What do you do if you’re married but living apart? What if you only see each other on weekends?

Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and try to give my take on it. Here’s one from a woman whose husband has gone back to school (uni is the British way of saying university):

How does one cope with living apart due to uni? My hubby has gone back to school 2 hours away. We own our home and have put it on the market. He is currently staying with his mum who lives closer to the uni and coming home weekends. I am physically and emotionally not coping, and our phone calls at night are now so bad that I dread them, because I have turned into a bitter, complaining woman who cries all the time. I miss him so much. Logic tells me that 5 days is nothing, but my heart just cannot cope. I work, home school the children, started studying myself and joined a gym but still the days drag slowly until he comes home. How do I change my mindset?

Married But Living Apart - Reader Question: We're Married but Living Apart!

1. Be a Team!

Your husband has gone back to school, likely because he wants a different job where he can earn more money and have a better lifestyle. In other words, he’s doing this FOR the family, not to HURT the family.

I’m sure he’s not particularly liking this life either. He’s back living with his mother instead of his wife! He has to go to classes, likely with people who are much younger than he is. He has to do homework again. It’s not easy. But he’s doing it because he’s keeping the long term in mind.

You have to as well. He has an obvious job: go to school and do the work. But you have a job now, too. Care for the kids and keep the family together. I don’t mean to be harsh, but he’s going through a lot, and he needs you to step up to the plate.

If you fall apart you make things harder for him. Do you really want that? After all, if he drops out now than all of this has been for nothing. You’re a team! So act like it. Support him. Be nice to him when you’re on the phone. Ask how he’s doing. Sympathize with his workload. See things from his point of view. Seriously, you’ve got to be part of this, too.

I remember what it was like when my husband was studying for his final exams for pediatrics when we had two babies. It wasn’t easy. I wasn’t sleeping because our youngest didn’t sleep, but Keith needed his time to study. I didn’t always give it to him–sometimes I was just desperate. But I really did try. He wasn’t deliberately not spending a lot of time with us–he HAD to study. And this was OUR life that he was building together. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s just for a time, and if you make him feel badly you don’t do anyone any good.

2. While You’re Living Apart, Find an Outlet for Your Needs

He was likely your rock–the one you relied on for your emotional needs. You talked to him everyday. You spent time with him. He gave you adult conversation.

Right now he can’t do that. So ask, “what can I put in place so that I don’t rely on him so much?”

Are the kids in a lot of activities? Maybe you can scale back. You’ve joined a gym–can you make sure you go to two classes a week there or something? And you say you’ve started studying yourself, but is this something that you enjoy that gives you something to think about other than the kids, or is it an added stress to your life? If it’s added stress, put that on hold for a while. You can only do so much.

And can you join a women’s Bible study or a small group so that you get some adult conversation? Maybe find a group during the day that also offers childcare, even if it’s at a different church from yours? How about connecting with a friend once a week? You need an outlet, and that means taking some things off of your plate that drain you and putting some things on your plate that feed you.

3. Have Some Down Time when He’s Home

You all need it! Try to get the cleaning, etc. done during the week so you can just have fun. Try not to save up a ton of things you need him to get done. Just relax together, go out for walks together, play some games together, laugh together–Be together.

4. Put a Time Limit on Living Apart

Set some long term goals so that it’s obvious how long this will last. You’ve said you’ve put your house on the market–are you planning on living nearer to his school? That’s great, because then it’s a really short time frame that you’ll be apart.

One of the reasons military families are able to live through deployments is because they know how long it will be. They can make plans. They can realize, “I just have to get through eight more months and then we’ll be together again.”

When you don’t know how long the situation will last, it makes it so much worse.

I shared recently about a hard season in life my husband and I had because of his work. It was a good job, but it couldn’t continue indefinitely because we were growing apart.

So we made some changes.

5. Make Plans So That You Can Stop Living Apart

If you’re in a situation with work that you know is bad on your relationship and on your family, it really can’t continue forever. So sit down and figure out: how long do we have to live like this? What plans to do we have to get out of this situation? What do we have to do before we’re able to switch to a different lifestyle?

Maybe you need to pay off $x of debt. Maybe you need to finish this degree or this training program. Maybe you need to sell your house. Whatever it may be, let it be measurable and make a plan.

Because some situations just can’t continue indefinitely.

Here, for example, is another letter I received:

My husband and I have, because of extreme financial problems, been living in separate houses for almost a year. I am back at my parents’ with our three children, and he has been in various places, mostly in the area, but also in another country for three months.

During the first months we were able to keep on having sex, since twice a week my mother was gone for church meetings in the evenings and my father was working abroad. It was difficult, but manageable. Now the situation has changed, and we are never alone, and can’t do much of anything to make it happen. So we can’t have sex, ever. I think in the past two months we’ve had one encounter.

My question is this.

The sex part of my brain has just turned off. We just don’t even talk about it anymore, because when we do see each other (which at this point isn’t even every day anymore) it’s never possible to do anything, so what’s the point in even getting all fired up for nothing? But years of reading your blog and other marriage blogs has me worried.

What would you say should I be doing in my head to stay “sex positive” without going insane because we just can’t do it for now? We are doing ok as a couple, we’ve been growing in patience and compassion towards each other, of course the financial situation is taking its toll, but if we were together we certainly would NOT be abstaining.

My quick answer for this woman would be to either talk to her parents about when they can have the house to themselves once a week, or, if they just can’t do that, talk about it openly with her husband in case he has ideas about how to be creative. If you were to disappear into a bedroom for 10 minutes, most people wouldn’t notice you were gone. But if this really is impossible (and she says it is), and there is no way to be creative, then make sure this is only for a season.

Look, maybe you’ve decided as a family that you’re going to be a stay at home mom and he’s going to work–and then he loses his job. Maybe you’ve decided that as a family you’re going to homeschool–and then debt takes over.

Sometimes we’ve made decisions we think are right for the family–but clinging to them makes your marriage miserable.

Maybe it’s time to give up those dreams, just temporarily, so you can get back on your feet. Get a job to help out while your husband finds a better one. Put the kids in school so that you can work.

Maybe God has called you as a stay at home mom–but then He will provide the way for you to go back home again. Sometimes we have to temporarily make changes so that we can stay together and stay strong. It’s not a failure. It’s just adapting.

If life is going to be miserable for a time anyway, then make it as miserable as possible so that you make the period shorter. If you need to get out of debt, then it’s better to work super hard and get yourself super tired for 6 months than to drag it out for two years. We humans can do the seemingly impossible if we know there’s a time limit to it.

Living apart, working ridiculous schedules, a super stressful job–some couples can cope through this. But most can’t. And the strain takes its toll. So if you’re living in a situation which is totally unsustainable, then make plans for how to get to the point where you can change it, even if it means giving up your dreams for a few years. Get back on track. Your marriage is the rock that holds the rest of the family together. Don’t sacrifice it long-term. Make sure that your work situation allows for a good marriage. If it doesn’t, then something will eventually give–and you don’t want that to be your relationship.

What would you say to a couple who lives apart? What would you say to these women who aren’t always coping well? Let me know in the comments!

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