plans to meet in person. After 11 months, though, I ended it. Even though I had turned 16 and would have willing drove to see her, my parents weren't exactly proud I'd met a stranger online and probably fallen in what I thought was love.

May. 21 2014 03:23 PM

I have been in NC in a long distance relationship for 15 years. We both love each other, but this man cannot be monogamous. He lies to cover up and not hurt me. After each of his dalliances, he returns to me.

It's very hurtful to me, and I am not even sure he would be faithful if I were nearby.

I don't recommend to anyone. It's been very damaging to me

May. 21 2014 02:56 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

All of my marriages would totally have worked, if I hardly ever saw my partner.

May. 21 2014 02:10 PM
Emilee from Portland Oregon

My husband and I met when we were quite young, 19 and 20. Four years into our relationship He left to travel independently for two years and I enrolled in university. We maintained contact through email, postal letters and the occasional skype call. The most surprising challenge for us was when we reunited. We both had had transformative and diverse experiences while apart, we expected our relationship to be the same as it was before. It took time to get to know one another all over again and establish a "new" relationship. In the end, that period of time apart was the best thing for our "youthful" relationship. It allowed us to grow and mature independently. Now 13 years into our relationship we are happily married and have our first child together.

May. 21 2014 01:22 PM
Jacqueline Vaneecke from michigan

He was in Edinburgh Scotland I was in Boston Massachusetts we met online , talked on the phone, and
Crossed the Atlantic one way or the other to see each other a total of 7 times in 18 months. By that time We had nearly falling in love, I got my license, job and a 2 yr visa and we both moved to London. We lived a year apart got engaged and married later the second year. We had a year of unbelievable stress including his broken leg and lost job. My high risk pregnancy and 9 week premature delivery. Our infant daughter was hospitalized for 4 weeks. He got another job and things return to normal well sort of we had to move, and our second daughter was born 18 months later and we open our own business. The truth is some marriages aren't meant to last. And ours was one of them. The girls were 5/6 by the time the divorce was final and we had moved back to the United States. We now manage a long distance divorce and the girls Skype with him every weekend and see him during the summers.
It's not easy for any of us, but we make the best of it and overcome the difficulties. The girls are teenagers and have a good life here. They also have the benefit of a second cultureand trips abroad. Technology makes the distances seem shorter and more manageable he can be with them to help them with their homework, play games and talk with them even if he is 4000 miles away.

May. 21 2014 01:08 PM
US mom/UK dad

My husband and I have been married yet living apart nearly 3 years and "dated" for two long distance years before that. We went to middle and high school together (here in the US) and were very good friends, even into our 20's, but lost touch in the late 1990's when he moved to Europe for a job and I got married. Facebook brought us together again in 2008 and we found we were both divorced single parents. All the old parts of our friendship remained intact and a new thing too - an attraction we had never acted upon. We fell into a habit of long text chats, then phone calls and eventually he came here to visit. Things went well and we decided to make a go of a relationship. We were quite naive about the degree of difficulty we were undertaking, but we are still together and both long for the day we can live in the same home, on the same continent. It's complicated by ex-spouses, parenting plans, time zones, careers, and money but our hope remains. We manage to see each other about 5x per year, for a total of 4 months together, some with our kids, and some without. Roundtrip Trans-Atlantic tickets were $800 in 2009, this summer they are $1500. That is hard for us to afford, but we manage somehow.

Things that help: making time to talk everyday, sending pictures of people and activities, lots of reassurance, taking time to listen and be vulnerable, laughing together.

May. 21 2014 01:03 PM
Nanci from Port Hadlock, WA

We are a married couple living apart due to employment reasons. My husband has been working at Hanford for the last 5 years while we (our teen special needs boys and I) live on the Olympic Peninsula. We have never been a couple that enjoyed time apart or needed me time or away space, so every day away is very painful. My husband Tom is usually home twice a month, when his schedule allow for longer three day weekends. Because we trust each other completely we never have jealousy issues, but there are other complications such as the stress of parenting our teen boys mostly on my own, the stress of not feeling enough a part of each other's lives, feeling disconnected and trying to keep the romance alive. We try to talk multiple times a day, email and text, and be aware of the frustrations and difficulties of this arrangement. We are careful to make family time, date time and guy time for him and the boys on the precious days when my husband is at home. Mostly we look ahead to when we can live together again and are working on radical plans to make that happen, such as building a tiny, portable and mortgage free home so that we can sell our financially "underwater" home.

May. 21 2014 01:01 PM
Sandra from Austin, texas

When my fiancée and I met, I was finishing grad school and lookin for a job in DC. I ended up sending two years in DC and one year in Ft. Worth before we ended up back together. When I left for DC, we made a commitment to be honest with what was going. We saw each other every six weeks, but we texted constantly and did webcam chats to keep part of our lives as well multiple emails a day. At the end, it really helped our relationship because we were force to communicate what was going on. It also made us realize how important space can be as well.

May. 21 2014 12:59 PM
Intel engineer from Portand, Oregon

My husband and I had first come to the USA as graduate students in two different universities and met online through many common interests and a conference. Our jobs took us to two different cities in the pacific NW. We did long distance for the first 5 yrs of our marriage until we had our first child, when we finally figured a way to end our two body problem. We made the most use of our Verizon family plan, doing everything we did in two places while on the phone. We met every weekend or two and made use of Southwest airline's flexible ticketing scheme every weekend or two. It gave us both the our space we needed during the week and made our relationship stronger in many ways. It worked well for our two careers until we had our daughter.

May. 21 2014 12:56 PM
Working Girl from Redmond, OR

There is a terrible double standard in our country when it comes to working away from home. A few years ago, I took a job that required me to be away from home during the work week and to keep an apartment in another city. The choice to accept this job was made purely for financial reasons, and even though it allowed my husband and I to make great financial strides and pay off debts, EVERYONE we knew assumed that I was cheating on my husband, our marriage was on the rocks, etc. When a man takes a job in another town, he is considered responsible, or even noble. When a woman does the same thing, she is viewed in exactly the opposite way!

May. 21 2014 12:11 PM

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