Q&A with J: Cultivating Intimacy During Physical Separation

Today’s question from a reader is a common scenario. It happens to many couples somewhere in the course of their marriage: being apart.

I’m gonna be away from my wife for a business trip and at this point not sure when I’ll be back. The business is both ministry related as well as commercial etc. We felt God leading us this way and we just want to be obedient. But naturally, it’s tough!

However, I’m concerned about our intimacy diminishing because of the physical separation. What are some ways that we can maintain our delicately cultivated intimacy (including our sex life) while we are away from each other? HELP!!!!

Q&A with J: Cultivating Intimacy During Physical Separation

I’ve struggled to answer this question, because the longest I’ve been completely away from my husband is 12 days. And those were some really long days. After he got back, I remember having a conversation with a friend who said about my husband’s busy business trip, “I bet all he wanted to do when he got back is sleep.” I answered, “Well, that’s not all he wanted to do.” And I had my own desire to catch up on some sexual intimacy.

So who am I to say, “You can make it for months without sex with your spouse! No problem“?

But having talked to others with this issue in their marriage, I do have a few thoughts. Perhaps my commenters will add their own good ideas.

Use technology. We are blessed to live at a time when technology links us in a way like never before. I can talk, text, email, Internet chat, or Skype with someone across the globe. I remember when calling long distance took a while to connect and you hurried through the phone call so you didn’t have to pay the cost of a kidney for the experience. Nowadays, you can keep your kidneys and converse across the many miles without much difficulty.

So use the technology to stay in touch! Talk about which avenues or apps would work best for you two, then set up the devices or accounts. You might want to schedule a specific time, like Wednesdays at 6 p.m. EST will be dedicated to conversation and connection. You’ll likely need to discuss some household, childcare, or practical matters, but make sure you also date your spouse as part of that experience. That is, talk about yourselves and your relationship.

And yes, you can “sext” if you want. Sexting is send suggestive messages or images. But I recommend you make sure they’re suggestive more than revealing. Technology is often in the cloud, hackable, or retrievable, and you don’t want a full frontal nude of yourself to be discovered by someone else. A phone conversation is pretty safe, so if it works for you, go ahead and play, “What are you wearing?”

Focus on non-physical intimacy. As mentioned before, date your spouse while you’re away. I know that sounds crazy, but it can be done. I fondly recall late nights on those 12 days apart when my husband would call at the end of his day and we’d talked for a while before falling asleep. Honestly, it was more conversation than we often got at home together.

So use this time to develop other forms of intimacy: intellectual, emotional, spiritual. For intellectual intimacy, read the same book together and discuss what you learned or discuss the headlines of the day. Share what’s happening in your own communities and what you think about it. For emotional intimacy, talk about your challenges, successes, hopes, and dreams. For ideas, check out conversation starters from Generous Wife, Stupendous Marriage, or Family Life; you can pull out one of these each time you talk to broaden your discussion. Grow spiritually together by asking how you can pray for your spouse or pray together. Choose a Bible study and go through it simultaneously, discussing what you learn.

By the way, sexting and sex-talk doesn’t work for some spouses. Some spouses say that visual imagery and sexual reminders while they’re away make them ache all the more for sexual contact. If it’s problematic to be reminded or aroused through talk or text, that’s another reason to hold off and focus on other kinds of intimacy.

Remember and anticipate. You’re not getting face-to-face intimacy, but you have before and you will again. Keep your mind on your spouse and guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23) by remembering your beautiful memories from the past and anticipating time together in the future. Remind yourself that this is only a season. Honestly, we can get through all kinds of struggles when we know they have an expiration date.

Take the long view of your wife and your marriage. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Of course this scripture is in the context of persecution of early Christians, but there is a takeaway for your situation in that you and your wife have prioritized this trip for God’s glory and you can keep in mind that the separation is a “momentary trouble” in comparison to the beauty of your marriage and your obedience to God’s will.

Just don’t get caught up in the bad day, that likely will come, when being away from your beloved feels like you’ve been gutted. You can hang in there, knowing that you have an intimate past and an even more intimate future.

A couple of other issues:

Keep your eyes and mind on your wife. Intentionally make the same covenant Job made: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” (Worth reading the whole passage: Job 31:1-12.) Then keep the covenant. It may be harder while away from your wife, but concentrate on her and her alone.

Can you masturbate? Plenty of Christian marriage authors believe all solo masturbation is a problem. I’m not among them. I believe the controlling principle is focusing your sexual energy solely on your spouse. If you’re at home masturbating when you could be making love to your wife, that’s a problem. If you’re masturbating while entertaining thoughts of other women, that’s a problem — or rather, sin. If you’re away for a long time, thinking solely about your wife, and about to burst, I think it’s fine to take care of things so you can make it another day with purity on your side. Some spouses can do this responsibly, some can’t. Know which one you are and act accordingly.

Wishing you all the best with your business trip and time apart! May God bring you together again soon.

13 thoughts on “Q&A with J: Cultivating Intimacy During Physical Separation

  1. libl

    My husband would close the intimacy/relationship box to cope. He would focus solely on the work at hand, even not bothering to call me. If I sexted him or flirted, it would annoy him. If he did call, it was how are the kids and that’s it. I could always tell when he was close to being able to return home because he would open the box again and the flirty texts would start.

    At first it hurt me and I felt we ought to maintain marital intimacy somehow. His laundry bore evidence of masturbation sometimes, but he claimed it was just physical release and he didn’t fantasize. But, if that was how he coped, who was I to challenge it. After all, he was the one working and away. I was at least home and able to cuddle with our babies.

    I do NOT recommend that most spouses endure lengthy separation. (There are exceptions. Some can cope quite well.) If there is any way a spouse can join in the travels, or the traveling spouse can stay home, they ought to.

    Reply
  2. Jessica

    Great article. I’d add that you don’t have to solo masturbate. When physical distance is a problem, you can always have some time for mutual masturbation while talking on the phone. You can even talk to one another that way or describe what you’re doing. That can be a great way to release some sexual tension while also connecting with your spouse.

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  3. Keith

    Great advice J, but I must comment on the masturbation issue.

    Masturbation really is an individual issue. For me I have abstained for more than 10 years now and the reason is that it leads me to seek out porn. So called “Innocent” Victoria’s Secret type images then steadily more explicit. This has the knock on effect of wanting to masturbate more. It becomes a vicious circle.

    My advice is, like me, if masturbation is a trigger to seek sexual stimulation other than from your wife, then don’t do it.

    If it’s not a problem for you go ahead, but proceed with caution!

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      That comports with what I said — some people can do it, some can’t. I applaud you for your decision in your life. Well done!

      Reply
  4. Eric

    The older I get the less I’m interested in sex, but the more I want to be with my dear wife. In nearly 53 years, we’ve been separated four or five times for a month. About 30 years ago I spent a month in Africa with a missionary organization. No sexual temptations that I recall. I did see a beautiful woman naked in a hospital, but my reaction was embarrassment, and zero temptation either at the moment or in thoughts later. One phone call, which a friend paid for. It cost 60 bucks for a poor connection (that’s maybe $180 in today’s money!) I did write letters, but most of them were still in the postal system when I got home. The couple that did get through before me I paid someone to mail from Europe.

    Ten years later I spent a month in California on a business trip. I went to Newport Beach just to see the Pacific Ocean, and waded in up to my ankles. There were surfers (mostly guys) and lots of girls in bikinis (majorly boring–tanned skin is tanned skin. A girl is prettier in a flouncy dress).

    Three times in recent years my wife has flown to visit one of our sons and grandchildren for a month. Most recently was this January (2016). I had serious trouble sleeping, and I was more lonesome than I was my first semester of college when I was 18. I’d reach across the bed in the dark, but she wasn’t there. We’ve decided we’ll never separate again for more than a week!

    I know some men do stray on such occasions. But having had several acquaintances who traveled like this, I do know that moms with kids at home have it easier than their hubs. One caution. though: one of my sons did a tour with the U.S. Navy, and he was on cruises for 90 days at a stretch while his kids were small. It took months for the kids to accept him back into the family.

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  5. Anon

    My husband has to go away for work nearly every summer. Depending on where he goes it can range from 2 weeks – 2 months. And generally I have to assume that he will not be in range of the internet or cell service. Every once in a while he might be able to hit an internet cafe and check up on emails, but I can’t count on it. So… in those circumstances I try to write (or the more lazy version of email) him letters about what is going on. He does the same and then when we get back together we share the letters. I also try to take that time when he is away to pray extra for him, especially at night when I might otherwise be cuddling with him before sleep. It helps me to stay busy- learn a new craft/ make a fitness goal… something to keep me a little extra busy. And finally, focus on the reunion. Which is always sweet (and think of creative ways to make it more sweet).

    Reply
    1. Eric

      One of my wife’s nieces is a boilermaker, which requires him to be away, often for weeks, sometimes for months, with a weekend home now and then. Their kids are now grown, and they sold their house so that she could travel with him. One job, on which he was the boss (well-paid, as are many men who travel for work), took about two years. So they purchased a condo.

      I do occasionally travel to a book convention, which can keep me away for a week. Our kids are now grown, so DW usually comes with me, and we put up in a motel–or a couple of times with family.

      Reply
  6. Keelie Reason

    I agree with you on this one J. I think that solo sex is totally different than masturbating while away from your spouse. Solo sex often lends to secrecy, and if you and your spouse have honest conversations about what you are doing while the other is away, it isn’t quite the same in my book. I think you do have to set up perimeters though. If you are going to choose to masturbate while away, you guys should have some confines in which you do it. Maybe you will decide that you need to text the other and let them know you are going to. Maybe you should only do it while actually talking with each other. Maybe you are ok if they do it as long as they share with you that they did. Whatever it is, you should have an open book with one another. I don’t really see that as solo sex, because you are involving your lover in the goings on of your sexual satisfaction.

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  7. Anonymous

    A year ago my wife and I had to be a part for over 3 months. We would text often to stay in touch and we talked daily by phone. We had a special app for couples that we would use for more intimate conversation. That did two things: 1. If one texted on it the other knew the thought pattern and the expectation, and 2. it prevented us from sending something to the wrong person on a text when we thought we had each others. We would set date nights about every 6 days that would be via text or FaceTime. We used both frequently.

    We found we missed the getting ready for bed time in which we often talked about the day and caught up with one another without the kids around. We would FaceTime one another and then go about getting ready for bed. We could hear one another and kinda be together. And yes, we could see each other as we changed clothes. We might stop and watch, but not necessarily. Those times were very helpful for fostering intimacy. That helped provide a connection to a normal routine for us.

    I’ve since come up with another idea that could help couples — there are good apps that allow you to store pictures and documents in private and off of the internet. A couple could take a few pictures and store them in their respective apps. Then if they wanted some intimate time together and didn’t want to send pictures they could encourage one another to look at the secure pictures on their apps. They can talk to one another and be flirtatious and intimate and provide visuals at the same time.

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  8. Kalley

    First, I should point out that while my hubby and I met in-person and spent almost 3 months together inseparably, much of the remainder of our 2.5 year dating/engagement relationship was long-distance due to circumstances beyond our control. We have been married now for almost 11.5 years, and we have had two lengthy separations thus far in our marriage. In 2014, he traveled for his internship out-of-state for 10 weeks during the summer, and I did my internship out-of-state last summer for 13 weeks. We were each unable to travel with one another due to other commitments back home (apartment rent/upkeep, college classes, ETC). During his internship, I was unable to visit him due to distance and finances (although we certainly did try), but my internship was only 2 hours away, so I was able to come home for an extended 4th of July weekend. We also tried setting up a trip for him to visit me, but again that didn’t work out. Were those separations difficult? Yes! Did we grow closer during our long-distance conversations and dates? Absolutely! In fact, I found this blog and others while hubby was away for his internship. The conversations we had about romance and our marriage thanks to resources such as this blog have since given us a much deeper level of marrital intimacy! I have not read any of the above comments just yet, so if any of my ideas are repeats, I’m sorry. I tend to be the one to plan more of our dates, but here are a few of our favorites for this instance. Our first long-distance date during hubby’s internship involved each of us getting the ingredients for a new recipe and cooking/eating our new dinner find via FaceTime. On another date, we used Spotify to be our own love song radio show hosts, taking us back to our dating relationship when we loved Delilah. We took turns sending the direct Spotify link to each love song to the other person, and we had to send a “dedication” along with the link. We called that our date of dedication, and both agree that this was one of the most memorable dates ever! I love to sing (hubby doesn’t). So, I took a risk (legally, of course), and left singing telegrams on his work voicemail. I of course made sure that the songs were appropriate for anyone to hear, in any event that this happened. He looked forward to this so much, that I actually received a phone call from him asking where his song was for that morning…? LOL! We do not have any children yet, and DH is struggling to find work in our current city of residence. We cannot relocate for at least another year, as I’m pursuing my Bachelors degree residentially and can’t change this right away. Therefore, hubby is looking for summer internships anywhere in the country, since they’re shorter, and he’s also pursuing Fall/Spring semester internships and/or 1-year AmeriCorps opportunities that are close enough for me to travel to see him within a day. This way, I can go to visit him during my fall and spring breaks (both one week each), and he’ll come home for the Christmas/New Year’s holiday week. While I don’t recommend long separations as a long-term habit if possible, I also recognize that there are certainly those seasons in marriage. One of our very dear friends put it this way: “Sometimes, God asks us as spouses to sacrifice for one another. However, I haven’t known the Lord to ask us to both sacrifice at the same time.” I thought this statement was profound. The entire family sacrifices when one is away, but in our case, it’s not like the Lord has ever asked both of us to be away from home and away from each other at the same time. I’m sorry for my long comment. Thanks for letting me share our experiences.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Appreciate your sharing your experiences. Sounds like you’ve made the best of these absences! Blessings.

      Reply

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