Recession Marriage Trend: Living Apart

The New Commuter Marriage

After getting laid off from her job as an advertising executive last Thanksgiving, Leslie Singer co-founded the branding consultancy HS Dominion. The hitch: she had to hang her shingle in New York City, two-and-a-half hours from the Madison, Conn., home she shares with her partner of 17 years and their two teenage children.

"I don't have the kind of business that I could do remotely," said Singer, 52, who's the breadwinner of her family. "It's a people business. And you have to go where the business is."

To cut down on the onerous commute, Singer stays in a Manhattan apartment two to three nights a week. But she's no carefree city gal those evenings.

"I have certain rules to all of it," said Singer, who works late the nights she stays in New York and has deliberately avoided making her apartment too comfortable. "I never miss a kid's school play or concert. I try to work from home on Fridays so I have a three-day weekend. I try not to be away two nights in a row, but that's in a perfect world."

"It's not the ideal situation," admits Singer's partner, Ron Hook, 54, a full-time stay-at-home dad. "But it is what it is. We make every effort for the kids and I to stay in touch with her."

According to the Center for the Study of Long-Distance Relationships, a Web-based clearinghouse of data on the subject, 3.6 million Americans lived apart from their spouses in 2005 for reasons other than marital strife -- a 30 percent increase from 2000.

Many commuter couples aren't as fortunate as Singer and Hook, who share the same bed much of the month. As the recession forces more people to accept work anywhere they can, some spouses find themselves living in two different time zones.

So how do couples separated by the recession make it work? Besides swapping text messages during snoozy staff meetings and rendezvousing late-night via Skype, how do they keep their relationship -- and household -- from unraveling?

The Biggest No-No: Mixing Business with Pleasure

A common mistake that commuter couples make is not separating their personal connection from the trivialities of daily life, said Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author of "The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You're Far Apart."

Instead, Tessina suggests handling mundane matters by e-mail and text message, and reserving phone calls and Webcams for catch-up chats and pillow talk.

"Don't waste your precious scheduled time together for the grocery list," she said. "Use it for 'How you are doing?' and 'I love you.'"

Same goes for face-to-face visits, Tessina said. It shouldn't be all about the clogged toilet, unexpected vet bill or junior's alarming report card. If you need to, schedule quality time alone with your significant other.

That's what Jade (not her real name), 58, and her husband of 17 years (let's call him "Stephen") do.

In April, Jade left a high-pressure banking job in Birmingham, Ala., for her dream job in Los Angeles while Stephen, a retired financial professional, stayed behind to sell their house. Although the pair thought their spacious home would sell in a heartbeat and Stephen would join Jade within 30 days, thanks to the abysmal housing market, they've only had four showings in three months.

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