Can This Long Distance Marriage Work?

Posted on Jul 8 2015 - 11:05am by Dr Hedda Mae

Dear Dr. Hedda

It’s complicated. Fernando and I have been married for 14 years, and it was a happy marriage until four years ago when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. His treatment was successful except for the fact that he developed “chemo brain syndrome”. His main symptoms are forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating and irritability. As a result of these symptoms he lost his job at a chemical research lab. This led to a severe depression with suicidal thoughts and it made our marriage difficult. He would snap at me for no reason, distance himself from friends and withdraw in general from all the things he previously enjoyed. As bad as that sounds it got worse. A few months ago he had to go back home to Columbia to take care of family business. He was warmly greeted by old friends and offered a research job there. He accepted it without consulting me. He started traveling back and forth from Chicago to Columbia every few weeks. Last week he came home and told me he is going to stay in Columbia and visit me on birthdays, a few holidays and our anniversary. He would pay all my bills and give me a cash allowance of $1,500. a month.
He did not want a divorce.

This is not a marriage by my standards. It would mean I see him about 10 days a year. I suggested that I move there to be with him and he said I would be a burden to him since I don’t speak Spanish.

What should I do ? I don’t want to be alone 355 days a year. I want my husband back. But he says he is happy there and miserable here. I wonder about other women as well. Does he have a girlfriend there. Not wanting a divorce is maybe just saving him time and money and he wants a back-up plan if things go bad there.

Alone and confused.


Dear A & C:

This is complicated. But you do have several choices: accept the relationship on his rules,
divorce him and get on with your life, enlarge your social network to fill your time or learn Spanish and surprise him next time he comes home. This last choice is loaded with pitfalls. Saying you would be a burden is a very loaded statement. What is it about his new life that he doesn’t want to share with you ? Many people in Columbia speak English. And it would speed up your learning a new language by being there. But does he really want you there?

He seems to have returned to his old life without the failures he bears in yours. Nobody knows about his “chemo brain syndrome” there and he once again has a job doing what he enjoys most.

So what about you? How is your life now? Do you really want to uproot yourself from friends, family and profession to be with him ?

I would suggest giving it a trial period. Say 6 months. See how you are without him and how important is this marriage to you. From what you have written it seems like every change that has been made is in his favor not yours.

Don’t rush in with statements like “if you really love me you would want me there, you wouldn’t call me a burden”.

This time put yourself first and remember some long distance relationships work out well when both partners have friends, family and a career they enjoy. It creates a special feeling for the time you do spend together.

Take a deep breath, relax and call Berlitz. This is not the end of the world, just an unexpected development that can lead to exciting new changes in both your lives.

Dr Hedda

About the Author

Dr Hedda Mae is a psychotherapist based in Oregon. She has been in private practice in both the clinical and private sectors and has spent many years as a national lecturer on subjects such as family dynamics, childhood and adult personality disorders and multicultural psychiatry. She can be reached at -

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