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How do couples cope with only two days out seven together?

Four couples tell Kerry McKittrick how absence really does make the heart grow fonder, and how they have coped with the enforced separation that modern living can bring about.

For most of us, saying goodbye to your other half and kids on a Monday morning is just one small feature of the working week. But while many nine-to-five workers can usually look forward to seeing their loved ones at the end of the day, for others it can be a much longer stretch until they are back in the arms of their families.

In the UK, though, these 5:2 relationships – where one partner spends five days away from home at work, followed by two at home – are nothing new. Indeed, viewers of primetime property programmes such as Location, Location, Location will be familiar with the hunt many people undertake for both an idyllic family home in the country and a crash pad in the city for during the working week.

And with improved roads, cheaper airfares and better technology – such as Wi-Fi and superfast broadband to keep in touch with home – taking on the demands of a 5:2 arrangement are becoming ever more of a realistic proposition for many workers.

But what are the drawbacks to such a transitory lifestyle?

We asked four people about the highs and lows they have experienced while working away from home.

'It became the worst 18 months of our lives'

Caroline Britton-Hall (36) works in accounts and lives near Templepatrick with her husband Stephen and their children Beth (4), Charley (2) and Freddie (seven months). She says:

Stephen and I both lived and worked in London and had our first child there. When I fell pregnant with Charley we decided we wanted a better quality of life and to be closer to my family.

I moved over first because it was quite clear that Stephen, who's from Lincolnshire, wasn't going to get a job here – he was working in specialist sales in London at the time. It was 18 months before Stephen was able to get a post here so he jetted back and forth during that time.

It got to the stage where it wasn't working for us and we made the decision that he had to come home. He was flying out first thing every Monday morning, then came home late on a Friday. He did manage to change it so he could work from home on a Thursday night but that wasn't much better. It was probably the worst 18 months of our lives but the fact that we came through it I think has made us stronger and our lives are much more about enjoying our family.

When Stephen was commuting we certainly tried harder. We were out every weekend doing things with the kids but the downside was that 48 hours later, when Stephen was getting on his flight, we hadn't been able to spend any time together, just the two of us. We really missed out on that hour of just chilling out together of an evening that we now do, even during the week.

Stephen moved over here about 18 months ago and is working as an operations manager. It's so much better and the whole thing has changed our perspective on family life.

On Sundays we have what people might think is a mundane routine of just playing with the kids and then maybe going to see my parents but it's an absolute joy for us. We don't feel the need to be seen out at the right kind of places."

'Absence does make the heart grow fonder'

Malachy Hanberry (54) lives with his wife Hilary, who is a volunteering manager for Business in the Community, in Bangor. During the week he works in the Republic as a sales director for Spar. He says:

Hilary and I met years ago while working for Wellworths supermarket chain. Although we got married three years ago we've been together for 16 years and for the last 14 I've been working down south.

I'm originally from Co Monaghan and usually work in Dublin or some other part of Ireland – I have a sales team that looks after 600 shops so my job isn't exclusively based in Dublin.

At the beginning, I was working down there five days a week and because the roads were so bad the temptation to spend three hours in the car at 6pm for one night at home was non-existent.

I used to stay with my sister but now I regularly stay at the same small hotel in Dublin.

Nowadays, the roads have changed and so has technology. I don't have a typical nine to five job so I might be able to spend one day a week at home. It's much easier to get here now too, as from Dublin it only takes me less than two hours to get home.

If I do get home during the week then my wife and I make a point of going out for dinner. I'm not exactly greeted with open arms on a Monday night, though. She's got into a habit of recording all the programmes I won't watch over the weekend and watching them all on a Monday night!

I think that it's true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. The time we spend apart means the time we have together is that much more special.

I know there are people who play golf all weekend because they can see their families every evening during the week, but I just wouldn't do that because it would mean taking more time away from Hilary. We plan to do things together at weekends.

It's so normal for us now I barely notice it. Over the years I've turned down jobs based in Northern Ireland because the way we live isn't our first concern when considering a change. Living at home wasn't the deciding factor, it was about whether I would be taking a less senior role than the one I have now.

We've never even considered Hilary moving down to Dublin because our home is Bangor. It does help that we don't have a load of kids to take into consideration. It's not that we like living apart but our situation makes being together much better. We have to be efficient about what we do. On a Monday morning I get up at 4.40am and I'm away by 5am because the car has been packed and I'm ready to walk out the door. In the same way, when I get home Hilary doesn't have lots of things to do around the house, she's already sorted all that out during the week."

'We make sure to speak on Skype every night'

Rob Bodill (36) lives in Oxfordshire with his wife Sophie and their children Gabrielle (3) and Benjamin (2). He is the CEO of Jyrobike in Holywood. He says:

I was looking for funding for my company – I wanted to set up the business in either London or the US. At an event, though, I met with an investor who suggested setting up the business in Belfast. After about six months and lots of meetings with investors and Invest NI we launched the company over here last year.

I've been going back and forth from England to here for about a year now. It can vary how much time I spend here – it's usually between Tuesday and Thursday but it can be flexible.

I started off by staying in a hotel but I wasn't enjoying having to bring my luggage each week. The hotel has apartments they lease out on a short-term basis and that has worked out much better. I now can come over with just a backpack and don't need to bring everything back and forth.

I find being away from the family really tough. We use Skype and FaceTime a lot. My wife and I have set up dedicated time each evening between 6.30 and 6.45pm where, no matter what I'm doing, I step out, even if just very briefly, to say goodnight to the kids. I can see them and they can see me even if it's only for a few minutes. We do it every single day and if I can't make one of those calls my wife can tell the difference in the kids as they'll be asking about me the next day.

When I am home, particularly at the weekends, I want to spend far more time with the kids because I miss them all week. I take them out to playgrounds and go on outings with them much more and I've really enjoyed it. I'm not so sure I would be jumping out of bed first thing on a Sunday to play on the jungle gym if I had spent all week with them!

If I had a choice, I would like to be in the same place, but Belfast offered us an opportunity as a company that we just couldn't ignore. My wife and I have said, though, that we wouldn't want to continue on this lifestyle for more than a few years so we're now looking into relocating to Belfast full-time."

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'I get to fall in love again every weekend'

Louise Cullen (39) lives in Bellanaleck near Enniskillen with her husband, Martin Montague, and works full-time for the BBC in Belfast. She says:

I went to Fermanagh for work in 2002 and I've lived there ever since. Martin and I met at a wedding in Fermanagh in 2007 and we spent two years going back and forth between there and London, where Martin's from. We got married in 2009 and Martin moved over here to become a freelance sound designer, editor, producer and drama teacher. Then, two years ago, I was relocated back to Belfast.

If I was going to travel to Belfast every day my commute would be about four hours a day so it's not really an option. We love where we live, Bellanaleck is beautiful and very peaceful. We would also have been trading down property-wise if we had sold up in Fermanagh and moved to Belfast.

I travel about a fair amount so I can't really work from home. Depending on shifts, I drive up on a Monday morning and then drive back the next time I'm off.

I've done quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing in Belfast. In January 2013, my grandmother was still alive and I was able to move in with her. We were very close anyway but I became a de factor carer for her for nine months. It was lovely to spend that time with her but she moved into a home in September last year and passed away in October. After that I moved in to my maternal grandfather's house – he had just moved into a home then too.

He has also since passed away and that house will be sold as well. Once that happens I'll be leaning a little more on my sister and brother who still live in Belfast. My parents have retired and moved to Ballycastle.

Everything's up in the air at the moment – money is, of course, a factor. I'm very lucky to have a very close family so I do have lots of options in terms of places to stay. I don't know if we would ever consider moving to Belfast – we might think about moving closer but still staying in the countryside. It's not very high on the agenda now, though.

Our situation has given me time to spend with family, particularly with my grandfather and grandmother. My sister had her second child this year so I've been able to be around for that much more and I'm able to see my Belfast friends during the week. It means I don't have to make special journeys at the weekend and I have lots of time for Martin.

In a slightly soppy moment once, I told someone that although I'm away during the week, when I go home at weekends I get the opportunity to fall in love all over again."

Secrets of a happy 5:2 relationship

  • Make sure as a couple you are both happy with the arrangement
  • Try to stick to a routine – make sure that you walk through the door when you're supposed to each week and make plans to spend time together as a family or as a couple each weekend
  • Be truthful – absence might make the heart grow fonder but distance will make it more suspicious. If you weren't answering your phone, then explain why
  • If you have children, make time to spend with them and your spouse separately. Both you and your partner need downtime
  • And make sure downtime is downtime. If you arrive home at the weekend with a laptop and an armfull of paperwork the arrangement will only seem more stressful
  • Be prepared. If you have a flight first thing in the morning, 5.30am is not the time to discover the printer is out of ink so you can't print your boarding pass. Make sure everything is ready to go the night before

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