Surviving a Long Distance Marriage
● By Brandi Barnett
From Here to EternityFebruary 2007
By Michael O'Brien
Grace and Michael live a romantic life. Although married, they’ve never stopped dating each other. They send cards in the mail for no reason, go on frequent date nights and getaway weekends. They tell each other “I love you” dozens of times a day. Both give each other gifts that are truly for them, as opposed to appliances for the house or tools for the yard. They walk hand in hand wherever they go.
What is their secret? They do not live together. Not in the same house, same town or even the same state! Grace lives in Phoenix; Michael in Redding.
Some say they are crazy; others comment on their brilliance. Michael explains it like this:
“During our entire relationship, Grace and I have never lived in the same city, much less the same house. We met while traveling for business while working for sister companies. At first we would only see each other while on the road, and only if we happened to be in the same location.”
Soon after meeting, a strong friendship developed with the help of e-mail, instant messaging, and phone calls.When they decided to advance their relationship to one of singular commitment to each other, their kids came first.
“Grace shares custody of her daughter Madison with her ex-husband in Phoenix,” explains Michael. “I share custody of my children with my ex-wife here in Redding.When we married, we felt we would be living together within a year.However, as with most things in life, things did not work out completely to plan.Neither of us wanted to live away from our kids.”
So, a difficult decision had to be made. “We did not want to forsake our relationship because of this situation,”Grace says. “We were meant to be together. Many instances along our journey confirmed this belief. And we felt that if two people are meant to be together, then none of life’s situations should get in the way of fate.We decided long ago that in order for us to make our relationship work, we would have to take a proactive approach and make things happen, rather than to just allow things to happen.”
So, they married in a wonderful, small ceremony, surrounded by their six kids, and close family and friends. They set up an apartment house in Redding and purchased a home in Phoenix. Michael travels to Arizona one week a month;Grace travels to Redding one week a month. Both have forged careers that allow them to work in both locales;Grace builds an insurance business, Michael sells advertising.
Such separation allows and requires them to live a more romantic life.
“She is still my girlfriend and I treat her as if we are still dating,” says Michael. “I write notes to her often.We still have IM dates while listening to our favorite music.We end up packing a month of living into our one week a month visits, so we make sure we have a date night or two each visit.Our anniversary is celebrated with a romantic trip. This year was our third. Each of our many daily phone calls ends with ‘I love you!’ This kind of relationship does not allow for taking anything for granted.”
Grace adds, “We sacrifice a lot. But we gain a lot.We rarely see each other, but we never tire of one another.We are best friends, and were so before we married.Our reunions are intense and our goodbyes wrenching.”
When two people are this close and this in love, separation is not easy. “Leaving her is like tearing off an arm and leaving it behind,”Michael describes. “When we are together we are a team, dividing and conquering.When we are apart we are single parents, acting independently, doing the jobs of both partners.We both have to be very flexible to live this life.”
Both agree that in any successful marriage, there is no room for game playing. Serious communication and forgiveness are a must. In their case, these issues have become more critical. They also explain that there is also no room for complaining about how they live as they recognize that they made this choice freely, for the right reasons.
And there is hope for shared accommodations in the future. “We will live together once the kids are grown and living their own lives,” says Grace. “It seems like forever from now, but time moves very quickly. Michael adds, “Then we will have to make the most critical decision of our lives:Where to live; Arizona or California?”
Both are very much looking forward to making that choice – together