Dear Dr. Romance:

I am hoping you can help. I made a query about maintaining a marriage over long distance and noted your book The Commuter Marriage My wife and I have been married for 12 years and have had our ups and downs. We are both commited to our relationship. We lived in different states, but when we married, my wife moved here.

My wife went back to school to earn her degree but soon had some health problems and had to quit. She has been unable to work for 10 years and I am the sole earner. She goes back home for 3 weeks four times a year. She misses her family and I understand that. But after a while, I think we both feel kind of detached from one another. It is hard to explain, but I can tell in her voice how after awhile, her tone changes, it is almost like a feeling of indifference. It bothers the heck out of me and like the idiot I obviously am, I get frustrated and angry and go into a stupid passive-aggressive mode. I understand that it would be better to communicate openly, and Lord knows I hate confrontations, but when I detect the "tone of indifference", it hurts me. I think what hurts worse is my thinking that she has lost feelings for me, because that is how it sounds in her voice and speech patterns. We have discussed this many times and my wife agrees that being apart for 3 - 4 weeks is not good for us.

Recently, my wife's sister was diagnosed with cancer. My wife wants to stay with her sister as she undergoes her chemotherapy (which is more pallative than anything at this point) and wants to provide hospice for her. I admire my wife for this, her ability sometimes to exhibit great empathy is one of her more endearing qualities in my estimation. We just spent a week with her sister and dad, and my wife was going to stay an additional week. Now her dad has come down ill as well, and her brother and other sister want my wife to stay with their dad and watch over him during his long convulescence. The brother works and the sister is on medical disability. They have a lot on their plate right now. In addition, my mom was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer a year ago, ran out of money and hasn't gone back for any tests and I need to save some of my vacation in case I have to deal with her health issues too. At this point, I am down to one week of vacation left.

So now it looks like my wife will stay and take care of her dad and sister. When my wife told me this, to be honest, it kind of made me angry. Which also makes me feel stupid, because I know why she is doing what she has to do, but nevertheless, it made me angry. In my perception, it was like our relationship didn't matter. I told her that I was unsure how we could maintain a relationship dealing strictly over the phone. She thought that I could come down every few weekends. I would not mind if we can afford it, which at this time we can. But, and this is where none of this makes sense to me, after we have been apart for so long, our relationship seems "weird". It is not like either of us has changed, but the fact of being apart seems to change us. Do you understand what I am trying to say?? It is almost like starting to date all over again, afraid to be open with one another, much less intimate.

This depresses me so much. I am hoping that you can steer me/us in the right direction to be able to handle this. My fear is that after awhile, we not only will be estranged but that we will say something hurtful or not caring to one another. Can you please help us?? I am so concerend about this. I greatly fear that unless we are proactive and understand what is taking place, we will end up being permanently separated, because we won't care for one another any more.

Dear Reader:

I'm so sorry to hear of all your struggles and problems. What a challenging time for your whole extended family, as well as you and your wife! I'm wondering why you don't move to be with your wife. It's pretty obvious that she's going to want to be there a lot for a while, to be close to her family. I know you have to have a job, but have you looked to see what's available near her family? That would be a big change, but maybe worth it.

If you do have to be separate for an extended time, make keeping connected your priority. When you can't travel to be close, stay close by phone and e-mail. You both need the connection and the support. When you have time on the phone, be sure and encourage your wife to talk about everything that's going on with her. Then, take your turn to share with her. This will enhance your feeling of being connected. You don't tell me how well you both communicate, but yoursense of disconnection indicates that you might need to improve your communication skills. When you're not physically in touch, you have to make sure you tell the whole story when you talk, and you give her the chance to tell you her whole story. "Jealousy, Faithfulness and Distance" shows you how to get the most out of your long distance communication, and "Couples Can Cooperate for Success" will help you improve your communication skills. Of course, the book you mention, The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You're Far Apart has all these guidelines and much more to help you cope.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Romance's musings on love, relationships, celebrities, culture and life in general. In top 10 Sexperts!'s Blog of the Month: 'If anyone can call herself "Dr. Romance," it's REDBOOK Love Expert Tina Tessina. With a Ph.D., eight books and 30 years counseling experiencing under her belt, Tina has a lot to say about the everydays of life and love. Get to know the Doc. "