Gina and Hugh Walter have been married for more than two decades but, for the past three years, they have felt like smitten newlyweds again. Spurred on by a renewed rush of love, they have enjoyed indulgent romantic dinners and long weekends away without their three children.
‘It’s like being young and free again,’ says Gina, 52. ‘We enjoy every minute we spend together. These magical breaks have given us a chance to chat, have fun and regain our physical closeness. We are now stronger and more emotionally intimate; our relationship has really blossomed.’
The secret to this marital rebirth? Admittedly, it’s not for everyone.
While Gina, a data manager in a secondary school, lives in Maidenhead, Berkshire, with their three children aged 17, 15, and 12, her husband Hugh, 55, a proposal manager in the oil and gas industry, lives in Qatar.
Most couples would draw the line at living 3,000 miles apart but the Walters insist absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
Gina and Hugh Walter have been married for more than two decades but, for the past three years, they have felt like smitten newlyweds again. The secret to this marital rebirth? Living 3,000 miles apart
Certainly, more and more couples are choosing to live apart with new research this year showing as many as a quarter do so, in part to maintain independence and also keep the flames of passion alight.
But living in separate houses is one thing — is residing in separate continents not taking things a step too far?
Psychotherapist Lucy Beresford, author of Happy Relationships, says many partnerships flounder as a result of spending too much time together: ‘If you’re doing everything together, there’s no new oxygen or interest to keep things alive.
‘So if you are forced apart for understandable reasons — such as a work placement, rather than because one party lacks commitment — it can re-ignite the excitement of the early days. You stop taking each other for granted.
‘Modern technology really helps. The buzz of your daily FaceTime call while you chop your carrots together can prolong — or even provoke — a new honeymoon period.’
That said, living in separate countries isn’t for everyone: ‘If you have jealous tendencies, the separation can inflame anxieties,’ adds Lucy. ‘It’s not perfect but couples can benefit from the breathing space it gives them, too.’
Gina admits living so far apart wasn’t ‘part of the plan’ when she and Hugh married in 1998: ‘For years we happily shared our home. But that changed after Hugh was made redundant in 2016. He spent the next year desperately trying to find work but to no avail, and it impacted us financially and emotionally.’
While Gina, a data manager in a secondary school, lives in Maidenhead, Berkshire, with their three children aged 17, 15, and 12, her husband Hugh, 55 (pictured, together), a proposal manager in the oil and gas industry, lives in Qatar
When a job came up in Saudi Arabia in 2017, Hugh took it on the basis that every 16 weeks he would get a week or two off to come home.
‘I can’t deny that when he left it was extremely emotional,’ says Gina. ‘We wondered how our lives and relationship might change with him being away.
‘But we are soulmates and there was no question of it not working. We put our previous troubles aside, spoke every day and sent each other little messages to let the other know we loved and missed them.
‘We also made a conscious decision that whenever Hugh came home we’d throw money (because we finally had some) at lovely holidays. Otherwise, we’d get caught up in everyday chores, and other people clamouring to see him, and the time together would disappear. Because of this we enjoy every moment we spend together.’
When the Saudi contract finished in March last year, Hugh found a job in Qatar, where he has been living since May 2019.
Covid-19 put something of a spanner in the works: ‘The plan was we’d never go for more than 12 weeks without being together but the pandemic means we haven’t seen him since he returned to Qatar in January after Christmas.
‘Without those romantic interludes we’d come to love, and quality times as a family, this year has been difficult. Hugh misses us dreadfully and spends most weekends alone because his colleagues are busy with their own families.
‘Meanwhile, I’m exasperated trying to navigate the children’s teenage years alone. And it has been tough going for 11 months without any physical closeness.’
While there is no doubt that they are very much together, understandably it can be a struggle to conduct a long-distance relationship.
‘If the children were younger, we’d have moved with Hugh but they don’t want to leave their friends and one is in the middle of her GCSEs, so it’s not feasible at the moment.
Nicola Humber, 48, is another wife who has reaped the benefits of having a husband living on another continent. An author and founder of The Unbound Press, she says she and her husband Mark, 49, an engineer, are too independent to live together
‘Our hope is that Hugh will eventually be able to work back in the UK or at least on mainland Europe. But, in the meantime, our long-distance marriage has taught us to treasure time as a couple, and to make extra effort when we’re together.’
Nicola Humber, 48, is another wife who has reaped the benefits of having a husband living on another continent. An author and founder of The Unbound Press, she says she and her husband Mark, 49, an engineer, are too independent to live together.
While she is in Southampton, Mark lives in New York state. In fact, having been thrown together by this year’s travel restrictions, she is now keen to get back to their version of normality.
‘I was over visiting Mark in March when the pandemic was declared and have been here ever since. It’s the longest amount of time we’ve spent together since before Mark moved.
‘It’s been lovely but, if I’m honest, I miss the excitement of the hellos and goodbyes.
‘I’m also desperately hoping to come back to the UK soon to see my mum and sister. And I want to avoid the New York winter as it tends to be long and extremely cold, even with a husband to cuddle up to.’
When Mark moved to the U.S. for work in September 2016, Nicola says friends were perplexed: ‘They’d ask me, “Isn’t it hard?” and “How do you manage?”. But being 3,500 miles apart has boosted our marital harmony.
‘For several months at a time, I do as I please, devoting time to my career, family and friends and — in pre-pandemic times — indulging in exotic travel for work. Meanwhile, Mark is immersed in the life he’s created for himself in the States, which makes him happy, too.
‘You might think we’d be in constant touch to make up for the distance but, actually, we don’t speak every day, as the five-hour time difference means I’m going to bed as he’s finishing work, which can create friction if he calls when I want to go to sleep! Instead, we save proper catch-ups for the weekend.
Kylie Neuhaus, 31, goes one step further. ‘The anticipation of being together and the dizzying sparks when we reunite always make up for the time apart,’ she says. She and her American husband Jesse, 33, have been married for five years, and, during that time, have lived apart for 20 months
‘Our independent lives are interspersed with exciting reunions and emotional goodbyes at airports, then the heady anticipation of seeing one another again in a few months.’
Nicola believes the fact they got together in their late-30s has helped their unusual arrangement.
‘When we got together 11 years ago, we both had careers that had long enabled us to travel overseas for months at a time,’ she says. ‘We were too independent to live a traditional married life under the same roof.’
When Mark was posted to the U.S. they did briefly consider that Nicola might move with him full-time.
‘But as my business is mostly online it meant I could stay here close to my friends, family and the authors I work with, and also visit him for extended periods at his home on the shores of Lake Ontario,’ she says.
That’s not to say it was easy. ‘Moving to another country is stressful and Mark had to establish new friendships and adjust to the American way of life,’ Nicola adds.
‘He’d finally get into a routine, then I’d swoop in to stay with him for a few weeks at a time. I tend to visit once or twice a year for six to 12 weeks, and he occasionally comes to the UK. After the initial high of being reunited — like young lovers all over again — there followed a fractious period when Mark felt I was encroaching on his space before things settled down.
‘Then there would be another transition when I start gearing up to fly home again and tend to feel quite sensitive, during which we can start to argue about silly things. We even questioned whether, since we were living apart quite happily, we wanted to be married at all. Thankfully, the answer was a resounding yes.’
She says it took a couple of years to perfect the art of living apart and now they’re ‘in a rhythm’.
But what about intimacy — or lack of it? ‘One thing this experience has shown is that sex is not the main priority in our marriage,’ says Nicola. ‘I miss the physical closeness more — having a hug when I’m feeling sad, or just curling up to watch a movie together.’
When they reunite they are always happy to see each other. ‘Unlike other couples who share a bed but can go months without intimacy, our sex life is steady.’
Kylie Neuhaus, 31, goes one step further. ‘The anticipation of being together and the dizzying sparks when we reunite always make up for the time apart,’ she says.
She and her American husband Jesse, 33, have been married for five years, and, during that time, have lived apart for 20 months.
They met on holiday in Jamaica in 2014 and fell in love. Two months later, Kylie flew to the U.S. to see Jesse for four days and, during a video call that summer, acknowledged their feelings weren’t going away. Jesse proposed later that year while visiting Kylie in the UK.
She says: ‘Jesse already owned a house and had a better paid job as a welder, so it made sense for me to give life in America a try. Yet visa restrictions meant we only got to spend a week together as newlyweds before we were separated again.’
Once in Iowa, Kylie got a job as a teaching assistant and tried to throw herself into her new life: ‘It was wonderful waking up with Jesse every day but there were many challenges.
‘I missed my family dreadfully but my annual holiday allowance of just four days made flying home impossible. I struggled with certain cultural aspects, such as drills for if the school ever got held up by a gunman.
‘The winters were cold and long, with temperatures as low as minus 20c, meaning I was stuck indoors for almost five months of the year.
‘Although I loved being with my husband, I was miserable. I never doubted our marriage, but when I started to suffer stress-related hair loss I knew the circumstances weren’t working and I would be happier in the UK. Jesse had said to me all along that if ever I wanted to move home, we’d find a way to make it work.
‘I re-trained as a tutor so I could teach students online, allowing me to go to the States for extended periods, and we agreed he’d use his holiday allowance to come here whenever possible.’
When Kylie moved back to Essex last spring, she cried for the three-hour drive to the airport but, once settled, everyone, including Jesse, noticed she was happier.
‘Being apart forces us to do the little things that perhaps we wouldn’t if we were living together,’ she says. ‘Iowa is six hours behind us but we speak every day and send each other little parcels. We couldn’t do this if our marriage wasn’t built on a huge amount of trust.’
The couple have now been apart for almost seven months because of the pandemic. But Kylie stays positive: ‘There’s no doubt we’re very happily married and determined to make it work.’