Communication In Relationships: How Do You Connect When You’re Apart?

Lisa McKay Communication

How many times have you heard that one of the biggest benefits of being in a long distance relationship is that it forces you to communicate? It’s true. Communication in relationships is a tricky topics, but one thing is for sure…having nothing but words on which to build your relationship can help you get to know someone on a whole different level.

Communicating across distance slows you down. It grants you extra time and space to ask questions and think about your exchanges. You must learn to address misunderstandings and resolve conflict using only words. You and your partner may even end up talking and writing about topics you’d never get around to exploring together if you lived in the same city.

However, this sort of intense communication in relationships–especially across distance–is much easier and more productive if you understand and agree on some of your communication basics as a couple.

back-to-basicsCommunication basics: Talking about how you want to talk

Have you ever talked with your partner about how each of you prefers to communicate while you’re apart?

We often assume that the people we love are more similar to us than they actually are. For example, without even really thinking about it, we can assume that if someone really loves us they’ll be similar to us in terms of how long they generally want to spend talking on the phone, or how quickly they return text messages.

When the person we love doesn’t act the way we want and expect them to, our assumptions and expectations can cause all sorts of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and resentment.

In one of my long distance relationships, my partner wanted to spend a couple of hours on the phone every day. In the early weeks of our relationship, I wanted this too. However, after we had been dating for a couple of months I started to resent all the time I was spending on the phone with him. I cared deeply for him, but our relationship was starting to feel claustrophobic.

But you know what? We didn’t talk about this! We talked about pretty much everything else under the sun, but we didn’t talk about how we were talking. I didn’t tell him how I felt, I was too nervous about hurting his feelings to bring it up. In the long run, this contributed to the breakdown of our relationship.  

[pullquote_right]When you’re in a long distance relationship you should discuss how you generally prefer to connect, what times, and for how long. [/pullquote_right]My advice? When you’re in a long distance relationship you should discuss how you generally prefer to connect, what times, and for how long. Talking openly about these things can help you understand each other better. Having realistic expectations can then help prevent frustration, misunderstandings, anxiety, and hurt feelings.

Talk about these sort of things for the first time fairly early in your relationship and check in regularly on this topic to see if things have changed. Talking about this early on can make it much easier to bring this topic up later. Here are some questions to get you started.

Discussion questions

1. What helps you feel connected to me when we’re apart?

2. Ideally, how often would you like us to touch base while we’re apart?

3. How do you generally prefer to connect (e.g., email, phone conversation, text message, etc.)?

4. Do you like having quick contacts like text messages or three-line emails, or not? Why?

5. What do you find most rewarding or enjoyable about communication when we’re apart?

6. What do you find most challenging about communication when we’re apart? (E.g., do you find you’re more emotional or lonely after talking to your partner than before? Do you feel you communicate too much or not enough? Do you often feel as if you have nothing to say or that what you have to say is boring?)

7. Does communication always help you when we’re apart, or are there times when it hurts more than it helps? (Think of specific examples if you can. How does it help? How can it hurt?)

8. Are your preferred communication patterns and needs the same or different for short-term trips versus longer separations?

How do you and your partner generally communicate when you’re apart?
What important lessons have you learned in this area?

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