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Married but Living Apart

Happy couples confront the necessity of separate households

For Bud, the 10-hour distance turned out to be less freeing than frustrating: "We knew economically and professionally the arrangement was meeting our needs, but emotionally there was a major gap," he says. Last year, the Moseleys were apart on their anniversary. Now that Frances has moved back to Boston, they are celebrating their 35th year of marriage the way they started, under the same roof.

How to cope with unplanned separations

"I don't think anyone sets out to be in this situation," says Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist from Long Beach, Calif., and the author of The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You're Far Apart. But if you do have to live apart, knowing that the situation is temporary helps, says Tessina. She also advises not mixing up the "how much I care about you" phone calls with "I had to call the plumber today again" and all the other dreary minutiae of day-to-day living.

For those wondering whether long separations make infidelity more likely, Tessina's own private practice and research prove otherwise. "I don't find it to be a bigger issue for those separated than those married and living together," says Tessina. "There is always the opportunity. Living apart has its positives and negatives, as does living together, so you have to focus on the positives and make those as good as possible."

Lynne and Michael Brenan have embraced this glass-half-full attitude. It's not that they are oblivious to the downside of their arrangement. "It's a drag to be by myself during the week, but it just has to be this way for now, so I deal with it," says Lynne, 61, a sales executive for a specialty food company. She lives in their home in Itasca, Ill., outside Chicago, where she raised their four children, now ages 26 to 35, and has two young grandchildren nearby; while Michael, 62, manages a hotel an hour and a half away in South Bend, Ind. He gets home Friday night and leaves Monday morning.

"For now, we're not in a financial circumstance where either of us can retire," says Michael, who had a heart attack five years ago and hopes to work until he's 70. Two incomes allow them to go together to Europe once a year; this year, it's Scotland and London. And they're saving for a condo they hope to buy in downtown Chicago once they stop working and can sell their home.

Right now, their nontraditional marriage is feeling little pain. "The time we spend together every weekend is magical and more important than it might have been otherwise" says Michael. "It really helps keep the sparks alive. We didn't plan on living this way, but it has worked out well for us financially and emotionally."

The Straubs are also realists. "It's not perfect, but it's OK for now," says Fred. As Betty explains it, "It's like the mythological story where we are all born as one egg that splits in two and roams the earth looking for its other half. Well, I found my other half in Fred. It seems like the egg gets split apart Monday through Friday, but when we're together on weekends, we're back whole and complete."

Sally Abrahms writes on aging and boomers for national magazines, newspapers and websites. She is based in Boston.

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