Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

Can a Long-Distance Marriage Work?

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Dear Fran,

I enjoy reading your column, but I never thought I'd have a need to write into you—until now. 

My husband and I have a wonderful life in Philadelphia, he as a financial planner and me as a consultant. I was recently offered—out of the blue—a position that is a huge boost in title, responsibilities, and salary, but it is in Chicago. I initially was not going to take it, as my husband's client base is in Philly and there's no way he could move. But, the company offered to help me pay for an apartment in Chicago and fly me back and forth, so that I can spend the weekends at home.

After much discussion, my husband and I decided that the offer was too good for me to pass on, and that while this schedule is probably not ideal, we could handle it—at least for a year or two, before we have children. We have always both worked quite a bit, and while we obviously love coming home to each other every night, most of our "quality time" together and with friends happens on the weekends, anyway. I accepted the position and am planning to start later next month.

I was really excited at first, but now I'm getting nervous about how this will impact our marriage. While we've talked a lot about it, and my husband is really supportive, I just have this sinking feeling that I might not be fully thinking through all of the details and ramifications. My friends and family have been really outspoken, telling me that think this is a terrible idea, so that might be what I'm reacting to more than anything. 

So, I thought it might be helpful to get an outside perspective. What am I not considering? Is this a truly terrible idea, or can it work? Have you seen other married couples work through kind of arrangement? 

I appreciate your help,


Dear Chicago,

First, let me say congratulations to you on your marriage and on your new gig! As an ex-Philly girl myself, I can understand why you’d have mixed feelings about leaving the “City of Brotherly Love,” not to mention a loving and supportive husband, but this sounds like a terrific position with a company that really values you and is willing to help you make it work.

Now I’m not going to say the situation isn’t without potential pitfalls, but I do think you can do it successfully, at least for a year or two. It’s not all that uncommon for people to have a “Monday through Friday at work—home on the weekends” schedule. And you are right to realize that you should do this before you have children. I don’t recommend long-distance fathering or mothering.

It seems to me that if you’re in a good, solid, trusting relationship, you'll be fine, but I do think that you should make sure to ask each other some very important questions before you go and come up with some ground rules. Here’s the start of a list of questions to consider:

  1. How often will you talk during the week—and how? Text? Phone? Skype?
  2. Will he ever be willing to come to Chicago on the weekends, or will you be the only one traveling?
  3. How will you cope with your new job and travel schedule? If you have to work on the weekends, too, what will that do to your relationship?
  4. How does this new job—presumably with increased pay—help sustain the partnership?
  5. What do you hope to get out of this? In, say, two years, will success at this job have increased your marketability back in Philadelphia?
  6. How will you spend weekends (e.g., if you want to spend a weekend day by yourself or with your girlfriends when you’re in Philadelphia, would he be able to accept that, and vice versa)?
  7. What will happen if one of you starts to really miss the other? Would you be willing to come back—or would he be willing to leave his job?
  8. As I’ve said many times before in this column, communication is the key to any marriage. So be sure when you pose these questions to each other—or when you discuss any and every issue in your lives—to do so in a calm, respectful manner, and be honest when you answer them so that you can begin to develop a workable plan.

    Also express your late-hour misgivings to him. What are you worried about? That absence will not make the heart grow fonder? That he will find someone else? Tell him. Let it be the start of a discussion—again, one that’s calm and respectful.

    Finally, no matter how outspoken your friends and family have been, remember that it’s your life. A good rule of thumb for couples is to always discuss controversial issues such as this with each other, come to a decision, and then present that decision to your family and friends. Assure these advice-givers that you and your husband have thoroughly talked this through and have made the decision to do this. Ask for their support.

    And remember that although many people just love to give advice, they give it because it’s really cheap. In other words, they don’t have to live with the consequences. Besides, how can anyone else make an important decision for another person? Decisions about your life are yours to make—and the consequences of them are yours to accept.

    And speaking of consequences, here’s another question for you: What are the consequences of turning down this position—or changing your mind? If you really are having doubts, that’s an option, too.

    I wish you the very best in your career and your marriage, and thanks for asking,


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    Photo of woman looking at phone courtesy of Oscar Wong/Getty Images.