Everyone knows that long distance relationships are hard work, but what does that mean, exactly? What are the most serious long distance relationship problems out there? Can they be fixed, or are most long distance relationships ultimately doomed?
Don’t despair. Long distance relationships can totally work. They can even prove to be good for you, for a season. I know this first-hand—I met my husband via email when he was living 7000 miles away.
However, long distance relationships are tricky to navigate well. And there are some particular long distance relationship problems that don’t plague same-city relationships to quite the same extent.
So what are the typical long distance relationship problems, and how should you deal with them?
Long distance relationship problems #1: Getting stuck in a rut
Have you ever struggled to find things to talk about with your long distance love? Have you every felt heartsick with longing to be with your partner, but feel like you just have the same tired old conversations over and over again when you get on the phone?
This is one of the most common long distance relationship problems. These sorts of “dry periods” are normal in long distance relationships, but that doesn’t make them any less depressing and frustrating.
What’s the fix? Put your head together and plan some long distance dates. Check out this article for some fun ideas. And try buying a book of discussion questions for couples. This one only costs $5.99 and will spark hours of fun and fascinating talk time.
2. Stalling in life
Do you find yourself moping around all the time–thinking about how much you’re missing your partner–while you wait until your next skype call or visit? Do you feel as if the rest of your life is on hold until you can be together? Does it seem like too much effort to go out with friends or do something by yourself?
When you’re in a long distance relationship, it’s alarmingly easy to allow important things in life—family, friendships, hobbies, exercise—to stall. But this will only make you more depressed in the short term, and hurt you in the long run.
What’s the fix? Do not spend every spare minute talking to your partner (or daydreaming about said partner). Build a life where you are—a life full of friends and fun. Do things that make you fitter, smarter, and happier. Do things that interest you. Do these things alone, if need be. Remember, investing in yourself is another way of investing in your most important relationship. Start now.
3. Neglecting other important relationships
Are you spending all your spare time on your phone or computer? If you focus all your free time and energy on your long distance love, your relationships with those close to you will suffer. In a nutshell: this is bad news.
You will be happier and healthier in life if you have a strong network of friends beyond your partner. To do that, you need to spend time connecting with them.
What’s the fix? Check in with yourself on this one. When’s the last time you went out to dinner with friends? Had people over? Had a quality catch-up with someone other than your long distance partner? Who do you owe a phone call or email to? Make it a priority to properly connect with at least three people a week other than your partner.
4. Growing apart
When your love moves far away and some aspects of your relationship pause or slow down, the rest of life continues. You don’t stop learning and growing and changing just because the person you love isn’t there every day. Neither do they. You are both accumulating experiences. Some of these experiences will change you.
When you’re in a long distance relationship it can be harder to identify ways in which your partner is changing and track with them through that process. The reverse is also true.
No matter how much you love each other, there is a real chance that a slow drift during your time apart will cause you to grow away from each other in ways that frequent flier miles cannot fix.
What’s the fix? This is one of the hardest long distance relationship problems to fix. Good, regular communication is obviously crucial to helping you stay closely in touch. Regular visits in both directions can help you feel connected to your partner’s life. Both agreeing that you want the distance to be temporary, and having close-the-gap goal in mind, will also help. In addition, talk about this risk with your partner. Discuss what you should do if one or both of you starts to feel that you re drifting apart in important ways.
5. Jumping in the deep end
Growing apart is a particular pitfall for couples that were established before they started doing long distance. Couples who (like I did) start their relationship across distance face almost the opposite problem—the temptation to become too emotionally intimate, too quickly.
In some ways, getting to know someone via email and phone calls can help your relationship. The distance can force you to talk about all sorts of things you might not have discussed if doing other things (or, um, each other) was a realistic option. When there’s nothing to build your relationship on but words, you can get to know someone’s heart and mind at a very deep level, quite quickly.
On the other hand, falling in love long distance is a risky business. When you start dating someone you’ve never met in person, it’s very easy to assume that they possess all sorts of charming qualities. It’s easy to believe that they are “perfect” for you. It’s way too easy to move too fast in your head and your heart, and to make serious commitments before you’ve ever met.
What’s the fix? Remember that the rules of long distance relationships should be the same as those posted at public pools: Walk, do not run. And no diving in headfirst. Take your time getting to know each other. Don’t let your head and heart run away with you. Approaching your new relationship in a measured manner may yield benefits for years to come. For more on this, check out this book:
Feeling a little jealous now and again is not unusual in a relationship, particularly when you are separated from your loved one. A little jealousy can even spark fresh attraction and a new appreciation for your partner. However, while a single candle can illuminate a room, a blaze can burn it to the ground.
Uncontrolled jealousy can lead to a destructive combination of suspicion, possessiveness, insecurity, anger, and shame. If you’re feeling jealous, it’s a good idea to figure out how to control your jealousy before it starts to control you.
What’s the fix: Controlling jealousy is not easy, but it can be done. Take a look at this article for more on the nuts and bolts of how to get a handle on overcoming jealousy: 6 Smart Ways To Stop Feeling Jealous In Your Long Distance Relationship.
7. Getting too tired or lazy to talk well
Couples in long distance relationships often talk about how the distance has helped them learn to communicate well, and at a very deep level. However, the opposite can also be true. Distance can also enable poor communication patterns to become established.
For starters, especially when one or both of you is busy, it can become easy not to invest in connecting deeply with your partner. In-depth conversations can become fewer and farther in between. It can become habitual to mostly talk about how your day was, or keep the conversation fairly superficial and brief.
What’s the fix? Set aside some “skype date” time at least once a week that’s dedicated to more than talking about how your day was. If you’re feeling very busy or tired, it may also be helpful to dial back the talk time for a while. Try talking only a couple of times a week for a while so that you can recharge. Then, when you do talk, focus. Make it count.
Miscommunications and misunderstandings happen frequently in relationships. They happen when you share the same house with someone. They can happen even more frequently when you’re miles apart and sharing life via emails or a phone line.
During the early stages of my correspondence with my husband, Mike, three consecutive emails of mine ended up in Mike’s junk mail folder. Luckily for me, Mike is not easily offended or hurt (or, for that matter, deterred). If he had shut down and stopped writing to me because he assumed that I’d stopped writing to him, we may never have figured out what had happened.
Another time we were discussing something that I was very worried about. I explained my fears and Mike said, “That’s a fair concern.”
What I interpreted that to mean was, “Yeah, you should be worried about that.”
However, after further discussion it turned out that what Mike had actually meant to communicate was, “I understand why you might be worried about that, but it’s not going to happen.”
If I hadn’t stayed calm enough to tell him that his first reply had only made me more worried and unsettled, then he would not have had an opportunity to clarify what he meant and I would have continued to feel anxious.
When you’re in a long distance relationship it is much harder to access nonverbal cues like gestures, body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and even voice tone. This makes effective communication harder.
What’s the fix? Remember this! When you feel confused or hurt, remember that you may have misunderstood what your partner said or meant. Ask questions to clarify, and really try to respond thoughtfully rather than just react. Respond, don’t react is a great mantra to remember whenever you find yourself confused, upset, or angry.
Beyond any specific incident, learn the natural similarities and differences in your communication styles, and how each of you tends to react to frustration, disappointment, or conflict. Check out this article series on managing conflict in long distance relationships. Knowing this sort of stuff can forestall a lot of misunderstandings and frustration, and help you deal with these sorts of “charged” moments more productively
People sometimes email me about their long distance relationship and say something like this: “My boyfriend hasn’t answered my calls or texts for three days now. I don’t know what I did wrong. What should I do?”
That, my friends, is stonewalling. It is using silence as a weapon or an escape. It is controlling the situation by simply refusing to engage. Distance makes this particularly easy to do, and it can drive your long distance partner crazy with frustration, second-guessing, and self-doubt.
What’s the fix: If you catch yourself stonewalling, ask yourself why. Are you trying to punish or hurt the other person? Or are you mostly taking what looks like the easy way out by avoiding complicated emotions or discussions? Whatever the answer is, stop it. It’s not a fair or respectful way to treat someone you claim to love. If you need some time to yourself, at least front up and explain what’s going on for you before you go silent. Don’t just disappear.
If you are on the receiving end of stonewalling, don’t let it slide. When your partner does get back in touch, tell them how hurt and frustrated it made you feel to get the silent treatment. Tell them how you wish they had dealt with the situation instead of disengaging.
10. Becoming possessive
Another issue that often pops up in my inbox goes something like this: “My long distance girlfriend/boyfriend wants to talk all the time. They freak out when I don’t answer a text within five minutes, and they want to know where I am and who I’m with every minute of the day. I’m starting to feel smothered but I don’t know how to tell them to back off.”
If stonewalling is controlling someone by holding them at a distance, becoming possessive is trying to control someone by grasping at them too tightly. Distance can make it harder to trust and easier for jealousy and insecurity to run rampant. This combination often fuels possessive and controlling behavior.
What’s the fix? If you are feeling and acting possessive, try to figure out why. This is a complicated issue, and that might not be easy to do. You can, however, act less controlling even before you sort out all your feelings. Take a hard look at what you are asking for from your partner in terms of contact, accessibility, and updates. Are your expectations reasonable? If not, decide what is reasonable (preferably together) and then stick to that.
If your partner is smothering you, tell them. Don’t try to make them back off by disengaging or stonewalling. That will only make them more anxious and demanding. Explain how their behaviour is making you feel, and how you’d prefer to interact.
Do you want the good news? Here it is: Several research studies have concluded that cheating does not occur more often in long distance relationships.
Now, here’s the bad news: Cheating is not uncommon in relationships (whether same-city or long distance). Lying and cheating happen in relationships, and distance makes deceit easier to hide, for longer. For more on signs of cheating, check out this article: Ten Subtle Signs Your Long Distance Lover Might Be Cheating On You.
What’s the fix? This is one of the most feared long distance relationship problems. If you’re worried that your partner might be cheating on you, check out 21 Important Things To Do If You Suspect Your Partner Is Cheating. This is a step-by-step action plan to help you figure out whether your partner is cheating, and what to do about it. It’s full of practical examples of things you can do and say (and things not to do and say).
What long distance relationship problems have you experienced?