Sarah Edghill talks to three couples who manage to keep the torch burning despite being miles apart
Kiran Curtis is 30 and runs his own company in London, Mac Architecture. His wife, Birgit, also 30, is Austrian and lives and works as a doctor in Vienna. They started off living close to one another when their families were next-door neighbours while they were in their teens.

Kiran: We've been together for 10 years and got married last year. At various times we have talked about one or other of us moving, but it's a contentious point. At first Birgit was going to come back here - she went to school in England. But when she started her medical training in Austria it became less easy for her to do that. Likewise, I've now set up my own company and we'd both have to give up a lot to be together.

The plan now is for Birgit to come over here to live when she finishes her training next January. But that date has already shifted a few times, so it might get put back again.

We have our own homes in London and Vienna, and see each other about three weekends a month and keep clothes at each other's flats. We speak every night on the phone, but there's no doubt that our relationship is not a natural one. When we see each other, it's always intense and very loving. Our time together is enhanced because we organise our lives so that all the good bits happen at weekends.

We trust each other totally. There have been jealousies, when one of us felt the other was seeing rather a lot of someone. But now we realise we have separate lives and try to give each other space. There's no point prying too deeply or winding yourself up by worrying unnecessarily.

In any relationship you tend to lean on your partner if things aren't going well, and that can happen as much when you're at a distance as when you're in the kitchen over the washing-up. The difference is that it is easier to ignore your partner's problems at a distance.

It is expensive to pay for flights and phone calls and maintain two flats, but we choose to put our money towards that rather than other things. It is possible that we'd drive each other up the wall if we were together all the time. We must tacitly enjoy our existence, otherwise we wouldn't be doing it. If our lives were so dreadful apart, we'd try harder to work something out.

Birgit: Over the last 10 years about 90 per cent of our relationship has been spent apart, which many people find incredible. Friends in new relationships can't see how we manage, but those who have been married for a few years are usually envious because they can see the good points. They admire the freedom we have, coupled with the fact that our weekends are very special. We never get used to seeing each other, so haven't lost that sense of surprise and I still feel a tingle of excitement when I know I'm going to see Kiran.

I like the independence, being able to choose what I do and go out when I like. I also appreciate us having separate households: there isn't the ritual nagging about whose turn it is to do the dishes. If there's a mess, it's all mine, and I never have to bother planning meals or cooking.

We fit our social lives around each other. I know all his friends in London, but he has more problems here because of the language barrier - his German isn't as good as my English. But all my friends are fascinated to meet up with him, and think of him as quite exotic!

Living apart doesn't get easier the longer you're together. Even now, if I have a bad patch at work or there's tension in the relationship, it's horrible only being able to talk about it on the phone. If we lived together, we'd have to confront a problem and talk it through; having the phone slammed down on you is worse than screaming at each other in the same room. Now we wait until we see each other to discuss difficulties.

Because our work kept us apart over the years, planning for the future now is a problem. Whichever one of us made the move would have to give up a lot and start again in a new country, so there's the worry that one of us might resent the other for being forced to do that. The issue of children is the one thing that will solve it, because to start a family we will have to be together.

Gina Chambers, 43, lives in Southsea and is mother to Ian, 13, and Adam, six. Her husband, Martin, 45, is a telecommunications engineer currently working in Nigeria.

Gina: We've been married for 10 years and Martin has worked all over the world - Malaysia, Iraq, Pakistan. We have talked about the boys and me going with him, but decided that the children are our main priority. The schooling wouldn't be good enough for the boys, and we'd hate to send them to boarding school.

So we stay in England and see Martin three times a year, usually at Christmas, Easter and during the summer, for at least 10 days at a time. The biggest problem is keeping him involved in the family. I don't want him to feel he's missing out, so our one phone call a week mainly consists of me telling him what we've been up to and what the boys are doing at school. It ends up being very practical and there's no time for "I love you".

I also feel I shouldn't burden Martin with too many problems because he's powerless to help, so I tend just to just get on and deal with things myself. I wouldn't tell him if the boiler blew up or the car got broken into.

In many ways it suits me because I'm very independent. I'm happy to make day-to-day decisions, but it's harder with major things. At the moment I'm trying to find a new school for Adam and I'll make the choice by myself because I'm the one who's visited the schools.

At times I do feel low and I miss having Martin here for family occasions like birthdays or weddings. Both boys miss their dad, but although he is physically distant, I make sure he's in their thoughts and we talk about him every day.

Trust isn't an issue, because neither of us has any doubts about the other being faithful.

When Martin is at home it can be awkward. In Lagos he has a steward who does everything for him, and when he's at home he just drops his clothes all over the place. It makes me cross, but we turn it into a joke and try not to argue because time is precious. If he's home for 10 days, we'll spend the first couple relaxing with each other and getting used to having each other around, then for the last few I'll be in a real state because I know he's about to leave again. That leaves us little time to be a normal family.

When I'm going through a crisis or I'm feeling upset I do get resentful because he's not there to help. I then have to stop myself and think about what a good person he is and how I love him.

Martin: Basically, it comes down to money. When I work overseas I earn an enhanced tax-free salary, which gives us a good lifestyle and lets us educate the boys privately - something we both feel strongly about.

The biggest disadvantage is not being around for the children's birthdays, and missing them develop on a daily and weekly basis. Ideally, I would like to be a full-time father.

Gina and I have a very strong relationship, and it would be impossible for me to do this otherwise, because I need her backing and support. She makes sure we have a stable base and I know she will sort out any problems. When I go home she is the one who has to readjust, because she has her own domestic arrangements and routines and these are totally disrupted when I'm back.

Some friends say they don't know how Gina puts up with our situation, and that there must be something wrong with our marriage if we need to do things this way. But it really does suit us. The way we see it, most people lead predictable, boring lives. But for a short period each year we spend some very intense, enjoyable time together as a family and make those weeks special.

If I gave up work tomorrow, we'd certainly find it difficult to live together again. I did spend some time back in England several years ago, and it was painfully awkward for us to adjust to being around each other constantly - we'd grown too independent and were used to making our own decisions. When I was sent abroad again I think we were both rather relieved!

Michelle Norman, 23, works as a PR consultant. She lives in London. Her boyfriend of three years, Adam O'Keefe, is also 23, and lives and works as a financial consultant in Ohio.

Michelle: I met Adam while I was studying in the States for a year. By the time I came back to England, in September 1993, we'd been together for eight months and decided we didn't want to throw our relationship away. I went back at Christmas and since then we've seen each other at least twice a year.

Trust is the biggest element in our relationship. Of course I wonder what he's getting up to at times, but he has the same problem with me. Neither of us has met anyone else and we're not looking. We're comfortable with our situation and want to be a couple.

When we visit it's usually for about three weeks, and every time we have to get to know each other again. We meet up and hope that the feelings are still there and that our relationship will be as good as before. It gets harder each time, because as we get more established in our lives and careers we are bound to grow apart.

We e-mail each other every day. It's so much better than letters because things I want to tell Adam are instantly appearing on his screen thousands of miles away. It means that we don't spend so much time on the phone talking about boring things, and both feel closer because we are in touch all the time.

Every now and then one of us will be cross about something, but we try not to row. If we do argue, it's usually about something trivial, like Adam being out three nights in a row when I wanted to talk to him. But we don't row about major things because we can't afford to let it happen - it's hard to make up properly when you're not face to face.

It's good to have some distance in a relationship - but maybe not this much! I like the fact that I can go out and do my own thing, but still have the security of knowing I've got a boyfriend in the background. But most of the time it's hard to cope with being apart, especially if I'm feeling depressed and just want a big hug. I see couples walking along hand in hand, and wish I could do that with Adam, or just spend time cooking a meal together, or reading the Sunday papers - things normal couples take for granted.

Adam: The good thing about living so far from Michelle is that we both get to travel the world - but it does mean large phone bills, saving up for flights and never having the time to really say the things you're feeling.

When we first get together on our visits it can be hard to be intimate - we'll have been apart for months doing our own thing, and suddenly there's another person to be fitted into the equation. You can't just assume nothing will have changed and that things will be fine.

Every time we're together one of us is on holiday, so it's not a natural relationship and we don't behave exactly as we would at home.

Avoiding confrontation isn't always healthy in a relationship, but part of the way we handle things is to deliberately dampen down our feelings. We try not to start fights or bicker because it's so hard to row with someone who's thousands of miles away. One advantage is that we don't yell at each other for not doing the dishes or row about things that irritate most couples, like not having enough money.

For most of our lives we live as single people. But although my friends treat me as a single guy when I'm out, I know that I'm very much attached. Michelle is so important to me that I want to make it work.

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