You can’t always get what you want, at least in the same city of as your partner. In the past two years, my friend and colleague and I, faced the proposition of our dream jobs. Both Nikki and I are Active Duty Navy Emergency Physicians. Part of being in the Navy includes moving every 2-3 years. For both of us, this seemed exciting at age 22 . . . fast forward to now, and a lot has changed.
We faced the following decisions:
- Take a less than rewarding/challenging position that would surely stymie our Navy and EM careers but stay geographically closer to our spouse
- Ask our successful and happy husbands to uproot their jobs and follow us . . . with the added layer that our positions, like most in the Navy would only be for 2-3 years, and then we had no idea what was in store for our careers or geographic locations
- Enter the world of married and living apart or live apart (LAT) couples
We did not realize that we are in good company; 3.9 million married Americans aged 18 and over live apart from their spouses.1,2 The reasons are different for every couple, but within healthcare, many of us choose to be LAT, at least temporarily, for professional reasons, i.e. training, sabbatical, or a new position that is too good to turn down. For many people, LAT is temporary, perhaps only for a few months or a year, for others it become semi or even permanent. LAT is also a way to trial a new position and determine if it will be a good fit before your partner leaves his/her job or you’re faced with moving children or other family to the new location.
Nikki and I have very different experiences. My husband and I do not have children. Nikki, shortly after moving to Bethesda, gave birth to her first son. This spring, she gave birth to her daughter. Bi-coastal marriage and parenting present unique challenges; stay tuned for a future article on this topic.
After a year of this arrangement, I have learned a lot about myself and my marriage. After years of working on projects and answering email at night, while my husband and I were “spending time,” I’ve finally learned to separate work from home. When we’re apart, I work really hard. When we’re together, I don’t work, and sometimes I even unplug. With less time to share, we’ve rekindled a dating vibe and gratitude for the time we do have together. Technology is a key ingredient to our success. I look forward to our near daily video chat. Texting is a great tool as well, although we have always been fairly independent and do not need or want incessant texts.
It’s been a growing experience. During residency, I became dependent on my husband’s phenomenal cooking abilities and essentially stopped cooking for myself. Over the last year, I’ve returned to occasionally cooking and found joy and relaxation in making my own food. I’ve also had to learn to be more independent and protect myself. I had a scare in my parking garage earlier this year, and it reminded me of how I need to be more accountable for my personal security. I was often very quick to turn to Chris to solve problems, from technology glitches to furniture assembly. Now I give it a try and sometimes I have a new satisfaction with completion of tasks outside my comfort zone. I’ve learned we’re definitely better together, but I can hold my own.
For those readers considering if you and your relationship could handle the separation, I can’t tell you. In the end, you and your partner know yourselves and your relationship best. Occasionally, I receive pointed questions and curious looks about our LAT status. For me, some of the decision included letting go of societal expectations that the woman forgo her career ambitions. I know I chose the right partner, as Chris supports me. I also had to let go of trying to explain or justify our decisions to others; in the end this was about us and what works for us at this time in our lives.
For me, it’s been worth it. My current position has lived up to its dream job label. I spend 50% percent of my time teaching, primarily via simulation, my educational focus, and 50% clinical. I have the privilege of training healthcare professionals before they deploy to combat zones. My clinical time is spent at LA County; one of the business emergency departments in the country. My colleagues are amazing, and I feel my career is on a completely different trajectory; thanks to this experience. Most days I really do feel like I have it all, just in two cities.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or the US government.
- The rise of long-distance marriage. The Economist. Dec. 19, 2017. https://www.economist.com/united-states/2017/12/19/the-rise-of-long-distance-marriage
- The Long-Distance Marriage That’s Built to Last. The Wall Street Journal. August 14, 2018. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-long-distance-marriage-thats-built-to-last-1534252845