When couples take time apart to nourish their own friendships and interests, it's a sign of a healthy relationship. But what to do when facing a "commuter marriage" or long distance relationship? USA Today reports that these type of long-term arrangements are on the rise (http://yourlife.usatoday.com/sex-relationships/story/2012-02-20/Together...) and Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil weighs in on what these couples can do to keep the spark alive.
"Typically, I advise couples who see each other on a daily basis to practice a 'mini brush with death' on a regular basis - where they take time apart from each other in order to have a better appreciation and fondness for the other person. However, with a commuter marriage, people do the opposite!" Dr. Bonnie states that in day-to-day life, these couples are already experiencing a "brush with death."
She typically prescribes the Brush with Death for patients who are dealing with a narcissist who needs to be snapped out of taking the other person for granted. "It's the only thing that will bring a narcissist to their knees - they will start missing the other person and stop taking them for granted. It alerts the narcissist that it's a viable relationship; don't feel sorry for them, stay the course - it often takes a person like this four to six weeks to snap out of it! Unless there is movement or change - remember, it's important not to waver when the person pleads their case. Don't listen to words, look at movement" cautions Dr. Bonnie.
Talking doesn't help - a relationship can be talked to death when dealing with a narcissist and they still don't get it: Walk don't talk. The Brush With Death is the way to do this - it's a good litmus test of the relationship as it converts the narcissist and brings them to their knees if it's a viable relationship.
As for couples who don't see each other on a regular basis: "People in long distance relationships often place a higher value on each other than couples who are together frequently," Dr. Bonnie says. This is something they may have a better handle on than their "living-under-one-roof" counterparts. For these long distance couples, Dr. Bonnie recommends that they see each other face-to-face even more than they think they need. Skype, IM, texts and frequent emails have improved the quality of life for many living out this scenario, but it's not the same. It's very important for people in long distance relationships to hear the voice of the other person - they will get a dopamine high, the brain chemical that makes them feel happy and in love. Not hearing the voice and getting this high can lead to higher instances of breakups or infidelity.
A lot of couples forget that absence makes the heart grow fonder but commuter couples know this well. However, they may easily allow their face-to-face time to get bogged down with pressing issues like scheduling, work, and the stress of living life apart.
To this end, when the couple can spend time together, Dr. Bonnie reminds them to engage in mini-connections: "make sure you're getting the most of your together time. Do a 30 second hug or a 20 second kiss to release oxytocin and dopamine which are the brain chemicals that make us feel connected, bonded, and loved." And don't forget about daily verbal aphrodisiacs - tell each other what you love about the other person. While working out the logistics of living life apart, don't forget to act romantically with each other.
For more on narcissism, watch Dr. Bonnie's video: http://youtu.be/nmEShUlejj8