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Experts: Economy is forcing more families to live in commuter relationships

Experts: Economy is forcing more families to live in commuter relationships

By Melissa McCrady, Stephanie Graham. CREATED Apr 9, 2012 - UPDATED: Apr 9, 2012

MILWAUKEE- Experts say the economy is forcing more and more couples to try to stay together while living apart.

Each night, Nancy comes home to an empty house. She eats dinner alone and watches TV, but Nancy isn't single. She's 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," Nancy recalls.

They're not alone. Experts say the shaky job market has led to an increase of couples being forced to live apart. Tina Tessina, Ph.D., is the author of 'The Commuter Marriage'. She explains, "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 U.S. 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.

Karla Bergen, Ph.D., is the Assistant Professor in the Communications Program Coordinator of Women's Studies College of Saint Mary. "The real estate market is really depressed, so the other partner ends up staying behind until the house sells," Bergen says.

Dr. 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. 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's expensive," Dr. Tessina says.

Luckily, says Dr. Tessina adds, technology is cheap. "Today we can stay in touch minute by minute. We've got Skype and cell phones and texting."

She says, this 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," Dr. Tessina explains.

She adds there can even be 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!'"

Nancy 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," Nancy says.

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.