I only live with my husband half of the year (and I’m okay with it)

Guest post by Catherine Kyle
Polka Dotted States of America Art Prints from Minted.

I joke with my friends that I am a “part-time wife” because, for about half the year, I live with my husband and two cats in Boise, Idaho. The other half, I spend in Kalamazoo, Michigan working on my Ph.D. in English.

While in Boise, my husband and I live in one half of a small-but-charming duplex in a neighborhood scattered with trees. I snuggle with my cats, walk around in my underwear, play ’90s video games until the wee hours of the morning — you know, the usual 20-something geek girl fare.

While in Kalamazoo, I live in a one-room grad student dorm. I share a bathroom and a kitchen with a floor of other women. We’re not allowed to have overnight guests, quiet hours are enforced, and most horrifyingly of all, individual coffee pots are strictly forbidden (fire hazard, I guess). The dorm gets stuffy, lonely, and claustrophobic. But it’s what makes the most sense right now, given our budget and the duration of my program.

This is a temporary situation, but it does raise a few eyebrows, and like any non-traditional living arrangement, it presents its own challenges.

While our parents and close friends have been supportive, our decision has elicited shock from other people. My students, in particular, often blanch when I tell them I am 28 years old, I live in a dorm, and my husband lives on the other side of the country. To some extent, I can understand why. Long-distance relationships are hard. It’s unusual to live in a dorm at my age. How can I live without my own bathroom? And so on.

I have to say, though, it’s not as hard they might think. My “monastic” living situation in Michigan lets me focus intensely on my work. The time spent apart helps us appreciate each other all the more when we’re together. We have become much more effective communicators. And perhaps most significantly, this non-standard marriage makes us more vividly aware of the importance, beauty, and depth of the other relationships in our lives. We love each other deeply, but we will never fall into the trap of consuming each other’s personalities or losing ourselves in each other.

After spending one semester in the dorm, my notions about friendship, in particular, were blown wide open. I went into that semester expecting to pine away for my husband. What I found instead was that in the company of my good friends and colleagues, and given plenty of intellectual stimulation, I was actually quite happy. I missed my husband, of course. I love him in a way that is distinct from other loves. But, corny as it sounds, I also learned that friendship is not something we should diminish or belittle the way we frequently do (I’m lookin’ at you, “We’re just friends”).

“Just” friends? No. I’ve stopped using that phrase. I will say someone is my friend, but I won’t diminish the relationship by saying we are “just” friends, as if it’s something poorer than romantic or erotic love. In my opinion, it is only different, and nothing but extended time away from the person I love romantically could have fully taught me that.

Romantic love is wonderful. Marriage, for me, is wonderful. My husband and I like living together and in the long-run, we want to live together every day. But we don’t let that desire keep us from living separately for a while so that I can finish a program of study that brings me immense joy.

Despite the weird complications now and then — negotiating time differences, the sadness of missing out on fun times the other person is having, etc. — I believe our decision to color outside the lines of the traditional expectations of marriage has made us stronger, happier, more articulate about our needs, and more grateful for the people we love in nonromantic ways.

In truth, I’m not a part-time wife. I am a full-time wife. And living a few states away for a while won’t change that.

Comments on I only live with my husband half of the year (and I’m okay with it)

  1. Kudos on making this work for you! As you probably already know, this kind of living arrangement is very common in academia, and rarely raises eyebrows. It can even be expected. It can be hard to explain to friends and family though.

    I’m in a similar situation, living together 50% of the time. Fortunately both of our universities provide apartments, so we always have our own bathroom and kitchen. (Tho not laundry… argh.)

    I’m wondering if you find the situation easier because you see it as fixed term? My current situation will last approx another 3 years, and my partner and I agree that after that we’ll want to live together full time, even if that means leaving academia. Many academic couples do this permanently, but while I enjoy my space and my friends, I just don’t think it’s what I want forever.

    • I definitely see it as easier because it’s a fixed term. I know long-term part-time long-distance (wow, that was a lot of modifiers) works for some people, but I really want to reside full-time with my hubs in the long run. His dad worked as a commercial fisherman and was gone every summer, so he grew up seeing a healthy example of a long-term part-time long-distance marriage. He has a good attitude about everything, but he also wants to live together full-time as soon as possible. Luckily, we’ve agreed that he’ll move to be with me if I get a tenure-track job. 🙂 I imagine it’s a lot harder when both people are in academia.

      Good luck to you and your partner!

  2. My husband and I have lived like this several times throughout our relationship. And we’re actually looking at having to do it again once he graduates in December and moves to start his new job.
    While we prefer living together, sometimes the challenges of work and graduate school studies require other living arrangements. And I think we’ve come to a similar place as the OP, that we can be happy and fulfilled in our lives, and our marriage, even though we live apart.
    It’s nice to know someone is in the same situation. Because I have definitely gotten a few shocked responses from people when they would find out one of us lived in a dorm “alone” somewhere.

  3. Hey Catherine! 🙂 I’m so excited to see this posted! 😀

    I feel like I have a weird advantage here as we’ve been internet friends/acquaintances for a several years now, but I’m perpetually amazed at the ways in which you can balance everything between two time zones and regions. I can feel the different kinds of joy that you exude when you’re in either location. I’m so thrilled you’ve been able to share your story with us here on OBH ’cause you rock it!

    Keep on keepin’ on is really all I got.


  4. It’s great to read things like this! My husband and I will likely be apart for a year starting in September 2015. He wants to become a funeral director, and needs to move to a different city for the study portion of his program. I teach for a school board that has a very set model for progression, and it doesn’t make sense for me to leave and then return. The majority of our support units are in the city where we live, and neither of us is keen on disrupting our daughter’s life any more than we need to. While I’m sure there will be challenges during that year, I’m also keen on some of the benefits, such as the ability for my husband to focus on course work without the typical family distractions.

    • It sounds like that’s a good solution. I will say I’m very productive while in Michigan because all I have to focus on is school. I hope your husband’s program goes well and that the year sails by quickly so you can be together again asap!

  5. I live with my OH even less than that. He works away and I see him for not quite 7 days every 4 weeks. It’s incredibly hard, especially when children are involved, but it is a very rewarding lifestyle. I like to think we have some pretty good communication skills. I still think I need to work on my phone sex skills though, haha but then again, he always seems happy with the end result 😉

    • Haha, that’s awesome! That would be an interesting post all its own! I think the distance does improve communication skills. I’m glad you and your family have found something that works. 🙂

  6. Thank you for writing this! It’s wonderful to see that you are working towards a goal that is important to you and have such a supportive partner. As an offbeat Navy couple, I’m in a similar situation where we live apart not only when my partner is deployed, but I live three hours away from their duty station to live at the college where I have a full-time lecturer position. In California, where I live, a full-time lecturer position is unheard of and I’m not willing to move away to live on base. I love what you wrote about making friendships stronger and being able to focus on things that fulfill you. My partner is on their first deployment and I always have these images of partners at home crying and laying in bed every day (and there are definitely the horror stories to accompany that image), but I’ve found a similar situation to yours. I miss him, of course, but I am able to focus on my research, work, my kid, and my friends. I’m totally fine and okay…dare I even say “great.” 🙂

    • Absolutely. The image of the mournful person lying in bed blowing their nose on a loved one’s smelly t-shirt is exactly what I’m hoping to push back against with this post! That was really what I expected to feel like (I’m a little melodramatic), but in fact, the time went by quickly and we both grew stronger because of it. I’m so glad to hear it’s going well for you. And congrats on your job! I’m going on the market this fall. Fingers crossed!

  7. I love hearing about nontraditional arrangements like this. My FH is a freelance filmmaker, so he may be on location hours or days away for a month or he’ll be so busy with work that we don’t even sleep at the same times. It can get lonely, but mostly I just prepare ahead of time for those months or weeks alone by making sure I keep being social with friends and get shit done. I love being a “part time wife.” I really value that alone time I get. It doesn’t mean that I couldn’t handle our relationship if he decided to trade it all in for a 9-5, but I like it the way it is now. (Ask me again in about 8 years when we have kids, though…)

    • Yep, I think staying busy is a big part of it. It sounds like you have a really good approach in terms of finding fun stuff to do. I agree, also, that there can be some advantages to arrangements like these. My husband and I actually agreed that I should go back to Michigan this fall instead of next spring so he can watch a million football games without guilt, haha. In the meantime, I can pound out my dissertation without guilt, too. So it has its perks! 😉

  8. How perfectly timed! My husband is moving this weekend while I stay in our apartment to finish my last semester of grad school. It’s only a four hour drive, but we’ve never been apart for longer than 5 days since we met. I know this is going to be a huge challenge for the next five months, but it is for the good of the future of our family. It’s comforting to know that others have gone through this successfully.

    • The first time is tough! But you will learn a lot about yourselves and your relationship.
      My best advice is to find one regular social event to do each week just for yourself. Whether it’s a yoga class, book club, or just having coffee with a friend, it will give you something to talk about and share with your partner when you take time to communicate.

      • Yes! This is really smart. I go to a happy hour with some friends every Tuesday while I’m in Michigan and it’s extremely helpful. It’s often the thing I look forward to most out of the whole week. I second your ideas about structured social time wholeheartedly!

    • That’s rough. 🙁 My husband and I didn’t Skype last semester–we just talked on the phone, texted, and emailed–but I’ve been Skyping with a friend this summer and I really like it. He and I may take that up this coming semester. If you haven’t tried it, I’d recommend it.

      I have a friend who also does part-time long-distance and she and her boyfriend think up projects for each other that last the duration of their time apart. I’m thinking about sending my husband a postcard at the end of every week I’m gone or something like that. Just something to make the time pass a little more easily.

      I wish you both all the best. You can get through it!

  9. My husband left nearly a month ago to move to Alaska. It’s been the hardest time I’ve experienced since I met him – we had never been apart more than a weekend before!

    I’m staying behind while trying to sell or rent the condo, but am growing more and more impatient with the process. If only I had the money to fly up and see him for a weekend…

    • The money issue is soooo frustrating. I’m going to visit once in October, but we can’t afford to bring me home more than that. :\ I totally sympathize.

      I hope your condo sells or rents quickly so you can be together again. As others said above, I think the best thing you can do for yourself is to structure activities and outings so you won’t get too lonely. It’s hard no matter what, though. Good luck!

  10. My husband and I also live apart most of the year as he travels through different refineries throughout the country. Our friends and family are used to it but explaining it to strangers when you interact with them tends to be odd. Most people think we’re separated or on the way to divorce but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I like that it allows us to embrace our individuality.

    • I am fairly certain my mother-in-law constantly thinks my husband and I want a divorce, because we have had to live/work/study apart so much. Don’t let their assumptions weigh you down too much, because they don’t live your life.

      • Well said. That’s a bummer that she’s putting that on you. I’m lucky that my in-laws did long-term part-time long-distance, so they get it. I would not appreciate that added pressure!

        In the end, like you said, it’s your life. Glad you’re making it work. 🙂

    • Luckily no one has asked us that, but people have expressed concern because we’re in our first year of marriage (like, “Is it really a good time to be apart?” etc.). Like Cass said, it’s your life! And by making it work and talking about it, I think you’re helping to normalize it.

      • We lived in different countries (I in Abu Dhabi and he in Kyrgyzstan) for the first year of our dating relationship. By the time we were engaged 5 years later, we lived in different states. For the entirety of our marriage (3 years now) we have not actually resided together. I’ve been slowly changing the words I use to describe our scenario because we do actually live our lives together. We communicate every day whether it is through text, messaging, phone call, video call. We have meal dates where we video conference breakfast, watch the same movie, and work on plans together. We visit and interact with each other’s families. We are even using an online/phone app to learn a language together. We do LIVE together we just don’t reside with each other for much of the year. I think by changing the conversation we have with people outside our immediate circle to how we participate in a joint life together, it changes how people think about it which makes things a little easier on me.

  11. As a fellow Boisean – part-time still counts – yay! Idaho FTW!

    My hubs and I lived apart for a little over 3 months while I moved back to Idaho and he stayed in VA to finish out his job and pack up our house (we were caretaking so we had to make sure it could be left empty for a while). Your article totally resonates with me because we also found that although we missed each other, our communication skills improved (we’ve been together 10 years, so this was a surprise!) and we became better friends, not just partners. I’m the outgoing half of our relationship, so I enjoyed being able to hang out with my friends unrestricted by another person’s needs and schedule (not as callous as it sounds) and I discovered that I sleep really well when it is just me and my cat, lol. I also got to live with my SIL, who is one of my closest friends now. On the flip side, my husband was pretty miserable. A bunch of our friends had just moved, so they weren’t hanging out with him as much and he was living in a big house with one cat and a whole lot of trees outside. Not so great for an introvert. Because of this, I am not in any rush to live apart again, but it was a good experience for me – both because it gave me a chance to realize how much I gain from my husband (living the bachelor lifestyle I turned into a boring cat lady who just watches British TV and eats a lot of bagels) but also gave me a better perspective on what I want from our home life (more British TV and bagels. Duh.)
    We just bought a home (I’m hoping to submit an article here soon!) so we’re not going anywhere soon, but I still value our time apart, in part because of how much it makes me value our time together.

    • First: I totally lol’d at “more British TV and bagels.” But this is a great point! I realized, as weird as it might be, that watching anime really soothes me in a way nothing else can. I did it a lot in Michigan and missed it when I got back to Idaho, so now I’ve found ways to work it into my life here.

      You also bring up a great point about the fact that long-distance can have different effects on people. My hubs and I both have a good attitude about it overall, but we also slide into sadness sometimes based on what’s going on in our respective locations. Sometimes I’ll be doing well and he’ll be sad, or vice versa. That’s hugely important to remember. Thanks for bringing it up! Oh, and congrats on your house! 🙂

  12. Res Life loophole alert: Buy a Keurig — there’s no open heat source and it has an automatic shut off, which is why regular coffee pots are not allowed.

  13. My husband and I did three years long distance (with a 4 month period together and lots of visits) while I was in law school and he was in med school and doing his masters before we were engaged. It worked well because it actually gave us time to focus on the school work. We still spoke on the phone almost daily (had a time that we would each be free to call each other) and saw each other every 1-2 months or so for a long weekend. It definitely wasn’t ideal but we got through it.

    In 2016, he’s going to be finishing his residency and will need to do a fellowship for a year out of the province likely to be able to get a job here at the end of the day. My work commitments (self-employed essentially) will not let me leave the practice for a year and be able to pick up when we return without losing all of my clients and having to start from scratch, so I’m going to stay behind. Everyone is surprised that I’m not going to be moving for the year with him, but logistically it just isn’t going to work. I’m glad we aren’t the only ones in this situation.

    • It sounds like this is what makes the most sense for you. Some people were surprised that my husband wasn’t going to move to be with me in Michigan, too, but it just doesn’t make sense for us right now. My program is only another year, and after that I have no guaranteed work, whereas he has a steady job in Idaho. There’s no sense in uprooting him for one year when we could both end up unemployed!

      I hope it all goes well for you. We talked almost daily too. It helps!

  14. My husband lives in San Diego, and I live in Boise too. Granted, I don’t think we live as far away, but it is awful. People ask me all the time if we have gotten divorced. Nope, my place is here for now.
    I loved this.

  15. This was a really wonderful read! I’ve never had to do the long-distance marriage thing but I’d consider it in the future if the circumstances arose. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but I think it would be survivable.

    • Thank you! Yeah, it’s definitely not our first choice either, but it is survivable. 🙂 And it really has made us appreciate each other more. It gives you perspective on the relationship in really interesting ways. In ways, it’s been really good for us!

  16. My husband and I have spent probably more time apart in our 10+ year relationship than together I think! We met at university, in first year, but two years in I decided to switch courses, meaning a move to a different university & different city. We lived in different cities for the next two years, only 2hrs apart though, so we had lots of weekends together etc. Then moved in together once I graduated, lived like that for 2 1/2 years, during which time we got engaged, before I was offered a secondment to a company in Perth WA (opposite side of the country for non-Aussies) that was supposed to last 3 months. At the 6 month mark, we realised it was going to be permanent & husband (then fiancee) started looking for work here. Unfortunately all he could get in the industry he is interested in was a FIFO (Fly In Fly Out) position, which admittedly are very common here. The week we returned from our honeymoon he started that job, and has been doing it ever since (3 1/2 years). After a couple of years of 9 days on, 5 days off, he’s now home every weekend, but not weekdays, so it’s slowly getting better!
    FIFO was the hardest as we were new to Perth so I didn’t have the support networks here while he was away. Consequently I threw myself into every possible extra-curricular activity I could – pilates class, soccer team, Rotary, all the things. We make time to call each other every night, even if it’s only for 5 minutes before one (or both) of us collapses in a heap!
    It’s not our ideal situation, and we’re working towards both of us living in the same place, but it’s working for now.
    (whoops! just realised how mammoth this comment is! sorry for the essay)

    • Wow. That sounds really rough! Kudos to you for making it work!

      I can relate on some level because my husband and I have known each other since 2007, but jobs/distance/etc. divided us for a while before we got back together in spite of it and eventually got engaged and agreed on this living arrangement. In other words, we’ve also spent more time apart than together, all said and done. It’s working for us, though, and it sounds like it’s working for you even though it’s hard. You are awesome! 🙂 I hope you can live together soon.

  17. Well put Catherine. Having the advantage of knowing you (and your hubby) outside of this article as well, I can say the two of you are handling this alternative situation beautifully. My husband and I had a similar situation for a little over a year at the beginning of our marriage and I do believe it helped our communication skills. I try very hard not to lecture anyone thinking about living like this about the hardships, even though there were some. It’s beneficial for each to learn from their own experiences.

  18. My hubby and I have been living in separate countries for 5 years. By the time our paperwork comes through it will be 6 long years. We get to see each other maybe 30 days out of a year typically spread over 4 visits. BUT, we both know it will absolutely worth it when we eventually get to be together forever. If anything, the delay and the distance means we’ve learnt amazing communication skills and learnt to really appreciate each other 🙂

    It takes dedication, commitment, integrity, trust, and lot of open communication, but it is possible. Bloody difficult on the days when all you want is a real hug, but it is very possible.

    We also get the questioning and social commentary from others, but we just tell them that every time we meet is another honeymoon and we’re ok with that 🙂

    I have to say, after no physical contact for 3-5 months a hug at the airport is just the best feeling in the world.

  19. We also live part of the year separately. The first time it came up with my mother she said “If you’re not going to live together than you may as well just get a divorce.” wHaT?!?! Why? We’re married, not conjoined twins. Sheesh. I wonder what she thinks of military families. To everyone living apart for a day, a week, a month, a year, whatever…. you can rock it! I believe in you!

    • I totally agree. We maintain relationships with friends and family without seeing them every day–it may be more challenging with a significant other, but the point is, relationships can survive a little distance without falling apart!

  20. My aunt and uncle did this for a few years so that she could fulfill a lifelong ambition to complete her PhD and he could stay with a company that made him happy and paid well. She also found that the time apart made it easier o focus on her dissertation. It’s funny that she did not describe it as ‘monastic’ because she was doing a degree in divinity.

  21. My husband works in a trade which requires him to work away from home often.

    We had a few years together in the beginning where he was home every night and he tried to explain to me what it would be like when he was gone. He was falling very much in love with me but has seen many relationships fall apart because of the distance.

    Fast forward to his first job “on the road” and it was tough. I was lonely, living in the country in the house we just bought, felt a little overwhelmed with taking care of everything myself, etc. But then things shifted.

    I began to appreciate my friendships. I was able to do all those hard house things I didn’t think I could. I emotionally was stable by myself which was a first for me. When he was home, the sex was amazing and our time together was so precious. Our communication was excellent and I know we could handle this.

    Since his work will always vary I never know when he will be gone or how long or where, but I have faith that we will be just fine.

    He left tonight after being home for three weeks for our wedding and honeymoon and I am looking forward to hogging the bed and cuddling my cats.

  22. *THIS* so many times. I’m trying to launch a career as a professional opera singer. Already I have to travel without my husband, and my career will (hopefully) require more and more travel, often for extended periods of time. It’s amazing how many people just cannot fathom that. When I mention traveling somewhere for work I often get “is your husband coming with you?” (uh, he has his own job), “what does your husband think of that?” (seriously, you’re asking me that?!) and some variation of “but don’t you miss him?”. I always miss him when I travel, sometimes very much, and missing him and the cats is something that will always suck, but I’m also happy doing my work and spending time with colleagues when I’m away. Our marriage works because we each have our own work, and know that being apart sometimes doesn’t make us less married.

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