We all know that long distance relationships can mean lonely nights and talking via phone when you’d much rather be talking face to face over the dinner table.
But here is something you may not have known: Being in a long distance relationship—at least for a season—can actually be good for you.
When you’re in a long distance relationship you have nothing to build your relationship upon but words. This can force you to learn to communicate better. It can build communication skills and habits that will benefit your relationship for years to come. Being in a long distance relationship can allow you to invest in work and other passions more fully, and to grow in self-sufficiency. Spending some time apart can grant you a fresh perspective on your most important relationships, and help you more fully appreciate the times you do spend together with your partner.
That’s all grand, but it doesn’t negate the fact that long distance relationships are hard work. I know this first-hand. I met my husband when he was living in Papua New Guinea and I was based in Los Angeles. We did a long distance relationship for a year before getting married, and have spent many months long distance since then. So, here are some of my pro long distance relationship ideas and tips for staying connected across the miles.
1. Spend some extra quality time with your partner before you part
If there are any major issues in your relationship, distance is one way to make sure they bubble to the surface. If you have been living in the same city and are about to embark upon a period of long distance, set aside some extra time to spend with your partner during the two weeks before you departure day. Talk through the upcoming separation and any points of stress or tension. Try to ensure that your relationship is in a healthy place so you can part with peace, knowing that your relationship is strong.
Also, the person leaving can find it easier to deal with the separation due to busyness and being stimulated by new surroundings and new challenges. However, the person left behind remains in the same place, with the same routine, just with a big hole left by the traveler. Doing some advance planning around logistics like finances, meals, maintenance, etc., can help ease the load of the person left behind and make the time apart easier.
2. Manage your expectations
Long distance relationships are tough. At times, you will miscommunicate, irritate, and even hurt each other. It will be an effort to understand and to fix that over distance. Expect to struggle sometimes, and to have negative feelings emerge. Expect your partner to struggle, and expect to be surprised by some of the things they struggle with because their experiences will be different from yours. Ultimately, unless you’re the sort of couple who really needs time away from each other, LDRs are not fun. Expecting this period to be generally difficult can help you cope better.
3. Set aside time to talk to each other when you are apart
If you are spending anything more than a couple of days apart, don’t try to put your relationship on hold and expect to just pick up where you left off when you reunite. When you’re apart, set aside time to talk to each other and protect that time whenever possible. This doesn’t have to mean 90-minute phone calls every day, but it probably means an extended conversation at least once every couple of days.
4. Practice asking thoughtful questions
When you’re apart, your conversations are really all you have, and it can be hard to convey all you’re experiencing and doing in ways that help your partner understand and draw you closer together. It can be especially hard to bridge the gap between daily realities that are vastly different. If you are based in a refugee camp and your partner is at home looking after kids and dealing with a broken washing machine, it can feel challenging to know what to say to each other. So go beyond asking your partner how their day was. Practice asking thoughtful and interesting questions that require your partner to think (Try: “What did you do well today?” “When did you feel frustrated today?” “When was a time you felt happy or peaceful today?”)
5. Share some of the small details of your day
Even if you are living very different realities while you’re apart (or, perhaps, especially if this is the case) it is important to honestly express your experiences, and listen to and validate your partner’s experiences. Don’t share just the highs and the crises. Try to share some of the small day-to-day details, too. Those will help your partner visualize your experiences more effectively and help you both feel more connected.
6. Don’t delay addressing frustrations and tricky issues
If you’re going to be apart for longer than a couple of weeks, don’t delay talking about something because you think it might lead to conflict with your partner. If one or both of you is under serious pressure it may be wise to refrain from tackling a tricky relationship issue or something potentially sensitive over distance. However, be aware that doing this too often can lead to unhelpful patterns of repression and conflict avoidance in your relationship.
7. Identify how each of you typically respond to time apart
When my husband and I are separated for three weeks or longer, I tend to find the first couple of days particularly hard. Then things feel easier until about the midpoint of the time apart, when I experience another dip. My husband’s typical pattern is different. Understanding your own and your partner’s typical reactions can help you communicate more effectively and be particularly gentle and kind with each other during the “tough seasons.”
8. Have some “pick-me-ups” ready for when you feel especially glum
We all know that saying, “take it one day at a time.” When things feel particularly hard or lonely, just focus on getting through the next day and have some pick-me ups on hand to boost your spirits. For a stay-at-home partner, that might be a favorite food, a new movie, a book, time with friends, or a special outing, etc. The options are often more limited for a traveling partner, but try to pack along some fun distractions or treats.
9. Acknowledge and own your own reactions
Ultimately your responses to the separation are yours to control. Your partner can do their bit by trying to connect and empathize with you across the miles, but you are the only one who can acknowledge your reactions and control your responses to the situation. So recognize those responses and do what you need to do to look after yourself. In doing this, you look after your partner as well. Learning to do this consistently and well might mean seeking extra support from family, friends or professionals. If so, do it. It’s worth the time and energy.
10. Look for the silver linings
It’s an annoying truth of life that the hard times can stretch us and “grow” us more effectively than the easy, fun times. So when your long distance relationship feels hard, remind yourself that you’re in a season of growth and look for the silver linings in your separation. Name them. And practice gratitude.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a LDR pro, too.
So leave a comment and share your own long distance relationship ideas. What tips would you add to this list?