For some families, work is in another city — or hemisphere

Bob Handshy talks with his wife, Rebekah, every day — about the weather, the kids' school projects, the new bathroom floor.

He chats with the kids. He plays Hangman with his son, Jace. He tells the children "Be good" and "I love you" and "Good night."

He just does it from 1,900 miles away.

Bob Handshy, who was laid off from Cessna in June, is doing contract work for an aircraft manufacturing plant in Seattle. Rebekah, a stay-at-home mom, lives in Wichita with the couple's three kids.

They are among millions of American couples living apart — sometimes time zones or hemispheres apart — because of work. So-called commuter marriages may be increasing in Wichita as layoffs force more workers to look elsewhere for jobs, a local expert says.

"This isn't something we'd choose," says Rebekah Handshy, 26. "But right now it's the best option, so we deal with it and make it work."

In 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 3.6 million married Americans not including separated couples — were living apart from their spouses. In March, Worldwide ERC, the association for work force mobility, released a report showing that three-fourths of relocation agents surveyed had dealt with at least one commuter marriage, a 53 percent increase since 2003.

"Families are continually changing," said Mike Duxler, a professor of social work at Newman University and manager of the Marriage For Keeps research project.

Today's families migrate more, Duxler said. "Technology and ease of travel means people have the ability to meet and date and even marry and live at a distance, if necessary, so that is happening more and more."

The recession and ever-tightening job market have people looking greater distances for work and may prompt more couples to opt for commuter marriages, Duxler said.

"Some families will do better than others," he said. "But at the very least it is a strain on all families."