'Commuter' couples tackle challenge of long-distance marriage

Published: Sunday, Aug. 12 2012 9:27 p.m. MDT

Both couples say commuter marriages survive not only on love and hard work, but a healthy dose of technology that wasn't available to commuter marriages not long ago. Cell phones, instant messaging and texting are center stage. Even soldiers in war regularly phone home.

Experts offer advice on how to make commuter relationships work. Tessina, who writes the "Dr. Romance" blog, suggests creating plans for household chores and maintenance, childcare and even social life. "You may be surprised to find that the people you spent time with as a couple aren't as comfortable when you're single and the activities you're used to may not work as well," she warned.

She recommends keeping "business" conversations about bills separate from calls that are about maintaining emotional intimacy.

Going home

Commuter couples do see each other in person, but it usually involves a lot of travel. Jensen and Shadimehr are together more regularly than the Walls were able to be. They live in Florida, though Jensen's spending the summer in Orem, Utah, at a home they bought for vacations. She and the kids are close to her family — but it adds distance to his journey home.

At age 3, Ethan knows his daddy flies a plane and that when one of his parents puts on a uniform, it means "bye" for a while. He cries. Still, it's very rare for him not to see his dad every two weeks and usually much more often.

Glen and Jenn Wall know all about the economic ups and downs that create commuter marriages. The Uintah Basin, with its oil and natural gas, is always booming or busting. When he took the job in North Dakota, their home area was struggling. That cycle will reverse.

Jenn Wall was an Army brat who never stayed in the same place for long as a kid. When she discovered she loved Roosevelt, she sunk her roots deep. The woman who as a child was never in a school a whole year is now principal of Myton Elementary.

Committed

"When you're away for so long, I think you appreciate your family a little more because you have to work at it," Jensen said. She doesn't relish the single-mother days it brings but is dedicated to her family.

Why do it? A 14-year career has brought benefits like flexibility in scheduling and a pay scale that helps her family. Between them, it's "a nice lifestyle I hate to give up," she said.

Glen Wall said he's unlikely to commute again. "I might go for two weeks at a time, but I do not want to live abroad. I missed everything for almost two years. We didn't have a vacation. I missed family and my house suffered." His visits were often "three days of fixing mirrors and putting cabinet doors back on and unclogging the sink. I almost felt like I was neglecting them." Doing those tasks when you're home every night, life would hardly be interrupted, he said.

Of a commuter marriage, Jenn Wall said, "I wouldn't actually recommend it. My husband would say he was all alone. I was a single parent; I was doing all the things he would normally do. The first year, we had farming land and I had to get up early and water and change the sprinklers. The plus side was I learned how to do a lot of things for myself. He's a pretty good handyman."

She missed the companionship and physical presence of her husband. And it was hard for the kids, who asked often when their dad would be home. Now, she said the kids don't like to see him leave for work.

"I don't think I would do it again," Jenn Wall said. "It was really hard on the marriage — hard on the kids." And it's a hard adjustment when they get back together, too, as they learn to bend and blend again.

Jensen acknowledged that a commuter marriage is not for everybody. "It's challenging. When one parent is not there, the other parent knows they have to be mother and father. ... But we're not just each doing our own thing. We are a family and that comes first. ... If we were not committed, we would not be married."

email: lois@desnews.com

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