Is Long-Distance Marriage Right for You?

A soldier meets his baby over Skype. (Staff Sgt. Elvis Umanzor/U.S. Army)
A soldier meets his baby over Skype. (Staff Sgt. Elvis Umanzor/U.S. Army)

Elizabeth wrote me wondering whether she and her husband of 22 years should live apart. They aren't fighting or hitting or inappropriately using duct tape.

Instead, they have PCS orders to Washington, D.C., an upside-down mortgage in Michigan, and three kids 16, 12 and 9.

Something about that combo makes geographic bachelorhood look very attractive indeed. But how do you know if it is the right thing to do?

Since my family is in the middle of the second year of geographic bachelorhood, I got together with my geobach pals and came up with this little flow chart of the four most important decision points we think military and civilian couples should review before deciding to live long distance:

1. How strong is your marriage?

Are you one of those couples who:

A) are best friends, talk over everything, feel united body and soul?

B) hate the sight of each other, spit on the floor after the other has walked away, already have a love affair going with a much better prospect?

C) have normal levels of awesome and awful.

In our experience, if you are A or B the geobach tour will go OK. A-Type couples have a long history of managing problems as a couple. While getting into the rhythm of geobach is difficult, it isn't impossible as long as your reasons to do it are strong. We think B-Type couples can benefit from a geographic separation, especially if they are headed to a divorce anyway.

If you are a C-Type couple in which things are neither awesome nor awful, geographic bachelorhood represents a risk. How much will it hurt you to be apart from each other? How much risk is there of meeting someone else? Or just growing further apart?

2. What is the real cost?

Instead of thinking of all that money you will save by not moving, think of the steadily increasing cost of those airline tickets. Think of how much will it cost to get an apartment with wifi in D.C. or LA. Think of the dinners both of you will eat out because cooking for one (or for kids who only eat hotdogs) is so depressing.

Never, never think "cheaper" is a reason to live long distance. And call Military OneSource at (800) 342-9647 to find out about your other mortgage options.

3. What is the real distance between locations?

The shorter the distance, the easier the geobach tour. If your service member can drive home every weekend, that's the best possible situation. A 10-hour drive is not a commutable distance. A once-a-month flight is not a commutable distance. You know that already. So why are you asking?

4. What kind of high school kid have you got?

Younger kids always think mom and dad should live in the same house. I'm with them. High school kids are another thing entirely. Unhappy teenagers have a talent for making their parents very, very unhappy. A troubled kid probably doesn't need the upheaval of a move OR the downbeat of having an absent parent.

One of those ultra-achieving focused kids may actually need to stay put to become captain of the swim team or first viola or to get the 19 AP classes not available in the Mojave desert. The only thing you can do with teenagers is ASK THEM WHAT THEY WANT. Then run with that.

There is no denying that living apart while married is one of those things that military life sometimes requires. We see other couples do it all the time. Don't kid yourself that it is normal.

Don't pretend it is a good idea. Look each other in the eye and know this is a duct-tape solution to an upside-down mortgage and it will only work so long.

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