Throughout my life I’ve heard that long distance relationships never work: it’s too hard, it’s too far, you never see your partner, you can’t meaningfully connect, you don’t get to spend any time together, and the list goes on. Although most people can agree that dating someone local is easier than dating someone long distance, that does not mean long distance relationships are impossible. Due to my career path, I’ve often had to move. And although moving for additional education or a job is easy, transplanting relationships is much harder. So in a way, I had to practice getting good at long distance. Here are a few things that helped me along the way.
Discuss your expectations and needs prior to starting a long distance relationship
One of the most important first steps when deciding whether or not to start a long distance relationship is to figure out the end game. Figuring out your expectations, the expectations of your partner, and goals for the relationship is essential. Will there be a time limit to your living apart? Who is going to be the one to move closer to the other? If one of you has to move (which often requires quitting an old job and finding another one), how will the finances be split if one of you isn’t working? While you are apart will you both agree to be monogamous or will the relationship be open? How do both of you feel about the prospect of marriage? Do you eventually want children? It’s easy to avoid the difficult conversations particularly when a relationship is new, but being in a long distance relationship (especially if the agreement is to stay monogamous) does require a specific end game and desires should be communicated honestly.
Communicate regularly, but don’t overdo it
Sometimes with long distance relationships the desire to feel connected to each other can make people feel obligated to talk to each other as often as they can, and sometimes overdo it. At times there can be intense pressure to talk to each other every free minute of every day. This puts unnecessary stress on both partners which can strain the relationship. There are errands, work, family, friends, and other obligations to take care of, and sometimes communication can feel like a burden. If that starts to happen, take a break from talking. Maybe send a text, or e-mail, or negotiate that you don’t necessarily have to physically talk on the phone every day.
Make the most of your visits
In long distance relationships the greatest challenge is finding time to spend together. Although it’s important to have discussions about how you both are doing, feeling, how the relationship is going, etc. try to avoid getting into heated debates or discussions about the big things all at once. It is important to talk about goals, and do a relationship check to see how things can be adjusted or improved, but it’s also important to not hold grudges. Sometimes there can be a tendency to harbor grievances that happened during old discussions, and want to air them all out at once the next time you see your partner, but this can sour a visit fairly quickly.
Resurrect snail mail
A fun way to stay in touch with your partner is via snail mail. It’s romantic to get a handwritten letter or post card in the mailbox, especially after a long day. There are things that are difficult to say in a text, e-mail, or phone call. Sometimes the most sincere and meaningful things said to one another are through prose.
Make use of video chat
Depending on how far apart you are from your partner, getting face to face time together is difficult. Thanks to technology, spending time together even when you’re far apart becomes a little bit easier. With video chat you can schedule dates, watch a movie together, play a game, talk about your day, and have the ability to see each other in real time. If your time zones are so different that real time conversations are not possible, think about recording short videos and sending them to your partner to keep them updated about your day.
Don’t punish your partner
Sometimes things get lost in communication when conversations take place via text or during a phone call. When we communicate in this way, we don’t get the benefits of seeing body language, facial expressions, and other cues that let us know how our partner is feeling. These miscommunications can be frustrating, and depending on how often they happen can lead to behaviors that are not helpful to a relationship. A few examples are the silent treatment, purposely waiting to text back knowing that this will make your partner uncomfortable, ignoring phone calls, etc. If you’re not in the mood to talk to your partner at that time, it may be a good idea to communicate that to them so they aren’t worrying about why you’re not answering your phone. Remember, distance means that people have longer to reflect on things, and they may worry about whether or not you’re safe, if something bad happened to you, and that’s not a fair position to put them in. Frankly it’s cruel.
Trust is a corner stone to any relationship. Finding a way to trust another person when they’re far away is critical. Are you going to be ok with your partner going out with friends on a Friday night, or are you going to sit and worry about what they may be doing until they get in touch with you again? Will you be supportive of their desire to let off some steam and relax for a weekend, but be upset if they go somewhere without cell phone service? Will you be happy for them if they are invited to a weekend getaway with new work friends, or will that invoke feelings of jealousy that you can’t be there? This is another reason to negotiate expectations, so that you both can agree on what types of behavior and levels of communication are acceptable or unacceptable in the relationship.
Don’t force it
Like all relationships there will be tough times, and there will be blissful times. Sometimes the fastest way to ruin a relationship is to try and force your relationship into being something it’s not. Sometimes you want it to look like the relationships you see around you. That can cause you to plan every detail, control each situation, and execute every part of your relationship to try and achieve relationship perfection all the while neglecting the beauty of spontaneity, discovery, and surprise. All relationships are different. What may be acceptable for one person may be worrisome for another, so comparing your relationship to that of your friends is often unhelpful. It’s not a competition. Learn to accept that sometimes things will not go smoothly, despite adequate thought and planning. Relationships at times are difficult, but hanging in together during the hard times can make your relationship much stronger in the long run.
*Originally published on the Inpathy Bulletin