How To Make A Long-Distance Relationship Work

How To Make A Long-Distance Relationship Work

In an age where we’re constantly digitally connected, it seems that maintaining long-distance relationships is easier than ever. But even with smartphones, FaceTime and free overseas calls, technology can’t make up for a lack of physical closeness when it comes to our emotional health. So if you’re struggling having a partner who’s far away, clinical psychologist Andrea Bonoir has shared her top ten tips for making it work, despite the distance…

1. Manage Your Schedules Well

Different work schedules, sleep preferences, and time zones can wreak havoc on even the most well-intentioned couples when it comes to making time for communicating with each other. Often, a couple can settle into a pattern through inertia, when it turns out that that pattern doesn't work particularly well for one or both – this can lead resentment and frustration building up.

Ask yourself and your partner the following questions: When are you at your best? When can you devote private, unrushed time to conversation? How do you feel about spontaneous texts? Who has the more flexible schedule? What time of day do you crave connection the most? Who should initiate the contact? Do you prefer a set time no matter what, or should it vary by the day? There's no limit to the types of communication arrangements that can work, as long as they feel mutually satisfying.

2. Make Sure Your Goals Align

In general, research shows that long-distance relationships are more satisfying and less stressful when they’re understood to be temporary. This makes intuitive sense, as it is easier to keep your eye on the proverbial prize and work together to get through the hardship of being apart, rather than being hopeless and feeling like it will never end.

But what happens when one person is more okay with the status quo than the other, or one person is more motivated to find a way to be physically together than the other one is? If one partner views the separation as a temporary hurdle that will end in a major commitment – engagement or moving in together for good, for example – while the other partner views the distance as a simple necessity that may have to be sustained for the long-term, there’s bound to be friction. Talk continually about expectations of exactly what the outcome of your separation will be, and when.

3. Don't Rely On Technology

Many long-distance couples may thank their lucky stars for FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype and all the other technological advances that have made it so much easier to stay in real-time contact with our loved ones. But let's not forget the power of having something physical that reminds you of your partner.

Keeping a piece of clothing around that still smells like your partner, having a special token that serves as a symbol of your commitment, or displaying a gift from them prominently in your bedroom can serve as proximal reminders of their presence. And don't underestimate the joy of receiving something tangible from them – a funny postcard or an unexpected gift – care packages aren’t just for new university students.

4. Focus On Quality Communication

Interestingly enough, some research has shown that long-distance couples may actually be more satisfied with their communication than geographically-close couples are. This could be because they realise how precious their communication opportunities are, and they generally don't have to waste words on day-to-day logistics.

If you’re in a long-distance relationship, use this to your advantage by focusing on quality conversation. Give a little thought before you speak about what the most important parts of your day were, and remember that since you may not have the benefit of facial expression or physical touch, you'll sometimes need to be a little more deliberate in the words you use..

5. Share The ‘Boring’ Details

A focus on quality communication doesn’t mean leaving out smaller details of your day – it’s so easy to grow apart if you’ve no clue what the daily rhythm of your partner's life is like: Who do they talk to on their lunch hour? What podcasts are they into now? What have they been trying out for dinner? How have they been redecorating their room? Who's been driving them crazy at work?

Don't make the mistake of thinking that the ‘boring’ details of your day should be a mystery to your partner. Of course, no one wants to listen to nothing but a list of minutiae, but the key is staying in each other's lives enough that you have a feel for the cast of characters and contexts that make up daily living for them: this helps keep you close even when the miles do not.

6. Don’t Over-Plan Your Time Together

One significant way long-distance relationships feel markedly different than geographically-close ones is when you are actually together in person, it often feels there’s no time to waste. But this can be a double-edged sword. Yes, it may make you less likely to bicker about who’s turn it is to do the washing up, but it also might make you succumb to the urge to pack your time together so full that is stresses both of you out.

You mustn't forget that relationship intimacy is built in small moments as well as big ones: spontaneous movie-watching on the sofa as well as playing tourist in your city or finding the hottest new restaurants. Make sure to build in some breathing room in the times you spend together – downtime is not wasted time, but the opposite: helping both of you breathe and connect.

7. Don't Put Your Life On Hold

There’s no doubt about it: long-distance relationships require some sacrifice. But it's important to be careful not to sacrifice more than is necessary, which can breed resentment and regret over time. This is especially risky when the long-distance part of the relationship is supposed to last only a brief period of time, but unexpectedly needs to be extended longer.

It's one thing to look forward to finally being in the same place as your partner; it's quite another to postpone being truly engaged in your life until then. Make sure that you’re trying your best to make the most of the life you have in your own locale, in the here and now. Don't isolate yourself, spin your wheels at work, or keep yourself seeking out a sense of community or purpose. Live each day fully, whether your partner is absent or not. Added bonus? It will make the time apart go faster.

8. Reframe The Situation As Positive

Given the positives that accompany some long-distance relationships, it may very well make sense to celebrate your situation as something that can bring benefits despite its drawbacks. Furthermore, if you both can remind yourself of the ways that being apart can make you appreciate each other more (research shows that you’re more likely to idealise your partner when you're in a long-distance relationship), this can help you feel more positive about what the distance can bring.

Cognitive reframing is helpful across all kinds of difficult life situations, as it helps bring hope and can give us a sense of control – and long-distance relationships are no different. Try to segue from a focus on how unlucky it is to not be able to live in the same place to how this challenge can help you grow even stronger as a couple.

9. Check In, Don’t Check Up

This is one of the major sticking point in many long-distance relationships: the fact you can’t ever tell what your partner is really up to, day in and day out. Do you worry that you’re ‘out of sight, out of mind?’, or do you truly believe that absence makes the heart grow fonder? You can give yourself a break and acknowledge that long-distance relationships may bring slightly higher worries about infidelity than geographically-close ones do, and this is totally normal. But don't let it fuel behaviour that veers toward suspicion or hovering.

When you want to connect, connect. When you want to hear your partner's voice, call them. When you want to text a question, text a question. But don't play games: your partner will pick up on the intrusive nature of your inquiries and they won’t feel welcome. You've chosen the leap of faith required to be in a long-distance relationship, and you simply can't know for sure what they're doing all day: the more you can relax into that, the better off you’ll be.

10. Let Yourself Trust

Which brings us to trust – one of the most important factors in making any relationship last. The work to build, and keep, trust goes both ways, with your earning it every bit as important as your having it in your partner. And lest you think this is only about the potential for sexual infidelity, it's important to remember there are many ways that breakdowns in trust can erode a relationship, outside of a romantic affair.

Can you count on your partner in ways big in small: are they there for the phone call when they said they'd be? Do they stick to the plans you've made to fly out to see each other? Do they remember what's important to you, and listen in ways that make you feel heard and understood? All of these questions can apply to yourself as well, of course. Are you being the partner that you’re worthy of having?
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