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Special Report: Long distance love

Imagine having to jump on an airplane, just to see your spouse and kids. It’s a reality for millions of Americans, living in commuter relationships. Experts say the economy is forcing more and more couples to try to stay together, while living apart.
Imagine having to jump on an airplane, just to see your spouse and kids. It’s a reality for millions of Americans, living in commuter relationships. Experts say the economy is forcing more and more couples to try to stay together, while living apart.

Each night, Nancy Fagen comes home to an empty house. She eats dinner alone and watches TV. But Nancy isn’t single, she is living in a commuter marriage, with her husband 3,000 miles away.

“The first time we were apart, it was for about a month, and it was hard. I was so lonely and I know he was lonely,” says Fagen.

They’re not alone. Experts say the shaky job market has led to an increase of couples being forced to live apart.

“It does affect marriages and it does create more commuter marriages,” says Tina Tessina, author of The Commuter Marriage. “People drive longer distances to get a job. People are laid off from work and they have to relocate to get a job.”

According to the last US Census, 3.5 million couples are now living in commuter marriages, up 30% since 1990. Experts believe that number is still climbing, especially with the shaky housing market.

“The real estate market is really depressed, so the other partner ends up staying behind until the house sells,” says Dr. Karla Bergen.

Bergen studies commuter couples. She says the tolls can be great, especially if kids are involved.

“People get married to be together and when you’re in a commuter marriage, you don’t see each other as you would normally,” says Bergen. “There is two times the amount of household chores, two times the amount of repairs.”

It can also be expensive. A recent survey found only a quarter of businesses offer assistance to commuting employees.

"If it's a job versus no job, you're probably better off commuting, but commuting is expensive," says Tessina. Lucky for those in commuter marriages, technology is cheap. “Today we can stay in touch minute by minute. We’ve got Skype and cell phones and texting.”

This constant communication, Tessina says, is key.

“It ‘s really good for the person far ways to feel more connected and it’s also good for the person at home to feel like the person who’s away understands what’s going on.”

There can even be a surprising benefits to a commuter arrangement.

"It can refresh a marriage that's stale because people have been together all the time and there's nothing new happening and suddenly you get that rush of 'Wow I've missed you!” says Tessina.

Fagen agrees, saying absence really has made her heart grow fonder.

“It’s a honeymoon! We don’t focus on the negative because we don’t have time to.”
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