I was saving this post for further down the road, but since I know a lot of people are separated from their partners during the current global pandemic, I thought I might go ahead and share my thoughts on long-distance relationships.
If you’ve ever been in an LDR or are currently in one, you know what I’m talking about. Not being able to see your partner in person and give them a hug after a long day is miserable and isolating. Sure, you try your best to keep in contact with each other, but both of you lead entirely separate lives with your own routines. Time zones differences can complicate things even further.
In the time between carefully scheduled Skype dates, there are countless opportunities for us to allow fear, jealousy, and doubt to creep in and sabotage the bond we share with someone. Exacerbated by the miles between us, small arguments can seem like the end of the world. When we give in to our insecurities, it’s easy to misinterpret an unclear text message or spend too much time stalking their social media and creating false narratives in our heads. We hopelessly pick fights and wonder if our significant other would be better off with someone else. So how do we cope with these difficulties and protect our relationships from all the outside interference? Is it even possible?
From my experience, the key to a successful long-distance relationship is having a plan to close the gap. Unless you’re ok with being in an LDR forever, at some point, one or both of you will have to be willing to relocate. When there is no clear end in sight, the void between you can feel overwhelmingly awful. Even with visits here and there, this dynamic is unsustainable in the long-term.
Relationships should provide respect, honesty, compassion, love, support, and the opportunity to grow together. They should never directly cause us harm. If living closer to your partner seems impossible, consider if both of you are willing to endure the pain of being apart indefinitely. Maybe you both love each other dearly, but if neither party is willing to compromise for a future together, is your relationship truly a priority? I don’t say this to criticize anyone because ultimately we have the freedom to decide what we do with our lives. But, in a romantic relationship, I think it’s paramount for those involved to discuss their goals and expectations. A healthy relationship is one with a sustainable future both parties want to work toward together.
The next step to maintaining your connection is the best part—plan exciting visits during your time apart! Maybe you’re entering a two-year graduate program across the country, that doesn’t mean you have to go two years without seeing your partner. My boyfriend is currently in our hometown while I am working abroad for a year. I flew home for two weeks in December after five long months apart, and we were able to spend some much-needed quality time together. Being together physically reminded both of us why we fell in love and why we were fighting so hard for our relationship. I know flights can be ridiculously expensive, but it is possible to set money aside (if you have an income) and prioritize a travel budget. Sure, I could’ve added extra funds to my savings or spent two weeks on a beach in Thailand, but in any relationship, you have to make sacrifices. I wanted to see my partner more than anything else I could’ve done with my paycheck. If you love someone, you make them a priority.
Get together over the holidays and take turns flying or driving to each other. Alternatively, meet somewhere in the middle of your respective cities. If the distance isn’t too far, spend time together every other weekend if possible. Not every trip has to be jam-packed with activities, but you should try to plan a few special date nights that will be all the more memorable after so much time apart. The nice thing about visits during an LDR is how special they feel. You won’t waste a second together because you know your time is limited and precious.
It’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself to have the perfect week or weekend. Life happens, so go with the flow and be happy you’re with the person you love. And don’t forget about downtime! On our last visit, my boyfriend and I planned a lot of activities to do on our second day in Atlanta. We were going to see a winter light display, but I was exhausted and jet-lagged. We cancelled our night out, changed into our pajamas, and cozied up for a relaxing night on the couch with a Christmas movie. It was the perfect ending to our day, and I don’t think I’ve ever slept better. If you dream of living together someday, downtime with your partner is also a great preview for how your relationship will hopefully progress.
So, you’ve both established a plan to eventually date in close proximity. In the meantime, you’ll schedule regular video chats and visit each other as frequently as your budgets allow. But things can still happen that throw a wrench in your plans. What do you do if a family member gets ill, you lose your job, or the CDC makes travel impossible? Now is the time to fall back on what makes any relationship strong regardless of the miles that separate you.
It sounds cliche, but you have to communicate. No one can read minds, so it’s time to get comfortable speaking up when there is a problem. Tell each other how you feel and don’t let small upsets fester under the surface because they will come out eventually and probably more explosively than you’d prefer. Get comfortable with “I feel” statements that allow you to express your emotions without pointing the finger at your partner. My therapist suggested this method to me because I can be non-confrontational to my detriment. As a recovering codependent with a host of mental issues and assorted trauma, I have a bad tendency to prioritize other people’s feelings while suppressing my own. If conflict is hard for you, start by addressing the small issues. “I feel sad when you wait a day to respond to me.” You can even go a step further by expressing why you feel the way you do and offer a potential solution. This method turns potential fights into problem-solving discussions. Here’s an example based on a few exercises I did with my therapist:
“I feel hurt when you don’t respond to me all day. I know you’re busy, but it makes me feel like I’m less of a priority to you. Is there a time we could schedule to chat that works for both of us so I don’t feel like I’m being ignored?”
It’s also necessary to communicate when our partner does something we like! Express gratitude to your girlfriend when she mails you a letter. Tell your boyfriend you feel secure and happy in the relationship when he sends a goodnight text. Remind your partner how much you appreciate their kindness when they ask how your day is. Even if you’re not together in person, your partner does things for you that sustain the relationship and make you happy. Take time to recognize their efforts. Most importantly, ask your partner what you can do to be more loving and supportive, and then do it! We all have different love languages, so get on the same page with your partner about both your needs.
All relationships require trust, but this is especially true for people dating long distance. Of course, it’s natural to have some anxiety and doubt, but if you truly believe your partner is laughing behind your back with their side piece, then you probably should’ve worked on yourself in therapy before entering another committed relationship. We have all been hurt or disappointed by an ex in some way. I can’t speak from experience, but I’m sure being cheated on is an incredibly painful betrayal that makes trusting others difficult for a while. However, we cannot let old wounds inflicted by past lovers stay infected if we want to move forward. Think about it. When we are still actively hurting from the past, how can we focus on the future? Take time to heal and process what happened so that you can recognize your partner as an entirely unique person who is separate from your trauma. This person prioritizes you enough to continue dating even when it’s not easy. They chose to be with you through the good and the bad. So honor your commitment to each other and trust they will be faithful unless they give you a real reason to cast doubt. Even if you aren’t worried about your partner cheating, trust that they love you and want a relationship with you even when you feel insecure.
Also, know when to call it quits. You should never stay with someone because you’re afraid you can’t do better or to prove a point to naysayers. Whether you’ve drifted apart, have shifting priorities, or just don’t want a future together, the worst thing you can do is stay in a relationship you know is doomed. If you can’t break up in person, set time aside to talk on the phone or Skype and end the relationship kindly but firmly. Don’t ghost someone or slowly fade out of their life. Have some respect for yourself and your partner and be upfront about what’s going on.
Okay, so we’ve talked about closing the gap, planning visits, communication, and trust. Those are definitely the most important elements of maintaining a long-distance relationship. But wait, there’s more! If you’re still committed to your relationship, you’ll have to get creative. Since you can’t go on dates, cuddle, or be intimate with your partner whenever you want, let’s talk about activities you can do while separated:
- Video chat! Use whatever works for you; I prefer Skype. Schedule a “date” night at least once per week and catch up with each other. Video calls are definitely superior to just talking on the phone because you can see each other’s faces.
- Have a Netflix party. You can download this relationship-saving extension here and enjoy binging your favorite shows together in sync. After the show, talk about what you liked and didn’t like.
- Enjoy video games. Even if you’re not big gamers, chances are there’s something on the internet you can both enjoy playing together. From life simulators to shooters to card games, the possibilities are endless. You can even compete with each other and make fun bets.
- Send cute emails! Okay, hear me out. I know most people associate this form of communication with work, but if you’re on the job and have time to spare, shoot your SO a sweet message letting them know they are in your thoughts. I email my boyfriend while I’m at work because it looks unprofessional to text.
- Take a walk together using video chat. If you have the data to spare, show your significant other your neighborhood while getting some fresh air and exercise. It can help your partner feel more connected to your life.
- Cook a meal together! Again, this involves using video chat but, it can be so much fun watching your partner make a meal. Guess what she’s making based on the ingredients you see. Imagine how it would taste if you were together. If you don’t feel like cooking, order takeout instead.
- Give each other some space. Now, you might be thinking I’m crazy. Don’t long-distance relationships already have too much space? Yes, they do. But feeling like you have to constantly be in contact with your SO is stressful. You don’t want to be clingy or feel suffocated. There’s a communication balance that both of you must find. Chances are, if you’re constantly talking to your partner, you aren’t focusing enough attention on yourself or the other relationships in your life. Put the phone down for a couple of hours and see what the girls are doing for dinner or offer to help your mom clean out the garage. Let your significant other know your plans and tell them you can’t wait to talk later.
- Write letters and send packages! This method is even more old fashioned than the email, but a hand-written love letter is guaranteed to show how much you care. When I’m having a bad day, I read my boyfriend’s letter to me for the millionth time. If you can afford the shipping fees, send a small gift to your significant other as well. Are you sad because you won’t be able to celebrate his birthday next month? Use websites like Amazon to send a thoughtful gift right to his door.
- Flirt!! Establish beforehand what you are comfortable sending and receiving. In general, you don’t need an excuse to send a cheeky text or flirtatious picture. Let your partner know you’re missing them. Create tension and longing for each other by building anticipation between visits. One fun activity is to both answer the question “What would you like to do on our first night together?” Compare your results and see if you can make both dreams a reality. The desire app is a fun way to spice up any relationship, especially long-distance ones.
- Remember important dates! This is easier when in the same time zone. If you’re further apart, set reminders on your calendar so you don’t miss sending a happy birthday or anniversary message. Plan dates you can celebrate each other and your relationship in person, even if they’re months away. It gives you something to look forward to.
I hope this post is helpful for anyone who is either currently in a long-distance relationship, considering starting one, or forcefully in one because of recent quarantines and social distancing measures. I wish you all nothing but happiness and success. It can be incredibly hard and frustrating when you can’t be with the person you love physically, but the experience can bring you so much closer together. Focus on the things you love about your partner and remind yourself every day why you’re both making the commitment. If you have any advice or thoughts on LDRs, please share them in the comments!