When you’re in a periodic LDR–spending some time together and then some apart–planning for time apart before you even get on that plane can help you deal much better with the distance.
I wish I were writing this only on the basis of accumulated experience, but alas. I am still in Ethiopia. MadameInsideOut and our daughter are still in Australia. We are all still learning as we go along, so chime with a comment and let me know what you’ve learned along the way. Now, without further ado, here are some key pointers on planning for time apart.
1. Limit time apart and, whenever possible don’t exceed your “reasonable maximum”.
Limiting time apart is a total no-brainer, but what counts as your “reasonable maximum” will vary from couple to couple. For us, three weeks is our acceptable limit, and a lot of couples I know work by the three-week rule as well. It tends to strike a balance between what families can handle and what people actually need to do their work overseas.
Circumstances beyond our control have meant that Madame InsideOut. and I are apart for longer this time, but we’ve generally been pretty good at sticking to the three-week thing. This is for both our sakes, as we generally find our coping ability matches pretty well. Ten days we can take in our stride. Things get painful around the 2 week mark, and by 2 ½ weeks we’re both pretty much done. We’ll push 3 if we have to, but we don’t like it.
2. If you’re a regular traveler, try and stagger trips with as much time between them as possible.
It’s very disruptive to be away for three weeks, back for two and then away for another three. That time in between trips – stable and together – is essential for rebuilding intimacy. If you leave again before you’ve reformed it, you’ll struggle to stay connected.
3. Manage your expectations and think about your priorities in life.
LDRs are tough. Difficult things will come up. At times, you will miscommunicate, irritate each other, even hurt each other, and it will be an effort to fix that over distance. Expect to struggle and to have some negative feelings emerge. Expect your partner to struggle, and expect to be surprised by some of the things they struggle with because they are not you so their experience is going to be different. Expect these things to come up when it’s awkward to deal with them (for example when you’re rushed off your feet and the last thing you need to deal with right now is an emotional issue with your partner).
Think about your values and life priorities now, and prepare yourself to drop everything when necessary to connect with your partner. If you decide in advance that nothing you will be doing while you’re away is as important as your relationship it will make it easier to prioritize them, even when it’s not convenient.
4. Agree your boundaries ahead of time
Talk through how you’ll communicate before you separate, don’t expect to figure it out on the fly. Make sure you understand what your partner needs from you in terms of communication, and make sure you communicate your needs.
Are you the sort of person that really needs to read a nice juicy email from your loved one every day? Does your partner need to hear from you at least once a day, even if you’re okay connecting every two or three days? Does your relationship really benefit from visual time on something like a Skype video call, or can you deal with a few days of separation without it being a big deal?
Sure, you’ll probably need to adjust your communication as you go along a bit, but make sure you’ve taken the time to communicate what you need and to learn what your loved one needs from you in return. Don’t let yourself make assumptions here – some people actually find it easier not to have frequent contact. When I was growing up, for example, my folks found it easier not to be regularly communicating while my Dad was gone for ten days or two weeks. Rather than deal with the upsurge of emotion of trying to talk over a scratchy telephone line several times a week, my parents would go cold turkey until he got back. It worked for them. (Though since the advent of Skype, things have changed, and now they get regular link-ups whenever Dad travels).
5. Don’t even think about a long distance relationship unless …
You already have rock-solid communication skills with your partner when you’re together, and can talk honestly and transparently about things. More on this particular topic in future posts.