Long Distance Downfall

The biggest threat to marriage today isn't infidelity; it's the economy

Most in Charlotte would agree that any commute involving I-485 is a pretty bad one. But more and more Charlotteans are facing way longer commutes than the one to Ballantyne. We're talking multiple highways—even runways—as the recession forces people to take jobs where they can find them. The result: handfuls of families doing the long-distance relationship thing.

Melinda Harper, a Queens University assistant psychology professor, says not all couples can handle the stress of the separation. "A solid marriage going in is essential if there's any hope of making it," says Harper.

Melissa Lewis left a high-profile gig as a TV reporter at WCNC because she wanted to see more of her husband, Ray. Only problem: two months after she left her dream job, he lost his. The plant Ray was in charge of here shut down. Luckily, they offered him a promotion, which meant keeping his job … but moving to Wilmington. Melissa now works in pharmaceutical sales here while Ray commutes home on weekends. And he makes the trek with two other guys who are also living away from their families. "We have webcams, so at least we can see each other," says Melissa, twenty-nine. Adds Ray, thirty, "Mentally and emotionally, I don't want to do this more than another few months."

Jes and Carlissa Sanders have promised each other they'll give it a year before figuring out another way. With no jobs available here, Jes, thirty-nine, works as an architect in Baton Rouge while Carlissa, thirty-eight, raises the couple's two little boys in the Park Road area home neither wants to give up. With money so tight, Jes only gets home once a month. "I have little kids," he says. "I'm missing these really special times in their lives."

Harper says the number of commuter couples is on the rise, and it's not just the kids who are suffering. "A lot of factors go into whether a commuter marriage can work," says Harper. "How independent each spouse is, how comfortable they are doing tasks, how flexible they are. Commuter couples obviously have a lot less sex. It's not ideal, but it can work."
And it has to. Because while both couples say they hope there's an end in sight, right now, neither can see one.

"One of the things we've tried to stay focused on is that we both have jobs, even if they're not in the same city, and a lot of people don't," says Melissa. "We know it's not forever."    

Photo: Melissa Lewis and her husband, Ray, have been in a long distance relationship since Ray was transferred to Wilmington a few months ago. They stay connected by using webcams.