SAN ANTONIO - Each night, Nancy Fagan comes home to an empty house. She eats dinner alone and watches TV. Nancy isn't single. She's living in a commuter marriage. As for her husband, he's 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," said Nancy.
They're not alone. Experts say the shaky job market has led to an increase of couples living apart.
Tina Tessina, PhD. Is the author of "The Commuter Marriage." She says, "It does affect marriages and it does create more commuter marriages. 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 census, 3.5 million couples are now living in commuter marriages, up 30% since 1990. Experts believe that number is still climbing. One reason is the shaky housing market.
Karla Bergen, PhD. is the Assistant Professor in the Communications and Program Coordinator of Women's Studies College of Saint Mary. She says, "The real estate market is really depressed, so the other partner ends up staying behind until the house sells."
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. There is two times the amount of household chores, two times the amount of repairs," explains Dr. Bergen.
It can also be expensive. a recent survey found only a quarter of businesses offer assistance to commuting employees.
Luckily, technology is cheap. There's Skype and cell phones and texting, now.
Dr. Tessina says constant communication is key.
"It's really good for the person far away 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."
She adds that there can be a surprising benefit to commuter arrangements.
"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!'"
The economy isn't the only thing to blame for an increase in commuter marriages. Experts say an increase of people meeting online and a more global economy are also contributing.
Additional information about our experts:
Tina Tessina, Ph.D.
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 30 years' experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley), Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media) and The Commuter Marriage (Adams Media). She publishes “Happiness Tips from Tina”, an e-mail newsletter, and the “Dr. Romance Blog”.
Online, she is “Dr. Romance” with columns at ThirdAge.com, Divorce360.com, Healthapalooza.com, and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Love Network expert. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC news. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook . Her newest book, just out, is Lovestyles: How to Celebrate Your Differences.
Karla Bergen, Ph.D.
Karla Mason Bergen (Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2006) is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the College of Saint Mary, where she teaches courses such as Interpersonal Communication, Family Communication, and Gender Communication, as well as the basic oral communication course. She also serves the College of Saint Mary as Coordinator of Women's Studies. Karla's background in Women's Studies combined with her focus on marital and family communication has led to her interest in how women communicatively construct and negotiate unconventional personal, marital, and professional identities. Her research has examined women's identity construction in the contexts of female professors, lesbian couples & families, and mostly recently, commuting wives. Her dissertation on "Women's Narratives about Commuter Marriage" was funded by a Dissertation Fellowship from the American Association of University Women and was awarded the Sandra Petronio Family Dissertation Excellence Award in 2007 at NCA. She has published articles in scholarly journals such as Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Family Issues, Journal of Family Communication, Journal of Applied Communication Research, and Southern Communication Journal, as well as book chapters.