Although married couples conventionally live together, there are still a decent number of married folks who live in separate cities for a number of reasons. Whether it's because of a military deployment, a work-related transfer, family emergency, dearth of job opportunities in the same city (which is especially likely for certain types of couples, such as academics, who infamously have faced the two-body problem for decades) or by choice, many couples are in long-distance marriages. If you're in this group, take heart: these marriages can work.
What is a long-distance marriage?
A long-distance marriage is like a long-distance relationship, only with a ring involved. Couples in long-distance marriages may be in different cities, different countries or even different continents. Their long-distance marriage arrangements may be temporary or permanent, and they may be voluntary or by choice. While there's no official definition of a long-distance marriage or relationship, most people seem to agree that being in different cities over 100 miles apart makes these relationships long-distance.
Do long-distance marriages work?
Yes, they absolutely can! Just like any other relationship, a long-distance marriage will work as long as both parties are invested in it, put in the work to nurture it and genuinely care about the other person's happiness.
Actress Judith Light is one well-known example of a long-term long-distance marriage. She and her husband, Robert Desiderio, have been married for over 30 years. Judith lives in New York City, and Robert lives in Los Angeles. When the two met on the set of the soap opera One Live to Live, Robert tried to convince Judith to move to LA, arguing that it'd be good for her career. She refused, saying, "I’m living in the city of my dreams, the city that I love. I’m the girl from New Jersey, I got to be in New York."
In a 2017 Lehigh University study on commuter spouses that interviewed 97 couples, researchers found that communication technology enabling us to stay connected over long distances has made it easier to sustain long-distance relationship and marriages. Thanks to video calls, texting and cell phones, couples are now able to simulate the feeling of sitting across from each other while doing mundane things, catch up discreetly and regularly during the day, and communicate on a regular basis without waiting for snail mail.
How long does a long-distance relationship last?
Interestingly, some research, such as that published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, shows that long-distance relationships can actually be more stable than geographically close relationships (GCRs). However, a 2006 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that many long-distance relationships end within three months of being back together in the same place due to changes in views and goals in life which are revealed after reuniting (to avoid this fate, follow "Don't" number two below).
Do's for a successful long-distance marriage.
1. Display photos of the two of you together in a prominent spot.
It might sound silly, but clinical psychologist Ryan Howes says the idea of "out of sight, out of mind" might have some validity — so keeping a photo of you and your loved one in a spot that's regularly in your field of vision will help keep them top of mind.
2. Harness the power of technology to stay in touch.
As already discussed, the myriad tech-enabled communication tools available to modern couples have made it easier than ever for long-distance couples, including married couples, to stay in touch across great distances. However, all the technology in the world won't make a difference if you don't use it! So, be sure to use all the communication technology available to you — such as FaceTime, Skype, texting and old-fashioned phone calls — to catch up with your long-distance spouse on a regular basis.
3. Set clear expectations for your long-distance marriage.
Being on the same page about how often you'll talk, what your shared goals are, how often you'll visit each other and other relationship logistics is especially important when you're in a long-distance marriage.
4. Share mundane details of your lives to emulate the feeling of living together.
When you're in a marriage, you share many mundane details of your lives together, such as doing dishes, taking out the trash, talking about doctor's appointments and discussing your coworkers' lives. While opportunities to do this are a bit fewer and farther between when you don't live together, it's still important, as a married couple in a long-distance marriage, to recreate those types of moments by sharing mundane details of your lives. You can do this through texts in the moment or during regular catchups — just be sure to do it.
5. Set a realistic timeframe for being back in the same place (if it's what you want).
While Judith Light has been happy in a long-distance marriage for over 30 years, most people who are in long-distance marriages tend to want to reunite with their spouses down the line. If you're in that boat, setting a realistic timeframe for when you and your spouse will get to be back together in the same place will help you keep your eyes on the goal and ensure that you're both working towards (and anticipating) living together again.
6. Be sure that your decision to live apart isn't masking deeper issues in your marriage.
Before you embark on a long-distance marriage, you should be sure that your decision to live apart isn't helping you avoid deeper issues in your marriage. Some red flags here include: 1) having difficulty trusting your partner, 2) you or your partner being afraid to be alone and 3) never having been without a close physical relationship. If any of these situations apply to you and your spouse, you may struggle to maintain a healthy long-distance marriage.
Don’ts for a successful long-distance marriage
1. Expect your relationship dynamic and pressure to be the same as they would be if you were in the same place.
You and your partner both need to go into a long-distance marriage with your eyes wide open. This means being realistic about the fact that your long-distance marriage will face some unique challenges, including (but not limited to): increased financial strain from traveling to see each other, increased difficulty assessing each others' emotional states without the benefit of each physically together and occasional loneliness due to not being close to each other.
2. Idealize the marriage to the point of ignoring red flags that'd otherwise give you pause while together.
While some research shows long-distance relationships are more stable than geographically close relationships (see above), it's also important to bear in mind that the same research also shows that part of LDRs' longevity owes itself to those in long-distance relationships' tendency to idealize each other and their relationship. This is a bad habit to fall into. While you're in a long-distance relationship or marriage, it's important to maintain a realistic view of your relationship. Failure to do this could lead to disappointment down the line if you and your spouse are reunited only to find that the relationship isn't as good as you made it out to be in your heads.
3. Let other people get into your head.
Inevitably, many people around you will have strong opinions — both positive and negative — about your decision to embark on a long-distance marriage. However, it's important to keep in mind that your relationship is just that: yours. The dynamics of your marriage are between you and your spouse, and it isn't up to others to tell you whether you've made a good decision. So, don't let others' opinions of your long-distance marriage affect how you feel about it, for good or ill.
If your marriage is healthy and supportive and you set the right conditions for it, it's absolutely possible to have a thriving, happy long-distance marriage. As with any other relationship, it's important to put in the work that's required to support each other and ensure that you and your spouse are working towards the same goals, supporting each others' dreams and building each other up — all of which is absolutely achievable even if you aren't in the same place all the time.