Miles Apart… Handling Long Distance Relationships
The old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder is not always true, and being away from each other may slowly kill the intimacy of marriage.”
The marriage institution has never been under so much pressure. Apart from the internal factors militating against the success of marriages, external factors seem to be conspiring to wreak havoc. The implication is that a lot of marriages do not last beyond the first few years. This often leaves many with broken hearts and lives.
For the casual observer, our parents had it a lot easier. And this was partly because the prevailing culture at the time encouraged getting married and staying together. For many of them, it was truly for better or for worse. So, they were prepared from the outset to stick together, irrespective of the prevailing circumstances.
In our time, a lot of the values that enhanced the success of marriages seem to have been eroded. Those who are married and want their marriages to work appear to be swimming against the tide. What with the economic downturn and culture shock as it relates to marriage?
The truth is, people have emotional needs which their spouses are supposed to satisfy.
It therefore becomes important to confront headlong the issues that militate against marriage. If the truth were told, we would realise that marriage has its peculiar challenges. The way we handle those challenges will determine whether or not our marriage weathers the storms of life.
I sat once in a counselling session with a young lady whose marriage was almost hitting the rocks. The problem was that the husband who was abroad at the time of their wedding, and did not stay for too long thereafter, recently returned to Nigeria. Although they were already blessed with two children, she realised for the first time that she did not really know him. In fact, she felt they could not live together. In her words, “I just want him to go away and let us continue as usual.”
Based on my many years of counselling and hosting couples’ programmes, I want to share on this page some of the frequent questions I have been asked. I believe the answers will help you in your marriage. Sometimes, the question has to do with one party, but today’s has to do with both parties:
Is it wise for couples to live apart due to their career demands and postings?
The strength of relationship, we often say, is in fellowship. By this, we mean fellowship in all its ramifications. The couple who stay together therefore bond faster and more easily. There may be some friction in trying to smoothen the rough edges of their relationship but, by and large, staying together helps the relationship.
However, in today’s world, the need to meet financial obligations has led to many couples living thousands of miles apart. In search of greener pastures, some have travelled out of the country or the state where their families are based. Where the couple are in the same country, as in ours, arrangements are made to visit home often. The frequency, of course, will depend on the situation and affordability. But where one party is outside the country, you will agree with me that coming home regularly is a big challenge.
The truth is, people have emotional needs which their spouses are supposed to satisfy. Part of the challenge of staying apart for a long time is that people are tempted or forced to begin to look for ways to meet their emotional needs. If care is not taken, some disconnect totally from their spouses and start new relationships. I know of one or two people whose marriages ended because their spouses travelled abroad and, gradually, they disconnected from their spouse and ‘fell in love’ with other people.
According to Han Xueqing, director of the Clinical Psychology Department at Beijing Tongren Hospital, “In a society that is now morally wide open and full of pressure and temptations, constant separation will harm the chemistry between spouses. The old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder is not always true, and being away from each other may slowly kill the intimacy of marriage.”
So the issue here is caution. As much as it is essential for couples to meet financial obligations and career demands, other salient and more important issues arise such as companionship, emotional satisfaction, upbringing of the children etc. More and more homes are breaking up as a result of spouses’ separation.
Considering the economic exigency that necessitates such a separation, my advice is:
- As much as possible, do everything to ensure that the situation does not continue for too long.
- In some cases, it will help if you can get a transfer to join your spouse.
- While it lasts, visit each other regularly. Once or twice a month will be good (or at least once in three months). Where he/she cannot come always, schedule it in such a way that you will visit sometimes. To reduce the financial burden, tickets can be purchased well ahead of time.
- Make maximum use of modern technology to fellowship with each other on a regular basis. Hearing you spouse’s voice regularly on the telephone can go a long way. Apart from normal telephone calls, it is now possible to make video calls, skype etc, and spend time in fellowship without necessarily paying so much. Even texting and chatting have proved to be effective tools in this regard.
Above all, find a way to constantly pray together and ask God to see you through this period of your lives.