Long distance marriages: A price too high?

29 Jun

Life has a peculiar way of offering lessons. At an opportune time, we find ourselves paying attention to what did not necessarily matter previously.

This is the situation I find myself in as I note the changes in marriage in this modern era. Nowadays lifestyle choices such as cohabiting, remote parenting or marriage with partners apart have all become common place. More of a norm than exception.

Remote parenting and married partners living apart is a situation I am familiar with. As career opportunities arise, decisions come along with them. One such opportunity and decision presented itself to me over a year ago.

After discussions, concerns, consultations and prayer, my wife and I agreed it was an opportunity worth pursuing. One part of the puzzle was sorted, we were in agreement. The other part was the testing one as it meant my relocation 400km from Lusaka and away from the family. It was a gamble we took hoping within a year of two homes and weekend visits, it would become clearer and easier for us to get together as a family. As I write this piece, the status has not changed.

Interestingly, I have met several colleagues in this similar situation. It has become apparent that most couples are now opting for such arrangements to pursue their careers and what we have come to define as success, the fruit of our sweat, training, experience and an inevitable path.

Who is winning here?

But as we have come to know the dual principle of life, if one side is gaining, is there another losing?

To answer such a thought provoking question requires us to analyse either side.

As such, we need to establish what has led to this hitherto unfamiliar trend. Some of the more frequent reasons or justifications are explored in the subsequent paragraphs.

Education and career options- The last few years have seen a phenomenal surge in people acquiring a decent education. The universities and colleges continue churning out hundreds or thousands of degree and diploma holders annually.

This has resulted in more people being open minded, opinionated and receptive to risk or unusual options such as distance marriages.

Additionally, this has meant a proliferation of graduates and professionals in the field of business or commercial disciplines among the main ones. Therefore, vocations like we saw in our forefather/mother times of nursing and teaching have been overtaken by the commercially oriented ones. This has meant opportunities arise in several different geographical locations and spouses find it hard to always push for transfers.

An empowered women movement- Our womenfolk have made tremendous progress as far as their education and careers are concerned. We today see women heading businesses, driving strategy and playing an active part in decision making.

This has subtly shifted power or authority bases even in households as we see more women embrace their independence. It has apparently led to an interpretation that education and/or relatively high incomes entail surrender of leadership in the home.

Thus, the last say is no longer necessarily the man’s call especially where his income is lower, the wife’s corporate position more prestigious or even worse, he is unemployed. The balance has been altered as one’s gender is not the basis for leadership. Other factors have tossed the man’s pants out as a precondition for headship in the home.

Supplementary incomes- There is an argument for a couple to both earn from their jobs so as to boost available income in the home. It seems almost laughable and unacceptable these days to suggest that one spouse can work and support the family. The belief is that both should work and put monies together.

This argument even gains stronger credence as family projects take prominence. Young couples these days are working quickly to build houses, purchase showroom vehicles and put their children in decent
schools for a quality education. To sustain this lifestyle and its demands, the argument for dual income has been effectively fuelled.

Therefore, the thought of surviving on one spouse’s income is not only unattractive but is even deemed almost impossible or an avoidable source of financial pummelling and stress.

Job opportunities- With the flood of graduates raining each year, the demand for jobs is overwhelming. The opportunities are agonisingly few emanating in permeating desperation among job seekers.

After a long wait for a job and one comes along, very few have the option of turning opportunities down. Most employers know this well and are alive to the fact that if one job seeker does not fill a vacancy, there is a train of others waiting. This is a fact that any job seeker cannot afford to ignore unfortunately.

Following on this point then, when any opening arises either early in one’s career as the first job or for furthering one’s career, the price it comes at seemingly matters less. Whether one must be away from family for a lift in monthly pay or uproot the family to take a new job, the only thing that seems to matter then is a perception that progress lies in embracing the new job.

For as long as jobs are scarce, career opportunities away from home will be a daunting challenge and turning them down extremely testing.

Technology and changing times- Over the decades, technology has registered unprecedented growth. The world has seen and enjoyed an array of developments that enhance the quality and efficiency of life.

This technology has combined fluidly with the modern times we are in. The changing times have given reason to most people to highlight the difference with the centuries of old in terms of marital arrangements and choices.

With the advent of sophisticated mobile phones, Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp and a host of other communication alternatives, it may seem distance is not a challenge. Couples are in touch any minute in a flash and this dilutes the adverse impact of being apart. The distance then does not pose a huge challenge for modern day couples.

Peer pressure- This may seem a strange reason. But it does play a potent part in determining if a couple should live apart. For women, in the current quest for equality, their close associates and relatives may remind them that they are at par with the husband, have their careers to pursue or should not depend on a man.

Similarly for the man, consideration has to be made for advice not to sacrifice their job to be with family while the wife works because they must be the ones to provide. Various other pieces of advise will be given that feed into a couple’s decision making and if they are not strong in their personal resolve, they will be living by the preferences of other people they are not married to.

The above brief insights reflect some plausible reasons that are catalysts in decisions to be apart.

However, we will also need to look at the mirror side of distance marriages to appreciate both schools of thought.

Back to basics- We need to know and explore the rationale of marriage. It is stated from the time of the institution’s inception that two people become one when they marry.

This is the formation of a home and together the couple build on this and remain together ideally. The question thus becomes whether this building can be attained when a couple live apart and only see each other every weekend or stay in touch via phones or the internet.

Emotional and sexual connection- It is well documented that ideally when a couple is young in marriage and age, this should be their peak in consolidating their bond. The couple are at the cardinal stage of knowing each other, accepting their different personalities and also enjoying their sexual union as frequently as their tender age and appetites can sustain.

When a choice results in being physically away from each other, it is a fallacy to think bonding will not in any way be affected. The degree to which it does can be mitigated by deliberate effort by the couple to stay connected. But it is a fact that there is no substitute for physical presence even in bond building and sexual union.

Temptation and disease- The world we live in now has exposed us to sensual complexity. It is not unusual for women to hunt for men or either sexes to opt for alternative lifestyles or having people in extramarital and multiple affairs.

With this dimension, it so happens that when a marriage is not fortressed, the little cracks will open for temptation to set in. The crafty and opportunistic female colleague or male associate that has an inkling of the marital arrangement, will take advantage and slip in. This may happen subtly and unknowingly or even so clearly.

The end results are always there for us to see. Affairs spring up, marital conflicts, separation and divorces, pregnancies and on the extreme the contraction of fatal conditions such as HIV/AIDS which lead to death.

Children and disrupted privileges- It is widely accepted that children are a blessing from God. This reward is incomparable and it is such a joy to mould them into admirable grown ups.

However, when a couple resign themselves to a life apart, this parental role will be affected undoubtedly. The children require the presence of their parents as the initial role models they have in their formative stage.

The hours may be split between work demands and home but on a consistent basis, the parental presence will be available daily. Its importance for both children and parents cannot be questioned.

The children live with examples to follow as they observe their parents on one hand. On the other hand, parents have the rare privilege of observing their children’s developmental progress and intervention can be quick and timely where needed. This is almost impractical when one parent is away from the home 5-6 days at a time each week.

I found it rather sobering as I assessed my predicament. If I visit my family every weekend, spending a full Saturday and half the day Sunday, I am losing 22 days each month and 264 days a year!! That is over 70% of family time lost, never to be recovered. So for something that matters so much to me, I only have 30% time for it.

Spiritual development- This is the most neglected and undermined factor that has an untold impact on a home. Modernity and extraneous pressures have shoved spirituality to the back almost effectively clothing it as archaic and old fashioned with no place in the 21st century.

This cannot be further from the truth. God will be God for as long as we exist and His principles will remain ageless. No matter how much effort is put into ignoring Him, this is always at the peril of the human race. We see it in today’s world as successive generations melt away in moral decay, covetousness and a life of futility.

When parents are spiritually weak or in a spiritual coma, they have no capacity to
pass on the most important heritage to their children. This is aggravated more where parents are not together to drive this agenda. They do not themselves attach importance to such a priceless treasure. They are also apart to lay the spiritual foundation together.

The impact then is on the children too. What takes the place of values, principles and morality when there is no standard taught to these children? There is a void that inevitably is and will be filled by peers, celebrity role models, entertainment and whatever fads they are exposed to. Additionally, absentee parents subordinate and delegate their role to maids or relatives that their children spend more time with than they do.

If the spiritual foundation is cracked or absent, it remains for us to determine what will influence our children as they grow. Not only that, we too will need to be aware of our void and its implications on our lives and choices.

Which side are you on?

In the final analysis, a couple must consider all factors before them to arrive at a decision. The ultimate question is a reflection of priorities in their collective life. Is it the extra money or the bond? Is it the career or the home? Is growing together paramount or remote connections suffice?

We all have different reasons for making such choices. Justifications too are commonplace but in the end, the period it takes with a family divided physically, is of extreme importance. Should the separation even be considered in the first place? Or should it be but only for a little while?

Ultimately, the couple will decide. It is my considered view though that the motivation and priority must be based on three critical things.

Firstly, the marriage and relationship of the couple. Secondly, the children and their character moulding. Finally, the importance of a home and the environment it should provide.

These are fundamental considerations even as we consider reasons to back our decisions such as:

“We need the extra income.”

” It is for the good of the children and our future.”

“It won’t be too a long a stay. Tom or Jane was also in the same situation and within a year he/she was back.”

“At least we just need to make sure we stay in touch, call the kids often and visit weekends! That way, your absence won’t be felt much.”

“Times have changed these days and it is normal for a couple to live apart because of work”

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder. A couple will differ and fight less but instead enjoy each other if they are apart and meet after a while.”

Marriage, family and the children’s holistic development are of more critical importance than career or extra income.

Talking to my girls when I call always brings this realisation home for me. The tone of their voices, the piercing words “I miss you” or “When are you coming?” remain loud in my head long after I have spoken with them. When I visit home, the effect it has on them is so evident that it leaves me guilty for depriving them of what they deserve.

I have no doubt having been in this situation for over a year that distance marriages are not a healthy undertaking for any couple.

We can see that marriages and homes are under attack. It is a subtle assault and hence it passes almost unnoticed but results may well be devastating.

The factors are varied, choices personal and rationale peculiar with every couple. Overall, however, I believe marriages and homes must be insulated from the shock of distance.

We may not appreciate the immediate scale or impact that remote marriages have but when we open a keen eye and look around, concern is inevitable.

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Posted by on June 29, 2012 in Family matters, Marriage


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