David and Candice Knox spend about half the year together with a few weeks apart followed by a few working apart.

Candice and David Knox have been married for 13 years.  They met at a seminar 20 years ago in Vancouver, British Columbia.  The couple jokes they had to go through customs just to date. Little did they know four years ago when the economy tanked and Candice Knox got a job offer in Palm Desert, that the anniversary luggage he gave her 10 years ago would come in handy.

Candice Knox, 43, lives in Rancho Mirage and works as a sales director with Cambria. David Knox, 61, lives in Minnesota, where he owns a real estate training business. More than 1,900 miles and two time zones typically separate the couple.

“People think that we’re weird,” David Knox said. “When you’re married, you’re supposed to live together. It just freaks them out.”

They’re not alone. A growing number of married couples are living apart. It’s called the commuter marriage, and more than 3.5 million couples in the United States are doing it. That number has more than doubled since 1990, when the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 1.7 million married couples were living apart for reasons other than a legal separation.

The commuter marriage isn’t really that new. Traveling salesmen, migrant workers, the incarcerated and soldiers on deployment have always been in long-distance relationships.

In the past two decades, a relaxing of social norms around marriage and the prevalence of online dating, which allows singles to cast a wider net, have likely contributed to the increasing number of couples who choose to live apart, sociologists say.

But the biggest factor is probably economic, with the rise in dual-income households and the worst recession in post-war era U.S. history. A recent study found nearly three in five couples who live apart do so because of work or financial reasons.

“We know it’s growing, partly since the economy took a dive,” said Karla Bergen, a communication professor at College of Saint Mary. She has studied long-distance relationships. “People are just happy to have a job wherever they are.”

Take Arlene and Mike Van Parys, who live in Desert Hot Springs. But in 2001, the job market meant the Van Parys lived in different cities — she in Oak View, he in Cathedral City. For two years, the couple saw each other every other weekend.

“It’s like the best of both worlds, I think,” said Arlene Van Parys, 46. “We got to spend our time together and then also apart. You appreciate the other person more when they come back.”

About 3.1 percent of married couples live apart, according to the Census Bureau.

Information on couples who live apart is limited. Research about these couples in the U.S. is still emerging. Those who are likely to live in dual residences, though, frequently live in urban areas, are better-educated and tend to be younger, a 2009 UCLA study found.

That doesn’t mean only the young are choosing to live apart.

The AARP estimates the number of married couples 50 years and older who live apart tripled between 2001 and 2005.

“The older you are when you do a long-distance relationship, the less it seems to matter because you’re not changing as much,” said Laura Stafford, University of Kentucky professor and author of “Maintaining Long-Distance and Cross-Residential Relationships.”

The commuter marriage does challenge the social norm that says being a couple means sharing an address. And while living separately once meant the relationship was on the rocks, studies show these couples are no more likely to split than those who live in the same ZIP code.

Today’s technology is partly the reason. Unlimited cellphone minutes and video chats via FaceTime or Skype mean being apart doesn’t have to feel so isolating.

“It can keep you together while you’re apart,” Stafford said. “It keeps you connected.”

But even the best technology is a poor substitute for being together.

Linda Young is a Texas psychologist that does relationship coaching, has lived apart from her husband for several years. She recommends that couples:

— Resist the urge to shelve unpleasant feelings out of fear of ruining the time you do spend together.

— Keep in touch in old-fashioned ways like writing notes and letters.

— Get creative, like watching the same movie so you can talk about it.

Living apart is not all chocolate and flowers and I-miss-yous. Having separate homes often means lonely weekends and having to show up solo at get-togethers with friends and family. And that can wear on a relationship.

“We’ve always said at the point that this affects the marriage, someone has to say, ‘Uncle,'” Candice Knox said. “If it’s not going to work, then something’s got to give.”

Via USA Today



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