Rhonda Burchmore on How to Navigate Long Distance Relationships

Rachi’s reflections….

Rhonda Burchmore

Almost every other topic I’ve written about – nerves, knock backs, real estate, approaching agents etc., I feel adequately experienced to comment. But in terms of navigating a successful long distance relationship… I have no business even pretending to be an expert. Three times I have tried and three times it has failed.

Struggling to write, I googled quotes about distance and love and end up rolling my eyes almost as much as the time someone in the industry told me my ingrown toenail was due to unresolved emotional issues…. (Pretty sure it was from the rose gold Nike’s I was sporting which were a size too small – they were half price at DFO).

So how far is too far away, and how long is too long apart? I found a quote: “Love knows know distance.” I beg to differ. Being the love guru that I am, when I’m at home in Sydney I employ the radius rule. I won’t date anyone who lives more than a 15km radius from my house in South Sydney. My inner western boundary is Strathfield, the whole Eastern suburbs are fine and North Sydney to the north. Although, I’d prefer to not date someone from the north side of the bridge, because A) that toll is $14.04 round trip and B) we’re different, the north side and me- cut from a different cloth. They’re linen and I’m cheesecloth or maybe a polyester blend at best.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies published a paper, ‘Towards the reason of Understanding Divorce.’ The most commonly cited reasons for breakups in Australia are: 27% Communication problems, 21% incompatibility, 20% affairs, 5.5% physical violence, 7.5% drug or alcohol abuse, 4.7% financial pressures and 4.7% mental health. These issues affect both proximate and long distance couples alike.

The good news is: long distance relationships are no more likely to fail than proximate/in person relationships. In fact, navigating distance requires your relationship to be based on true emotional compatibility rather than sexual chemistry, shared experience or habit. When all you have is conversation and nudie picks, compatibility is prime. (Also, be careful with those nudie pics – the photos will definitely be leaked from the cloud one day by some 12-year-old Julian Assange wannabe in a scandal called Dickileaks).

Statistically, Long Distance Relationships are on the rise. The primary reasons being: military service, education and the recent explosion of large-scale commercial musicals in Australia*.

*I made that up. It’s actually employment opportunities.

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook and previous VP of Google, is one of the top earners in the Silicon Valley said in her book Lean In, ‘the most important career choice you’ll make is whom you marry.’ Whilst she is specifically referring to women in the corporate world and the necessity of a supportive partner, this is also paramount in the Entertainment Industry where travel is necessary and work is stressful, an unwilling partner can easily lead one to throw in the towel. The solution – worry much less about the measure of distance between you and much more about the measure of support you find IN that person.

While researching for my interview with Rhonda Burchmore, I expected the interview to result in a list of behaviours or structures that someone with a successful relationship puts in place, to ‘make it work’. I.e. follow these 10 steps and you’ll be right. That’s probably because I like rules. Black and white formulas and structures – that’s how my brain works. From what I had researched, experts suggested things like: reading the same book at the same time to have common experiences to discuss, or always having booked your next visit so there is something to look forward to, or placing ground rules in place so that expectations are clear, leaving no one disappointed etc.

Whilst all these may be helpful, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, for Rhonda, it’s actually far more simple. It’s not long distance or our industry, which make relationships difficult, it’s attempting it all with the wrong person. As such, the first half of Rhonda’s advice below is about what type of person is worth doing life with, and the second half is how to treat each other.

Needing little introduction, Rhonda Burchmore is an icon of the Australian, the West End and Broadway stage. Her breakthrough performance was in Australia’s 1988 production of Sugar Babies opposite Garry McDonald. Later that year, she appeared in the West End production opposite Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller. On the West End, she also starred in the revival of Stop the World – I want to Get Off! Shortly thereafter, David Atkins wrote a role specifically for Burchmore in the tap-dancing musical Hot Shoe Shuffle. Her cabaret show Red Hot & Rhonda played to an audience of over 60,000 in Melbourne. The same year she secured a role in the Broadway show, Easter Parade and later Into the Woods with the MTC.

She has released 4 albums to date, and was a regular guest on the variety show, Hey Hey, It’s Saturday. In 1999, Burchmore played the lead role in The Production Company’s first show, Mame. She would also play the title role in their Annie Get your Gun. Other productions include: Guys and Dolls, Tanya in Mamma Mia!, Urinetown The Musical, Tom Foolery, Respect: A Musical Journey of Women, Song and Dance, They’re Play Our Song, Iolanthe, Die Fledermaus and An Evening with Sondheim.

Rhonda Burchmore in Rude Awakening at SLIDERhonda Burchmore in Rude Awakening at SLIDE
Rhonda Burchmore in Rude Awakening at SLIDE

Rhonda met and married Nik Jeuniewic when she was in her early 20s. Nik is a Psychiatrist with a successful practice in Melbourne. Their love is based on a strong friendship and they have weathered and flourished through 30 years of her wonderful career on stage. Below is her insight on how they did it.

Be honest- put your cards on the table

The reality of the entertainment industry in Australia is that you will have to travel for work. It’s not like London, NYC or LA where you can base yourself in one spot and rarely leave. If you intend to continue with this career, there is no point in hiding or minimising that truth to a partner. “When I met Nik, I was young and just starting my career. He was very aware of the career I was getting into, and there were no secrets about the fact that I would have to travel. It’s where my dreams were- to travel to London or America. That was the deal when I married him, and there were no surprises.”

Find someone who embraces everything about your job

There are plenty of people around who are not understanding about the unique demands of this industry, so when you find someone who is, it’s a great sign. They need to be OK with distance, help ground you, and be emotionally supportive. “When Nik came along, and actually embraced everything to do with my job, I knew he was different. Everyone said, ‘it’s never going to last.’ (He has a completely different job. He’s in medicine – a Psychiatrist, and then there’s me in the crazy world of showbiz.)

He’s an amazing emotional support, which a partner needs to be. We are so vulnerable in our careers to everything – auditions, rejections etc. A lot of people don’t have that support system in their lives. Although Nik and I are connected in a lot of ways, we have very different groups of friends. I love that with him, I’m not just living show biz the whole time. He’s guided me through, and our business is not an easy one. He’s a good soul. His advice is always different to people in the industry because he’s been away from it… and I hate to say it, but most of the time he’s right. I’m very blessed.”

Actually LIKE them

Here’s a terrifying / interesting thought: “No one has a magic ball. No one knows if it’s going to work. People fall out of love everyday. But with Nik, apart from loving each other, we still really LIKE each other, and respect each other. I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather spend time with. It’s easy. I’ve always had a crazy attraction to older men; he wasn’t necessarily the movie star looking man. But I just knew he was the smartest person I’d ever met, well read, and in so many areas of life. He’d been married before and is a true gentleman, who spoilt me rotten which is very attractive. In our industry, you meet a lot of very good-looking men, but you have to have something more there than physical attraction. The two of us had a conversational and spiritual connection.”

Be realistic- It’s not sunshine every day

Rhonda described the realistic approach she takes to relationships within the unique demands of long distance. This can guard against the inevitable disappointment when its not roses everyday. “It’s not sunshine every day. Every couple has its ups and downs. Even when I’m in a different city in Australia, when we come back together, there’s always an adjustment period for sure. Especially those big times away, when you have your own life and time, just getting used to each other again- finding a compromise. (It’s usually me asking him to do things, nagging if you will, to get things done.)

Distance is bitter sweet

For performers, usually doing the thing you love means being away from the people you love. “What a bittersweet thing- you get this amazing opportunity, it’s every actors dream, but you have to be away! The hardest and longest time I felt this was when I was in London doing Sugar Babies on the West End, but Nik remained in Melbourne. This was before mobiles and we wrote letters. The separation was 3 months at the most. He would come over for opening night, then about 3 months later. It is very lonely and tough. A lot of honesty and trust are required.

One positive side is, you’ve got far more time to focus on work, your craft, but there’s also that longing. My perfect world is to be in my hometown and working.”

See each other as often as possible

Whilst Rhonda doesn’t keep to strict rules as some couples do with visit timeframes, she does aim to see Nik as often as possible and comments on how having a child affected that. “Whenever I’m away, we speak a couple of times a day. I always ring before bed from wherever I am. We see each other maybe once a month, although it was much harder when Lexie was young. When I was doing Mamma Mia, and I was interstate, I used to fly back every single weekend. If I didn’t have a young child, I wouldn’t have done that, but we aim for about once a month.”

Be in constant communication

I asked Rhonda about whether social media has revolutionized her ability to feel connected in spite of the distance. In my own experiences, face time, text messages/emails etc., can ensure feeling closer than the reality of geography. But for Rhonda, the form of communication doesn’t matter. “If it is to survive, you need to become excellent communicators. I’m inept with Social Media; I’m only just on Facebook recently, and only because I wanted to let people know I was doing a show! My husband is a technical reject- he doesn’t know how to text etc., so for us it hasn’t changed much. When we’re in the same city, we speak 3-4 times a day and are in constant communication.”

Trust each other

When you’re away from a loved one, you don’t necessarily know what they’re doing all day, you’re not experiencing life in the same space. In that instance it’s easy for our minds to roam and fear the worst- who are they hanging out with tonight? He talks about that girl a lot etc., Rhonda believes security is key:

“If you’ve found the right person- trust it. Don’t let your imagination wander. Both parties won’t look for something else. It can work! It takes great communication, great understanding and give and take from both sides.

When one will not give away their career for the other one to be in the same city, there must be trust. If you don’t have that communication or trust, you’ll just think they’re seeing someone, or playing around. That never entered my mind with Nik when I married him. I’m pretty instinctual about good people.”

Distinguish compromise from sacrifice

This is an interesting distinction to draw here, because many people conflate the two things. Compromise is a dispute settlement where BOTH sides make concessions. Sacrifice is when ONE person gives up something valued for the sake of someone else’s consideration. Rhonda’s previous experiences requested sacrifice, which she wasn’t willing to do.

“Like a lot of partners, my boyfriend at University said to me; ‘You’ve got to give all that away, and be my wife, move to the country and raise children.’ That was a big turn off for me! I thought, ‘you’ve got to be kidding- I’d give you away first!’ I heard alarm bells. You take away a big chunk of me if you ask me to give that up. I may as well roll up in a ball and die.

Everyone’s personal of course. We get so much thrown at us, we have to personally sacrifice so much to succeed in this biz. I’m producing this Abba gig myself, and to make it work, I have to tour regionally around Australia. Nik is used to that, but a lot of couples go, ‘Oh well, I’m sick of you going away every weekend, I’m leaving.’ But because our hours and demands are not normal, you need someone who is going to compromise a little.”

Live without regrets

Many aspects of this career are time sensitive, and require extensive training and commitment at a young age. Rhonda referenced many friends who gave it all up for their partner’s career, but later discovered the tragedy that it was too late to go back and find what gave them wings.

“Nik has given me any opportunity and allowed me to go and pursue whatever I like. (Although, he said he’d divorce me if I ever went on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here) These days, things lean a bit more towards equality, but I know so many men who expect the women to stay in one spot. Dancers and young gorgeous people go on cruises etc. That’s when you need someone to accept that. You don’t want any regrets!”

Show love in the small things

“Everyone morning I get a big cuddle and kiss and an ‘I love you.’ We’re not a big valentines type couple. It’s the small things, something simple. Nik comes home with a specific champagne from the early days or a dinner etc. It becomes difficult to surprise or buy for someone in time, but he’s very generous to Lexie and myself.

Avoid jealousy and competition

“There must be a genuine support and love for each other. With lots of couples, if one is more successful, it gets competitive. I can count on one hand the number of couples in this business that have sustained an equal amount of success. Usually one is more successful- career and financially, and that’s when jealousy can creep in. When you get into jealousy or competition land, the rails can easily fall off.

It’s good to have different interests. I feel happy that Nik allows me to walk away from our industry for a minute. We can become so enmeshed in that circle of showbiz folk. It’s going: we’ve got something very special here, and working towards that.”

Everyone is individual and every relationship is different.

It is said that comparison is the root of all discontent. Sometimes you see couples that do every single thing together- both are in the industry and they live, work and play together. It’s sage to remember that what makes someone else happy, might not work for you.

“Accept that everyone is individual. Nik is 15 years older than I, and in terms of respect and manners- he treated me like a princess, he was wise, and in terms of life experience, he could share that with me too, to guide me.

We have time together whether it be holiday or dinner time, in the garden, fishing, walking the dogs, but he will go off and do his own things – he’s a historian and into sport, which drives me nuts. When he does that, I’ll go off and watch a show or put on a CD. We have our different stuff. It’d drive me nuts if we were Mr. and Mrs. everything at once. But he is my rock and the reason I’ve sustained such a long career.”

Rhonda’s upcoming show ABBAsolutely Fabulous is about to start touring the country from May 5. Along with Lara Mulcahy, it’s a hilariously funny romp through Abba’s greatest hits. For details and tickets visit: rhondaburchmore.com/new-events

Rachel Cole

Rachel has a degree in Psychology from The University of Sydney but is currently masquerading as understudy for Miss Honey and Mrs Wormwood in the Australian production of Matilda the Musical. She likes to think about what makes people tick. She also likes: Podcasts, politics, pepperoni pizza, property, puns, puppies and cheap things. If you know of a political podcast full of puns we can listen over a cheap pepperoni pizza while we walk a cheap dog looking at cheap property, we might just be fast friends. Follow Rachel on Instagram at: @rachelacole.

Rachel Cole

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