Where the rubberr(1)

When The Rubber Meets The LDR Road: How Ground Rules In A Relationship Can Guide Action

Dawn Othieno Advice, Real-life Stories 2 Comments

DSC_0625_resizedEarlier this week, I shared three core values (or “ground rules”) that my husband and I based our three-year long-distance relationship on:
1) intentionality
2) honesty and vulnerability
3) being in the present, but planning for the future.

These ground rules not only helped shape how the relationship functioned overall, they also guided many of the practical day-to-day decisions we made about the relationship. Each LDR is unique, with its own specific goals, strengths, and challenges. However, perhaps a deeper look at how our ground rules informed practical decisions in our relationship will be helpful for other LDRs.

Here’s how they played out for us…

Where the rubberr(1)1) Intentionality

Given the massive (and massively inconvenient) time difference between eastern Australia and eastern Canada, Nick and I decided that scheduling a Skype date once a week was the easiest way to make sure that we connected regularly and intentionally. Of course, after the first few weeks, two-hour Skype dates turned into three hours, then four hours, then sometimes more, because we realised that we loved spending time together. And within a few months, daily texts, long emails every few days, and a weekly Skype session didn’t quite cut it. I wanted to hear Nick’s voice every day, to say goodnight, and to experience a sense of daily “togetherness.” So we added Viber calls while I was on my way to work and Nick was just about to sleep.

Through this evolution of our relationship, we had to keep a few practical things in mind. First, being intentional about building our relationship required a financial commitment. Internet plans in Australia and mobile phone plans in Canada aren’t exactly cheap (although they are getting better in recent years), but investing in these was a huge priority for us. If you are blessed to be somewhere where you can get plenty of Internet and mobile phone data, it is a great investment in your relationship!

Second, being intentional about our relationship required prioritising time together. Face it, when the time difference is 14, 15, or 16 hours, depending on daylight savings, there are no consistently convenient times to chat. While Saturday mornings were good for me, that meant that Nick had to nix all Friday night plans with friends. Sunday mornings were good for him, but that meant that I was staying up way too late. Many times, our Skype dates got in the way of other social events, but we made sure that Skype dates were enough of a priority not to regularly get put off or pushed out of the way.

But that brings me to a third point: being intentional about our relationship did not mean that we became so exclusive that we shut out the rest of the world around us. We did have to set boundaries around our time together on Skype so that we weren’t talking constantly. We also regularly evaluated whether we were keeping each other from fulfilling the goals and plans that we had as individuals. We had to make conscious decisions to support each other’s social lives, volunteer projects, and hobbies, even though we couldn’t really share them. This was difficult at times, especially as we watched friends who had partners share these aspects of life. But ultimately, we knew that living a healthy “real” life would make our “virtual” relationship healthier too.

2) Honesty and vulnerability

It’s not particularly easy to be honest in a romantic relationship. Despite wanting the other person to know your heart, what you really want is for them to know the best of your heart, not the worst. A long-distance relationship probably makes this even harder. Planned Skype dates and short in-person visits make it quite easy to put your best foot forward and engage in some serious “impression management.”

I think that being aware that this can be a problem is the first step to making sure that it’s not one. Nick and I chatted often about whether we were giving each other accurate impressions of who we were. We also agreed to answer what we called our “hard punch” questions – questions that were potentially tough and we might not want to answer, but that would help us understand each other at a deeper level. For us, these revolved around topics such as faith, culture (given that we are an inter-racial couple), family of origin, and so on. In our excitement over the amazing number of things that we agreed on, we had to trust that our relationship was strong enough to have some honest disagreements too, rather than just saying what we thought the other person wanted to hear.

In addition to the “hard punch” questions, we asked each other many practical questions to try to compensate for the things that are impossible to know about someone over Skype. We committed to being honest, despite potential embarrassment, about things like: “How consistent are you with exercising?” “How much TV do you watch?” “Do you throw your dirty clothes on the floor?” “Are you going to want to have a pet someday?” “Do you leave the cap open on the toothpaste?” (Thankfully, we both truthfully answered “no” to that last one…I hear that toothpaste can lead to serious relationship conflict!)

Sometimes finding a way to ask questions about the serious stuff can be difficult, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out which practical questions need to be asked. Although it wasn’t published in time for us to use during our LDR phase, Lisa McKay and Michael Wolfe’s “201 Great Discussion Questions for Couples in Long Distance Relationships” is a great way to get good conversation going about the serious and the not-so-serious stuff. As a Christian couple, we used resources such as “101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged” by H. Norman Wright, and we listened to CDs from relationship seminars together and discussed them afterward. This helped immensely with the communication process. Since we did this throughout our relationship, we often revisited topics a few times over the years, and each time we explored to new depths and from different angles.

3) Being in the present, but planning for the future

Although we would like to think that we handled our years of long distance fairly graciously, Nick and I must admit that at times we were frustrated and discontent with the distance. We were most content when we remembered to “be in the present” and gratefully enjoy the support and companionship that we could offer each other even from a distance. We made the most of our Skype dates: eating breakfast/dinner together, watching the occasional movie, and talking and talking and talking.

However, we did look forward to the few in-person visits that we managed and also to the time when long distance would be nothing but a distant memory. We tried to use the time apart to prepare ourselves to be even better when we were together. And we knew that we would need to figure out what we wanted “together” to look like.

Two of the very practical things that we discussed before our first in-person visit were our expectations regarding dates and our expectations regarding physical intimacy. During that first visit, what would be meaningful for us to do together for the first time? What boundaries did we want to set around the physical aspects of our relationship given our shared faith? And how much time did we need to “acclimatise” to each other? For example, given that we had never even held hands (we became a couple after I had already left the city where we met and became friends), it might have been a bit much for me if Nick had greeted me at the airport with a passionate kiss!

Having discussed and decided on these things ahead of time allowed us to be together for the first time after months apart with no awkward moments. In fact, contrary to our expectations, we were instantly comfortable being a couple and it felt as if all of those months of long-distance just fell away. This may not happen in all or even many LDR reunions, but the chances of a smooth transition to doing life “in person” are much higher with a bit of planning.

As I was writing this post and it was getting longer and longer, I realised that these are actually just a few of the many practical tips that worked for us as we tried to live out our “ground rules” and shared values long distance. For us, those rules and values were based on our faith in God and our commitment to live according to our beliefs. For any couple, I believe that finding shared values and living them out together, whether long distance or in person, leads to a sense of integrity in the relationship. What a great way to help a relationship succeed!

A note from Lisa: Dawn, thank you for sharing so deeply and thoughtfully through this series about your story and how your “ground rules” guided your relationship and decision-making! Readers, it’s your turn now.

Share with us.
How do your ground rules influence your decision-making at a practical level?

Comments 2

  1. My boyfriend and I met online, but in the same city. Unfortunately as fate would have it, he moved back home before we were able to actually meet. Actually we planned it only to learn that he was no longer needed at the internship he was here for, after visiting his home for a holiday. We also are both Christians and so your story resonated with me. I am looking forward to our first meeting, but am also a bit anxious because of all the what ifs and also wanting to make it special. I really could be awkward since I am not normally a touchy feely person. We have such great chemistry and laugh and talk for hours, but I’m still hesitant and not wanting to get too caught up too soon, but also value our friendship. By the time we see each other it will be nearly 4 months of dating ldr. I’m excited but also want to make sure that we stay true to our values. What were some ideas that you used to do this after being separated over time?

    1. Hi Katie! I hope that your first in-person meeting goes even better than you could expect!! I think that the combination of excitement and anxiety before meeting is pretty common for LDRs. But the fact that you are proactively thinking about what you can do to make it work best will likely help you manage that emotional dichotomy while waiting and make it easier when you are together. With regard to your question, here are a few things that we did to enjoy our time together, stay true to our values, and make the transition to in-person easier:

      1) Before we were together for the first time as boyfriend and girlfriend, we were very specific in our online discussions about what we would be comfortable with (physically and emotionally) when we were together. It might sound a little awkward, but we each made lists of “this is what I want to do” and “this is what I am not comfortable with” that we talked over together. In our case, we were both comfortable with holding hands and sitting side-by-side on a couch, but we decided against full-on kissing. Another example: a specific “want-to-do” from Nick was to be allowed to play with my hair, and he needed to know if that would be ok with me. This level of discussion might seem ridiculous, but it worked incredibly well for us, because it allowed us to think through (without the emotional rush of being together) what fit our values and comfort levels, and allowed us to visualise what being together would actually look like. Even when two people are both Christians, they might have quite different boundaries and comfort levels, so I think it’s worthwhile to work through before meeting.

      2) We gave ourselves some time to get used to the off-screen version of each other, so we tried to keep the first hours together really low key and low pressure. Just a simple meal out, with no super-intimate discussions or rash judgments about how things were going. We did notice things about each other that hadn’t been as apparent on Skype, so there was some adjusting to do, but we also tried to remind ourselves that this really was the same person that we had been enjoying relating to online. Since we were both committed to being honest and vulnerable when talking online, and we committed to being ourselves when visiting in person, then any awkwardness we felt faded very quickly and we found that same “chemistry” in person as online.

      3) We tried not to over-schedule our time together (it’s not helpful to be completely exhausted when dealing with all the feelings that being together brings), but we made pretty specific plans: who was going to stay where, how much time we would spend alone together, what special “real dates” we wanted to experience, the friends that we wanted each other to meet, etc. This way we were never really at loose ends or left wondering how things were going to play out. And we knew that we had the plans in place to create some of those special memories that we could draw on when we were apart. To this day, we talk about our first picnic in the park, our first movie date, our first walk through the countryside together…

      4) We made a strong commitment to respect and value each other’s boundaries and our friendship, and also to pray regularly for God to prepare our hearts for this change in our relationship and to give us grace for each other. This was probably the most important! We didn’t want to have any regrets. If, for some reason, our relationship had not proceeded, we wanted to know that we had acted toward each other with integrity, that we had enriched each other’s lives, and that we would have good memories of this person to carry into the future. It turns out that this is just as valuable if the relationship does proceed! I can look back on our season of online dating and our first meeting as a couple with so much joy.

      This response has gotten really long, so I’ll sign off here. I hope that I’ve somewhat answered your question and that it’s helpful as you think about and plan for your first meeting. Blessings!

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