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Dublin: 21 °C Thursday 24 July, 2014

Column: Can a long distance relationship survive?

Economic migration has forced many families to separate, leaving partners and children sometimes on two sides of the world. Tony Moore explains how you can make your relationship work even when you are so far apart.

Tony Moore

STATISTICS FROM THE Irish Central Statistics Office show that 87,100 people left the Emerald Isle in the last financial year – almost two per cent of the entire population. These figures are the highest since new records began in 1987. Ninety-two per cent (80,200) of emigrants were under 45, with 41 per cent (35,800) between the ages of 15 and 25. The biggest group, 53 per cent, were Irish citizens.

These statistics mask an increasingly difficult problem for those who leave loved ones behind. Economic migration is a worldwide phenomenon. This of course is nothing new, as we all know. In recent years we have come to understand the impact that breaking up families can have on everyone involved. But there are many occupations that require a member of the family to work abroad for a certain length of time; many do this out of economic necessity and not through choice.

Heartbreaks and headaches

Apart from the heartbreak involved with leaving those involved in committed relationships behind, people face a further headache; how do I keep my relationship going?

We are lucky today to be able to communicate with our loved ones more easily than ever before via phone, e-mail and Skype. What we can’t substitute is touch (although I did hear of a prototype electronic ‘hugger’, but that is some way off).

What most couples worry about is the onset of an affair while he/she is away from home. It is a fact that the incidence of infidelity is on the increase as we have evidenced in Relationships Ireland. There is no sure-fire way of guaranteeing that our partner will not ‘play away’. Staying monogamous is a state of mind. Of course we are attracted to others. Of course if we are apart for long periods of time we become sexually frustrated and are then vulnerable to attention. If we do stray, we try and rationalise and justify our behaviour with various self-justifying statements.

How to manage separation

You need to discuss how you are going to manage a separation. There are a lot of options open to a couple that maybe should only be discussed in their home or the counselling room. The essential truth is about a person’s own moral compass and view of monogamy.

We tend to think of the person who is leaving is suffering the most but the person left behind must find good coping mechanisms and support. This is why a good joint approach is necessary and why as much contact as possible is essential.

This is especially true when children are left whilst Dad or Mum leave to take up work abroad. The parent who is left behind now must shoulder the burden of the whole household. Every decision will be down to him/her. As I have heard many times, this exhausts the person, and they feel they have no free time to themselves; they feel it because it is true.

When the children struggle with an absent parent, the parent at home tends to blame himself or herself. The level of guilt this produces is immense. They fear their child or children will be scarred for life. This rarely happens. A good network of friends and family will be of immeasurable help.

Make a plan

So what’s the plan? Try to take a positive attitude to the change. Discuss – and discuss again – what will happen. Share the change with family and friends. Write out ways to keep in touch. If you promise to call then do so whether by phone or Skype. Talk about the issue of sexual frustration –it is a real issue and don’t be embarrassed to discuss it. Plan the time apart and remember to ‘get together’ as often as possible.

Because we are abroad does not automatically lead to infidelity – as is proven by the level of infidelity by those who have stayed home! View this time apart as an opportunity to improve the whole family’s life chances and not as a lifelong catastrophe.

Tony Moore is a counsellor for Relationships Ireland. Relationships Ireland provides affordable confidential counselling and support services that offer you the opportunity to understand and resolve difficulties in your relationship. For more information or to book a consultation you can contact 1890 380 380 or email: info@relationshipsireland.com.

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