05/03/2014 07:39 am ET Updated Jul 03, 2014

5 Things I Learned About Love (and Myself) After a Year Apart From My Husband

Virginia Sullivan

In my 23 years with my husband, I've experienced many living situations we've had to make work.

Years ago when the kids were home, we saw each other every night and slept in the same bed. Now that the children are grown, our work demands keep us apart. We see each other only 2-3 nights a week -- and live in separate homes.

But the most interesting time was not seeing each other for a year when my husband served isolated duty for the Coast Guard in 2001. He was stationed with 20 other men on Attu Alaska, an island 40 miles from Russia. They lived in a building with triple-paned windows because of the snow. They got mail drops every two weeks if they were lucky. The phone was our lifeline, and I'd wonder how people survived without it.

Yes, a couple living apart for a year can teach you a lot about yourself. Here is what I learned:

1. It isn't romantic. I loved old war movies where the people romantically said goodbye at the train stationm full of love and longing and never knowing if they'd ever see each other. What doesn't come through on the big screen is that romance was 5% -- the other 95% was practical. Where do I get the air conditioning fixed? How do I turn on the lawn mower? Who do I call about the health insurance?

2. It isn't so bad to be the third wheel. My grown children and extended family wouldn't leave me alone. They were constantly stopping by and saying hello, and included me in all camping trips, class plays and softball games for the kids. I was grateful and took advantage of it all. Sitting at home lonely isn't healthy.

3. You have to be smart about your emotions I realized early on that I missed having a partner. I realized spending time with other men probably wasn't a good idea. Some women don't have this issue and even date other men while their husbands are away. I just knew that this would only confuse me more. This was an emotionally gloomy time, so I just didn't add to it.

4. You can do it all. I found I could do a lot that I didn't think I could. I finished the remodel on our house we'd started, and assumed all the things that were on "the man's list." Taking the car to get it fixed was easy -- learning how to barbecue was hard.

5. Everything old can be new again. Of course when my husband came home it was romantic to be together again. Being apart had changed us, but we still felt the same. He was overwhelmed by people after being isolated and needed time to adjust. I had to adjust to making decisions jointly again. It was like we were newly married and we helped each other along.

We have been able to make these situations work because frankly, I'd rather be part-time with him than be full-time with anyone else. Through this time, we learned that as a couple we can weather anything. We are together because we want to be -- not because we need to be with someone.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and how you managed change as a couple. Visit me and share this on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for my newsletter at FirstClassWoman.